While perusing Facebook not too long ago I noticed a friend’s posting regarding a late night host’s video in which he had doctors telling people how they really felt about parents who chose not to vaccinate. Regardless of my personal stance on vaccinations (do it), I thought the video was funny as did everyone else who had commented on my friend’s Facebook. However, I did notice a man who obviously wanted to engage in “something” because he commented somewhat incoherently about personal rights and freedoms and then went on to present two or three trivia-type questions on the history of vaccinations.
I was confused. I replied saying I wasn’t sure how vaccination history trivia was related to the conversation. And all of a sudden I was time-machined into the empty headed child I never was because I had challenged the relevancy of this man’s comment. Pulling out his best patronizing tone, the man proceeded to tell me all about the history of smallpox vaccinations and how George Washington saved our country by making our revolutionary troops be vaccinated and therefore, Why couldn’t I understand all the things? The Founding Fathers’ sacred history will save our country yet again!
Oh, really. Of course.
The smugness and condescending tone of this man reeked with his self-importance. The history lesson he gave me was not only unnecessary but also, still, unrelated to the topic at hand. A topic he had, in fact, forced upon us involved — the connection between the history of vaccinations and the current vaccination outbreak. As in, there is none.
The real problem for this man, though, was not his own irrelevancy but that I challenged him. I called him out for playing a history card that has no bearing on the current topic. And I called him out for being condescending and mansplaining something to me that I already knew. Here’s an interesting thing about how men and women generally communicate, and it has nothing to do with being from different planets or one gender being more superior than another. It has to do with how men and women are taught to communicate from the time they are children. Women are told constantly in many different ways that they talk too much when in reality societal expectations want women to just plain talk less. It has nothing to do with how many words are being used but about how they are used. And many men don’t want women using them, period.
Women are told to communicate more like men. According to Soraya Chemaly from Salon, “[w]hen women do engage in characteristically ‘male’ ways men are frequently condescending and patronizing”. Fundamentally, one of the issues in the situation between me and the man who loves George Washington comes down to what Jen Dziura, a former debater and now a writer, identifies: “Women’s emotions are ‘emotions,’ men’s emotions are ‘How People Talk.'”
This man who first tried to hijack the entire conversation into parts unknown for intentions designed to highlight his superior knowledge in history was offended and immediately accused me of calling him names. Clearly, my ability to point out that his attempt at connect two unrelated topics was an insult to him and by pointing out the tone he used with me was condescending was, to him, the same as calling him a name. I think that would be his reasoning. He was also stunned I said did not need his mansplaining, and after correcting my spelling of mansplaining (he misspelled it), let me know that he had never used the term ever in his life until that moment.
He then went on to explain, again, why vaccination trivia was not trivia at all but really, really important to know. Just listen to him. He will explain all the things.
Women are also guilty of mansplaining, of course, and “mansplaining” is really just another word for being an obtuse ass. So what exactly was the problem here?
The problem is that women should have no problem in communication, be it online or in person. For some reason, there are definite yet unspoken “rules” of what women can and cannot do when communicating because they will be held to some sort of bizarre standard. And if women choose to not fit this standard than they will almost always be automatically punished for it some way. If there is any doubt about this, consider the following:
- If women trash talk or try to talk sports online, then they will be called whores, sluts, cunts and/or threatened with violence.
- If women engage in debate, assert their opinions, confront those who insult them, then they will be called bitches, dykes, butch, PMSing and/or threatened with violence.
- If women become emotional about a topic they are passionately involved with, then they will be called weak, manipulative, cry-babies, PMSing and/or threatened with violence.
The list can go on and of course the list of what women are called can be endless, but what is one thing most all women will have in common? They will be threatened with some sort of violence.
I wasn’t threatened with violence nor was I called any name. This time. However, for those who think that these types of conversations where a man will get bit “touchy” or “pissy” just because a woman challenges him are normal, I would ask you to consider this: Why have we collectively allowed this to feel normal? Because I feel that if someone, man or woman, is being condescending to me, I will point it out to that person and that person should be able to recognize the difference between “Your tone is condescending” and “Hey, you’re being a jerk”. There’s a reason why some words are adverbs and some are nouns, and I feel that it is to help clear up confusion in times like these.
I really think George Washington would want us to know these things.
It seems like every once in a while someone will his or her ruffles in a tangle over the latest Disney or Pixar creation and my eyes started rolling well when 7 Reasons I Won’t Take My Daughter to Cinderella hit my Facebook’s Newsfeed. Honestly it won’t be a butterfly in my hurricane if someone chooses to not take her child to see Cinderella or not, but I do feel it is unfair to target Cinderella.
First, did this lady not pay attention in any English class? As in, not one in any year of school? Disney films are almost always blamed for killing off a parent while victimizing the main character with an evil stepparent at the same time, and this parent perpetuates this ideology. I taught English and Language Arts for 15 years; I know archetypes are a commonly covered curriculum. However, let’s review what they are anyway. Briefly, an archetype is a character, setting, theme, or even a situation that can represent a universal pattern of human nature. They are universal because they can be found in every culture, religious denomination, geographic place, or time in history. They can also be a symbol (like a snake and apple) or a setting (an untouched Eden-like garden). Carl Jung theorized archetypes made up the collective unconscious — experiences shared by all races and cultures (birth, death, life cycles, love, trials, struggles, etc.). Present in art and literature are archetypal characters: The Hero, The Mentor, The Mother Figure and Innocent Youth, and The Villain, etc. There are also archetypal story lines: The Journey, The Fall, and? The Rags to Riches.
Disney did not “invent” killing off the parents and bringing in an evil stepmother. Stop blaming Disney. Frankly, that’s stupid. This has been an archetypal element in our collective unconscious since the beginning of time and will continue. We can find it everywhere, not just with Cinderella and not just in Disney movies. Start looking for it and you won’t be able to stop. In Phantom of the Opera, where is Christine’s father? Oh, he’s dead. Hamlet’s daddy? Dead. Harry Potter? Both of his folks are dead. Oh man, Star Wars… Luke and Leia’s mom is dead.
Mandy Burgan, the mother who wrote the seven reasons why she won’t let her daughter see Cinderella says she doesn’t want her daughter to get the wrong idea about stepparents especially as there are so many blended family today. I don’t want to minimize that real concern of hers. She went on to say that she herself has a great stepmother and I am confident that her daughter knows that because certainly her mother’s stepmother would be her grandmother. However, just as Burgan does say that there are so many blended families today her daughter will grow up to recognize that blended families are the “normal” and Cinderella’s stepfamily is not. And our children should be able to see and recognize that difference because Cinderella’s stepfamily is so blatantly not normal. It is abusive. Burgan says one reason she won’t let her daughter see it is because of “Mean Girl Behavior”. I admit, the scene in the Disney animated classic when the step-bitches (as I call the stepsisters) tear apart Cinderella’s dress is one where I begin to tear up. It’s also a scene when I openly talk to my 3-year-old daughter about how mean it is for them to do that because sisters and friends should help each other feel good about themselves. Instead of hiding it from her, I practice with her. We practice what to say if kids are mean to us or our friends. We pretend and play “Coulda-Woulda” which is when we say “If I coulda been there I woulda…” and fill in the blank.
The sad truth is, if we don’t identify abusive behavior for our children and tell them what it looks like and sounds like, they will often accept it as being normal behavior. Cinderella’s stepfamily is rotten to the core. It is abusive, demeaning and spiritually vacant. I don’t mean spiritually vacant in a religious sense, but in the way where it would rob a child of her entire feeling of self-worth. And it is okay to point that out to our child and say, “That is wrong of them to do that and that’s why it is important for us to love others.”
Burgan goes on the criticize the unrealistic nature of the fairy tale. Let me repeat that. She criticizes a fairy tale for being unrealistic. I’m not sure what I can add to that without sounding snarky so I’ll let the italics do the job there. I recognize that as mothers we want to make sure our daughters feel confident about themselves, to be happy and to understand what a “real” woman’s body looks like. Cinderella’s waistline doesn’t look like mine. I don’t feel bad about that. My waist used to be that small and it was awesome. I would like it to be that small again but there’s a whole chocolate cream pie in my fridge right now and that’s why it won’t be that small anytime soon. Something about willpower and no fairy godmother. This movie is also set during the 19th century when women were stuffed into corsets. Burgan mentions other period movies that showed women being squeezed into their bindings so we, the audience, knew they had help. Really? I am more concerned with the everyday messages the media is sending my daughter with photoshopped images — you know, the ones that we never see “being helped” — than one movie with one character that probably has a corset. My 3-year-old daughter also measures time as “yesterday last year” no matter what the time span is, so this mother who is fretting over her daughter legitimately believing she will fall in love and be married in one day is absurd.
Lastly, is criticizing Cinderella for being “The Passive Princess” which, to me, is pretty much a jerk move. Burgan accuses Cinderella for waiting around on her ass waiting to be rescued and not wanting her daughter to grow up doing the same. Who is the one who went to the ball to find the prince in the first place, lady? Cinder-freakin-ella, that’s who. Cinderella is a bad ass, and this is why:
Somewhere along the way, either in becoming “liberated women” or just becoming ass clowns, we have all internalized the message that needing help is the same as being weak. Some of us have also bought into the message that being patient, kind, and humble are all signs of passivity. Of being a doormat. Of “needing to be rescued”. It takes courage to be wait for the right opportunity. It takes strength to wake up each morning and work hard at what feels like a hopeless cause. And it takes fortitude to fight the battles worth fighting because you know when the war breaks out you’ll need the energy to save yourself. Asking for help is what we encourage people with addictions to do, we ask people who self-harm to reach out for, we beg people with depression to do, and yet we still manage to blame people in abusive environments when they don’t. A fairy godmother and even a prince can be anyone or anything — a teacher, a doctor, a neighbor, a friend — who is there at the right time with the right resource to help a woman improve, move ahead, plant a seed, or even just encourage her in her current situation. And these are all positive things that should not be sneered at but celebrated. Cinderella took the hand held out to her and she went out to her own damn opportunity because as she says herself in the Disney Classic, “They can’t order me to stop dreaming.”
If someone doesn’t want to take a child to see Cinderella, then don’t go see the movie. I’ll watch it twice to make up for it simply because if we are going to genuinely teach our daughters that their choices matter and make a difference, then we need to believe that all choices matter — even if it means choosing to ask for help.
We are complicated people. We all have dark, messy corners in our hearts that are sticky with cobwebs and grief. We all do. And this is what makes us perfect. Perfect to reach out to others, to empathize and to sympathize, to be compassionate while we serve one another in a way that reminds us of our humanity.
Yet we don’t.
Instead we become a collective librarian, censuring all who don’t comply with straighten up with the other book spines, remain quite while discussing only the classic canon, and return stray the novel by the time its due. We can all say the right things at the right times, but these “right” things and “right” times are empty and everyone really knows it.
Too often I see “right” things being framed in terms of scripture. Even today, I had a friend express a frustration she had with the assumption people take in forcefully sharing belief in their Jesus (I use “their” for a reason here) on her personal space — her Facebook wall. The assumption being that her Jesus will save my friend simply because 1). this stranger said so, 2). saving is as easy as clicking “share”, and 3). my friend needs saving. My friend is a remarkable human being — if she needs saving than we are all lost.
“…Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…” (Mark 12:31, KJV)
Using this scripture, people will remind others that we are to be accepting of everyone. For some reason, we don’t need to do anything else with everyone, we just need to be accepting of them. So almost every discussion I have been in regarding marriage equality, race relations, gender equality, foreign relations, and even liquor laws in my state, I have heard this scripture be used to somehow strengthen an argument — Just love our neighbors and everything will work out great.
I love the sentiment. I literally do love my neighbors on both sides of my property; they are some of the best people I have ever known and I am grateful to have them here beside me as I raise my children. However, there are two words people leave out that are perhaps the most important words: “as thyself”.
As an entire society and culture, we will not move forward by simply “loving our neighbor” if we do not love ourselves first. I don’t mean loving ourselves by buying our lattes before donating to a homeless shelter or getting a pedicure instead of going to parent/teacher conferences. I mean by accepting our own individual weaknesses and appreciating that all of our failures that we thought were points against us were only ever recorded by us and nobody us. By loving ourselves first, we become more compassionate to those who need us to be their advocates in important conversations where policy is potentially voted on or company protocol could possibly be changed.
Our media already teaches us to hide our imperfections. It teaches us that our photographs can be airbrushed and altered to reflect what we want ourselves to look like. It teaches us that there are miraculous pills and herbs that can be taken to give us our perfect bodies without work. We are able to have surgeries to change anything about us we don’t like and then ridicule anyone who does the same thing. Women have spent years trying to liberate themselves from whalebone corsets just so they can buy body shapers made out of spandex and lycra to fit around the push-up padded bras. Nobody wants to admit they’re taking medications for mental illnesses while everyone will gather around celebrity suicides insisting that depression is a disease.
We are perfectly imperfect, it is wonderful. And it needs to be celebrated.
We are not able to truly love our neighbors if we do not honestly know them at a level that is reached from sincerely understanding their joys and sorrows. Love for our neighbors come from sitting with them and throwing away the “right” words and simply holding their hands so we can say “I am so sorry this happened. How can I help?”
While I do believe in a savior, I also believe that in this small act — loving ourselves so we can love our neighbors — we can save each other. Which, in my opinion, is more important than spreading the Good Word on Facebook or by clicking “share”. I obviously can’t speak for Jesus, but I tend to think He would rather we love ourselves, too. I also know I can’t be hit by lightning through my comments, so I won’t worry about closing them down.