My son just turned 5 and has been gaining more independence over the last few months. One of his displays of this new-found independence, which also plays out one fascinating aspect of himself – his maleness – is that he goes to the restroom on his own – The “Men’s” room. The other day, as I stood outside the door, waiting for his little body to return, something hit me. I had a stomach-turning realization that I do not trust “Men”. I trust some men, of course. I trust my husband. I trust all of the men in my family (oops, one exception). And I trust all of my male friends. But as I sent my young boy into a room full of strange males, I realized that I don’t trust them as a group, classified as the restroom sign stated in stamped out letters: “Men.”
I have been giving a lot of thought, since then, to this lack of trust. Where has it come from? Is it right? And, finally, what do I do with this?
I found my feminist voice during college, but even before my first Women’s Studies course, my orientation program was filled with seminars and skits about sexual abuse, about all of the programs set up on campus so that women did not have to walk alone, and about “no means no.” All great things. And perhaps where, if there was any doubt in my mind, it was made clear that “men” are not to be trusted.
Then, within those Women’s Studies courses, I began to understand, in an organized context, what women were up against in the world. From pay discrepancies to abuse, ranging from emotional to physical and sexual – it all made me angry. It never seemed like it should have been a male-female issue – they all seemed like human issues, but pretty consistently, the males played the antagonist. And it was easy not to trust this lumped together group called “Men”. At the same time, however, I found it easy to trust my male friends and boyfriends, despite their counterparts who felt it OK to grope women at parties or otherwise take advantage of their powerful bodies or positions.
After college, I moved to Houston, where I promptly got involved with the Houston Area Women’s Shelter. I volunteered on the domestic violence side of the organization because the other side, rape, was just too emotionally intense for me. I went through weeks of training, which entailed getting into the lives of these women – and men – who live out these violent patterns so that I could be sure that where I was coming from was a place of empathy and compassion – not pity or judgment. After sitting through support groups of women discussing their abusive situations and then sitting through groups of men that were court-ordered to attend and deal with their issues, I can see now that my resentment and suspicion of all males grew. All the while, though, I carried on very healthy relationships with men, in intimate relationships and as friends.
Then, very recently, I read the book, Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The book, if you noticed, is half-authored by a male. One I am sure I would trust. There are three primary topics in the book, all relating to bringing up women’s rights in the world and how this generates good in everyone’s world. The three topics were Rape, Sex trafficking, and Women’s Maternal Health issues. Need I say that those first two topics make me not only distrust “men”, but make me loathe “men”. What person pays money to have sex with a child, naked and scared in a room that is clearly her cell? “Men” do, that is who. And who uses their physical force to show women and her family who is in power by raping, often violently, and leaving their lives ruined after a handful of torturous moments. Yes, “men”.
After all of this contemplation, I certainly understand how I got to this place of fearing for my little boy entering the “Men’s” room. Is it right? Well, I certainly have a lot of evidence that “Men” can not and should not be trusted. But then I am also happily married and have great relationships with a lot of men in my life. I guess I have always trusted myself to be picking the good ones. And my little boy will one day BE a man! An enlightened, Feminist version of a man, of course, but a man no-less!
So, what to do with it….I don’t think I have the answer quite yet. But there is a song that I heard recently that has touched my heart in a profound way. I have never had this reaction to a song before, but for the first 4 or so weeks that I listened to the song, I cried every single time. The song is Mama by Libby Kirkpatrick (a fellow Austinite). These are the song’s simple lyrics (and if you go to the link, you can hear a sample of the song – 3rd one from the bottom), and I think that I may have my answer:
Mama the world is safe (insert my snuffles here)
You’ve got to believe me
Cuz if you’re afraid your gonna fall
Into the hands of those who betray you
Don’t you let them have it all
Mama the word is love
You’ve got to believe me
Cuz heaven above is right here and now
And if your fists are clenched too tightly
You can’t hold the world no how…..