Monday, September 7, 2015

Baby girl, you stay on my mind

So: I had my baby. I have a baby girl now. And while we are in this weird cultural moment in which we all imagine, I guess, that the economic and racial privilege enjoyed by white women in America has negated #firstworldproblems like #genderedviolence and #bodyshaming and #incomedisparity, the reality is that I continue to be awed, daily, by the seemingly insurmountable task of raising a female child in a world that still seems bent on telling her that her body belongs on a billboard, in a box, selling yogurt, or generating erections for strangers.

My baby girl isn't for any of that, gentlemen. Not because she is pure and sex is dirty, but because she is a G/D Amazon witch baby and she will do as she damn well pleases.

I started out excited about my daughter's possible futures as the next Serena Williams (she has thighs and nalgas that go on, deliciously, for days; she'll be borrowing my shoes in a week) or the first girl to graduate from Cooper Union (tagging along after her increasingly air-conditioner-and-engine-obsessed big brother, naturally). I'm beginning to get excited about possible less-subversive futures as a concert pianist or a social worker or, God forbid, a little girl like I was: bookish and preoccupied with Japanese houses and American history, scribbling elaborate novels in three ring notebooks and joining Shakespeare club.

I consider this an act of grace, that I am able to overcome a chunk of my own internalized misogyny while all around me, our culture seems to be becoming uglier and more hateful.

I can't speak to what makes someone construct a God whose most urgent imperative is to refuse to let other people get married, and to insist that one's underlings similarly refuse, and then to claim kinship with American heroes when this lousy behavior is shut down. I don't understand what has left people so angry that someone can win an audience by running for presidency on a platform of lunchroom insults, the kind of crap of which I'd had enough by tenth grade.

And I feel torn because I've spent much of the summer hunkering down, wrenching my life into a shape where my parents, my faith, my marriage and my children occupy more space. I feel kind of like I've given up a big part of myself that cares deeply and passionately about people outside of my family, and like maybe everyone else has too, so that the people who are left running the show are the ones whose idea of civic participation is insulting supermodels and preying on our sense of entitlement -- as though being born to United States citizens or to wealthy people is an accomplishment, as though you, too, wouldn't jump any damn border in front of you if it meant your child might eat and live and not get slaughtered. Oh, and making ugly little asides regarding women's menstrual cycles, because when you are in the wrong, the best thing to do is to run back into the safe little fort you've built out of rules like No Girls Allowed.

See, I knew by age twelve that asking about your period or calling you fat is what boys do when they've lost, when they only thing they have left is that they are boys and boys are better. I just thought we'd all outgrown it. Or -- to put a slightly sharper and less comfortable point on it -- I thought that we didn't hate women for being women any more, that white girls like me could focus on being Allies, which is to say, could determine our own level of participation in a struggle on behalf of others.

I thought a lot of things., But really, no. I have a little white girl baby in a world in which being a girl is still a reason to get shut down, if one forgets for a single second who really belongs and who doesn't.

And I have to believe that's good, and here's why: because I think privileged white girls like me believe too easily that things are better than they are, when, in point of fact, things are still what they always were: better for white girls than brown ones, better for wealthy girls than poor ones, and best of all for rich white boys who, at the end of the day, can still win a fight by calling you ugly. Can, apparently, come uncomfortably close to winning a mother-loving presidential campaign by reminding everyone that that girl's a girl, too pretty or not pretty enough, so who cares what she has to say. Because we love a (white male) person who Speaks His Mind, especially and only when speaking his mind costs him nothing and risks nothing and lets us feel good about everything we have while all around us people live lives we feel affronted at being asked to consider.

There's a difference between the reality -- that my personal circumstances involve lots of changes and challenges and that these have limited my ability to reach out to others in love or to respond in a meaningful way to the systemic oppression and crushing needs around me -- and the comfortable belief that things are better than they are because my status affords me the option of turning inward in this way. Buttons and bumper stickers notwithstanding, my silence actually does a reasonable job of protecting me.

And while there's no reasonable option in my mind but to be feminist -- because the idea that my daughter is less than anyone is appalling and incoherent, not much further afield than the idea that my daughter is actually a leopard or a robot or a can of mixed vegetables -- there's also no less complex way to be feminist than to acknowledge that the stakes I have in this struggle are both Super Effing Real and also much less high than those of almost any other woman on the planet. That my participation is not an act of charity or altruism but an essential action, the only possible choice I could make in good faith, and also that I am acting as someone who benefits from the oppression of others and whose needs and agenda and grievances are really not the priority.

So: sexism. Still real, still thumbs down, still requiring hypervigilence and glamorous acts of subversion whenever possible. And also pretty far from the biggest problem on our hands. My daughter is not for you guys and your bullshit, sirs, because she has bigger fish to fry -- among them actively loving those around her and dealing with things that do matter: economic justice, dismantling racism, the millions of desperate and starving and needing people around her.

That's the girl you're looking at, sirs. Sorry for this apparent confusion.

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