Rad American Women

RadAmericanWomenCoverThe other day I got my hands on a long-awaited alphabet book for me my kids: Rad American Women. This book is cool on so many levels—the art, the content, and the lasting impact of reading it to my daughter…

A few days after the book arrived, I was sitting in a heap of unfolded laundry and turned to my favorite laundry helper (Netflix) to get me through. So I was watching the PBS special on Billie Jean King when my daughter came in and excitedly said, “Mama, she’s from the book!!!” It took me a second to realize what connection she was making but when I did, I invited her into the fold (see what I did there?) and we watched for a while. She was thrilled to know about her and be in on something special.

We talked about how bold Billie Jean King was and all the other women and men that helped her achieve such greatness. And we dreamed. We dreamed for a future where we have pay equity—not just at Wimbledon, but everywhere. We celebrated. We talked about how I once got to see A is for Angela Davis speak and how I hoped we would continue to go to protests and marches together and live our lives in a way that exemplifies the ideals of which she spoke. And we appreciated. We took time to be grateful for all that we have because of leaders who had the guts to work for equality. And then we got up and went outside to play ball. Because we could.

Here’s to the other rad women of the book and to the rest of us still out there working for justice!

She can’t wear that to kindergarten

Photo by Lesley Show
Photo by Lesley Show

We had a nice and sunny day the other day. In fact we had a few. And on one of those days, my 4-year-old daughter (who has a great fashion sense—which everyone knows does not come from me) got dressed and as we were getting into the car, my son commented that when she goes to kindergarten next week she won’t be allowed to wear “those shorts.”

Now, I’ve written before about my rants discussions with my son about sexism, but you know who really needs to hear my rant? The school. (And don’t worry—they will.) A school which in most regards I love. It is a school that embodies beloved community—their motto is that students will be responsible, respectful, and safe. It has more parents involved than I ever imagined possible. I like the teachers. I like the principal. And yet, here, in this beautiful place, they are sexualizing kindergarteners by having a dress code that includes edicts like “no spaghetti strap tank tops” and “no short shorts.” Sexualizing you say? Yes sexualizing. Why else would you make gender-specific dress code requirements? I’m sure they’d cite the usual reason: “distraction.” But shouldn’t we have higher expectations for people to not objectify young girls?

I cannot believe that this is the world we live in. Not only do I have to plead with my daughter to not wear pajamas, but I also have to police whether her shorts are too short or her straps too much like spaghetti. Our job as parents is hard enough—please don’t force sexism into it. There’s enough of that out there already.

Where are you?

I have to admit I want to know where my daughter is all the time, and know that she is safe. She seems so young, beautiful, and vulnerable to me as she seeks greater independence and freedom in her day-to-day life. I am haunted by images of girls her age who have disappeared, never to return to their families, because a man who was a predator took a fancy to them or saw an opportunity.

footprintsappscreenshotSo I decided to get an app on her phone, and mine, that would allow me to see where she was. While installing the app, I thought, why not add my partner? She drives to and from Oregon on a weekly basis, and then I would be able to see where she was and when she’d be home. Done in a flash! Now we all get notices about each other’s whereabouts.

The next day, my partner noted that she knew what time I dropped our daughter off at school, thanks to this app. I found myself checking her location twice during the day. My daughter had lost her phone privileges this week, so ironically, we aren’t monitoring her, which was our intention, but each other. The following day, when my partner texted “I see you’re home!” I honestly was just a bit taken aback. What have I done? The element of surprise in day-to-day life seems to be over! Between this and the banking technology that provides instantaneous info on purchases, it’s a snap to get a picture of my day.

I realized how easy it is to feel obligated to provide this information on one hand, and to abuse access to it on the other. My partner isn’t controlling. But what if she were? It would be extremely difficult for me to see a friend or go to a social service agency without knowing I might be observed, interrupted, or questioned. I could give up my phone or get rid of this application, but if I were in an abusive/controlling relationship, doing either of those things would likely increase conflict and danger.

So what role does privacy play in healthy relationships? I love making a decision about how to spend my time without checking it out with anyone, not because I have anything to hide, but because I am an adult and I enjoy feeling in charge of myself. I also love trusting my partner, and being trusted. Feeling like an independent, decision-making grown-up is essential to my comfort in my relationship. Actively choosing closeness with the knowledge I could also choose distance or privacy keeps things interesting, and keeps me in touch with my choices, limits, and integrity.

And that brings me back to my daughter. It’s not her I distrust, it is other people; I am not sure she is ready to negotiate the big world on her own yet. On the other hand, I don’t want her to learn that closely monitoring a person’s movements is a normal aspect of an intimate relationship; or that she does not have the right to move through the world on her own, making decisions, and having that exhilarating feeling of being free and responsible for herself. So what I am going to do with this app? I think I’ll live with it for a while, but I am already looking forward to getting rid of it.

How do you get someone to be your ex-boyfriend?

“No one is too young to talk about relationships” is a favorite mantra of mine. But the truth is, I haven’t exactly been practicing what I preach. My kids are 7 and 4 already, and I haven’t made relationship-talk a regular part of dinner conversation. So when the opportunity presented itself the other day, I jumped on it.

My 7-year-old daughter was listening to the radio when (shockingly) a Taylor Swift song came on.

“All of her songs are about the same thing,” my daughter observed.

Yeah, what’s that?taylor-swift

You know, like boys and girls and stuff.

You’re right, her songs are all like that. Do know what having a boyfriend or girlfriend means?

Yeah.

What?

Like when you like one person a lot and kind of spend time with one person more. And say they’re your boyfriend.

Do people talk about that sort of thing at school?

Stop asking me so many questions!

Ok.

I know what an ex-boyfriend is too. When someone was your boyfriend and now they’re not.

Exactly. How do you know so much?

From Anna (summer camp counselor). She has a boyfriend and an ex- boyfriend. How do you get someone to be your ex-boyfriend?

That’s a great question! Usually you find a time to go and talk with them. Sometimes it helps if you think about what you want to say ahead of time. And then you tell them that you don’t want them as a boyfriend anymore.

Oh, ok. Can I have a snack?

Now, do I think this little chat is going to protect my daughter from ever being in an abusive relationship? Of course not. But I’m glad we took the first step towards making talking about relationships a habit.