It’s silly, but I believe.

Dear Santa,

I read this comment from a fourteen-year-old boy last week, a comment that was left on my blog.

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I gotta level with you, Santa, I’ve been thinking about this all week, because I want to find the words to reply to this person, and I don’t know that I have the right ones.

I’ve been trying to remember what it felt like to be fourteen. To feel like the world was operating by a series of rules that no one had informed me about. That that the space between child and adult is confusing and scary in ways that are difficult to explain.

I remember desperately wanting to be taken seriously. I remember failing at that. I remember shame: that I wasn’t smart enough to converse with the adults yet, that I was too old to play at the kids’ table, that this state of in-between was also somehow my fault.

I’m a grown woman now, Santa, which means that when I do interact with teenagers, I’m now in the role of teacher. And even still: I often don’t have the right words. I hope and wish desperately that I will say things to my students that will let them know that they are loved, they have gifts to share, they have immense potential and extraordinary worth, and they should treat others as well as themselves with respect. But I only teach for a few short weeks in the summer. It’s not enough time.

Here’s why I can’t stop thinking about this fourteen-year-old boy:

He is expressing his opinion, and asserting his right to have it. He is experimenting with adult reasoning, and exploring what it feels like to make bold declarations in a public space. He is making it clear that the world needs to acknowledge his humanity. Take me seriously! I am a person with thoughts and opinions! Listen to me! I am no longer a child! 

That’s important. That’s part of growth. It shows that he is interested in becoming a thinking, intelligent adult. That’s to be applauded, and celebrated.

But I can’t stop thinking about it, because those opinions are not just that of a fourteen-year-old boy trying to assert his voice into the adults’ conversation. Those are the opinions of the leaders of our country. Those are the voices of CEOs and employers, congresspeople and teachers and fathers. Those are the opinions that permeate our culture.

They are the voices who don’t understand that just because women have equal rights, that does not mean the same thing as equal treatment.

Santa, I want to hug that fourteen-year-old boy, and say: you may have the same rights as your fourteen-year-old female classmates. But you will be treated differently.

By fourteen, most of your female classmates will be menstruating. They will not be able to talk about this openly without shame or stigma. They will whisper to one another desperately, wondering who has carried an extra pad or tampon with them to school that day, planning elaborate maneuvers to sneak it to the ladies’ room. When I was fourteen, I bled through the back of my skirt and onto my chair because I was taking a test and couldn’t leave the classroom. It was humiliating.

This is not an unusual story. Most women have a version of it. 

By fourteen, your female classmates have likely had sexual things said to them by strange men. Men driving by, men in stores, men in malls and out in public. I volunteered at a soup kitchen when I was fourteen. A homeless man took my hand when I brought him a plate of food and I thought, for a moment, that he was holding my hand in a gesture of gratitude. He then placed my hand on the outside of his trousers, so I could feel his penis through the fabric of the pants. I pulled away, but didn’t tell my supervisor. The man smiled, and stared at me as he ate his soup, the liquid running down his chin.

This is not an unusual story. Most women have a version of it. 

 

By fourteen, you will perhaps have felt some pressure to assert your strength, independence, and masculinity. It’s normal: it’s what happens to teenaged boys, although it’s often toxic, and it’s often harmful. That pressure to bottle your emotions, never to cry, never to be visibly upset: that pressure is one of the things that feminism is all about. Trying to tell you that there’s no one right way to “be a man” — it’s all about just being YOU.

Your female classmates will have felt a different version of this. They will have felt pressure to raise their hands in class less, to talk back less, to play dumb more. To be concerned with popularity instead of their previous interests. When I was fourteen, I was teased and tormented for being smart. I went home and cried, on many days.

This is not an unusual story. Most women have a version of it. 

And you are correct: it is not the same as in the Middle East, where women are treated differently, and often very badly. I am not living in Saudia Arabia, where women cannot drive. I am not living in India, where access to basic menstrual supplies can prevent me from attending school.

There are countries out there where women are paid less than men, where women are not represented equally in the governments that represent the populations, where the percentages of women dying in poverty or during childbirth is rising, even though medical advances have been made that should spare their lives. Where female inmates are shackled while giving birth, where female prisoners are routinely raped and sexually assaulted, where women are not guaranteed any kind of maternity care after their pregnancies.

Fourteen-year-old boy, the country I’m talking about in that last paragraph is the United States.

And I know that seems surprising, because we’re one of the richest countries in the world, and we’re very good at thinking we’re #1. We’re big, and we’re strong, and we’re often in charge.

But last week, delegates from the United Nations — from Poland, the UK, and Costa Rica — visited the United States, and were appalled by what they saw.  Those problems I’m talking about, all those women without healthcare and maternity leave and equal representation? Many places in the rest of the world have attempted to solve those problems. Here in America, we’re too busy fighting over whether or not those problems exist.

And what was the most surprising to them is that the women in the United States often had no idea that women in other developed countries had more rights, and were treated better.

Santa, I want to say all of this, but I worry that I can’t make this fourteen-year-old boy hear me. I can hope that he does, but I can’t open his heart to understand, to learn, and to imagine what it might be like if he were born a different gender. To learn that in a world where he can grow up to be anything, I so desperately hope that he grows up to be someone who treats women as people, and not as second-class citizens. I can hope that for him, and for myself, but I’m not made of miracles, and my words can only do so much, if they can do anything at all.

Santa, I’m so tired of having to explain that these problems exist. I’m exhausted. It should be self-evident by now, and it is not.

I want to move on to solving these problems. I am so very, very tired of having to rationalize and prove their existence.

But I have to stay stuck in the mode of explaining them, because of this fourteen-year-old boy, and everyone who thinks like him. Who may or may not listen to me. Who may or may not choose to believe me.

Who, like many others out there, could instead choose to believe that feminists — a word for people who believe that women and men should be treated equally in society — are lazy, greedy, angry, and selfish. Because that’s easier than saying, “These problems exist.”

Santa, for Christmas this year, I’d like some of these problems to be solved. I’m not asking for a miracle. But I’d like some hope.

I’d like for more teenagers to talk about these issues. I’d like for more teachers to help facilitate these conversations. I’d like for those conversations to start small: what can we do to make our own community a little better for all of us?  It’s useful to start there, before we jump to problems on the other side of the world.

I’d like for more adults to talk about these issues. I’d like for those conversations to happen with maximum patience and respect, even when that is sometimes difficult. I’d like for these conversations to happen face-to-face, and not over the keyboard: it is so easy to resort to shouting and name-calling when you cannot see the impact that your words can make.

I’d like for more leaders to talk about these issues. I’d like for my elected officials to work together and solve them. To put away differences, re-election campaigns, and fundraisers and actually work together to make my country a better place.

I’d like some more patience. I’d like a renewed sense of purpose when I am feeling discouraged or sad. I’d like to know the right words to say when it is my turn to say them, and I’d like the wisdom to know when it is my turn to listen, and let others do the talking.

I’d like for the world to actually BE a little bit better. It’s a big ask, but I believe it is possible.

To quote Miracle on 34th Street: I believe. I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.

Merry Christmas, Santa. My best to the reindeer, the elves, and Mrs. Claus; I’ve had some longstanding curiosities about their equal treatment in all of this, but that’s a conversation for another day.

With love and with thanks,
Katherine

 

PS: Oh, and one more thing. Can we all agree that the use of the word “retarded” is never okay? Awesome. I really appreciate it.

original

I believe. I believe. It’s silly, but I believe. 

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53 thoughts on “It’s silly, but I believe.

  1. So well put, again, as always. I hope he – and all the other fourteen-year-old boys (and business owners, and politicians, and leaders) who need to hear it – read this with an open mind.

      • I’m not sure you understood the point of her post or my comment, but thank you for your thoughts. I can assure you I have never claimed to be a member of the “weakere [sic] sex” because I do not believe such a thing exists. We’re all human beings in this together. Merry Christmas/happy holiday of your choice, Micah.

  2. There are people starving in their world countries but that doesn’t mean Americans should stop eating, nor does it mean we ignore poverty in our own streets. A good thing is a good thing, regardless of where it’s needed the most.

  3. I love how you speak about this so cleanly of any resentment.
    I am 17 years old and from England. And I still struggle trying to find my place in an adult conversation. I know what it’s like to try and assert my opinion. But I do not feel like I could talk about these issues so coolly. You have helped understand the faults in both of our respective countries. I knew before but it resonates clearer within me now. So dont give up on talking about this with teenagers because although we’re a little slow sometimes and we need spelling it out sometimes but we also need adults like you to guide us.

  4. I think it is fabulous that a 14 year old boy commented on your blog. Whether anyone agrees with his opinion, or with his use of the word “retarded”, he is spreading his wings to engage in conversation about the world. What I get from his comment (me being a a middle aged (GASP!) mother of 3 young adults)…perhaps he does not see the need for feminism in HIS WORLD, but he doesn’t realize that *perhaps* his world is rather limited in scope. At that age, we don’t often see too far past ourselves. Maybe the women in his limited scope world appear to be equal to the men? You, Katherine, are gifted with the ability to see the world around you, and express what you see so eloquently here.

  5. Interesting that you should mention the United States in particular – United Nations delegates concluded after a recent visit to the country that the USA “falls short of international human rights standards for women.” The most surprising result of the study was that American women, when questioned, believed that they had it better than women in the rest of the world.
    http://www.vox.com/2015/12/18/10587126/un-womens-rights-embarrassment
    http://edition.cnn.com/2015/04/16/us/american-women-world-rankings/

  6. Good on you for taking your time to come up with a collected response and not lashing out with your disagreement as so many people on the internet do. Hopefully he’ll read this too and appreciate that you are listening and responding – and trying to help guide him instead of just trying to shut him down as adults often do with teens trying to engage in “adult” conversations.

  7. Wow I woke up reading this message and I am inspired by it. The voice of a 14 years old boy trying to be heard is also an inspiration to people of his age and those older. A lot of times people get confused by the fact that equality on paper doesn’t mean it happens in our every day lives. I look forward to the day that every woman every where in the world will have a voice that inspires other women. It is a small progress as Saudi Arabia was able to have her first female in government. More needs to be done. I am hopeful that the Saudi men see that allowing their women into society and politics is more of a good than harm to them.

  8. Wonderful post – thanks for giving me something intelligent to think on while the world around me explodes into tinsel and ribbons and sparkly things. Beautifully written and expressed.

  9. Pingback: It’s silly, but I believe. | hungry-happy-hippie

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  11. I hate to say it, but I am a 60 year old woman and had to deal with these same issues, again and again. I was serving a meal for homeless people for Christmas and a man told me that he had lost his daughter four years ago. I hugged him and he whispered in my ear that he only wanted a hug so he could feel my breasts. Of course, I was shocked and laughed it off, not knowing how to respond. So it continues, every day in every way. Thank you for responding to this 14 year old.

  12. Dear Author,

    Although I am not a feminist, nor am I a female. I may not exactly understand your plight.
    But I do have a mother and a sister, and I understand them.
    I am definitely a fan of your blogs.

    regards,

  13. Pingback: It’s silly, but I believe. | 411 from the 717 coming at you K-Bey's Way!!!

  14. While you are pointing with a quite unfriendly finger on other countries in the world, I just want to indicate that in the Sahara the Tuareg’s tribe society is completely matriarchal, this means that only the women are in posession of the housings and the wealth of the families who also control all financials. Men are just “loafing” around as real nomads in the external world like in former times the hunters while women take care of all housing matters and the children. This is the traditional oldfashioned way of handling social affairs by the Tuaregs what does also not imply equal gender rights but it is still working till today. More positive results for both genders can be experienced however in all Scandinavian countries here in Europe.

  15. Wonderful, heart felt, exposing truth. Womens struggles to achieve equality in the workplace or anywhere else for that matter is a sad reminder that in 2015 women are still struggling for equality. The very fact that We are speaking about it means we have a long way to go to get to equality. Women in our society are ridiculed and insulted, for doing some of the most natural things like child birth, breast feeding and menstruation. We have come a long way but still have a long way to go. The word “retarded” should be eliminated from the spoken language, it has no purpose, is a total lack of sensitivity towards fellow human beings. I cringe everytime I hear it, I also make a point to vocalize my dislike of this word. Thank you for sharing.

  16. I’m not much older than the boy, but every thing you just said is exactly how to phrase an answer. This is the first post I’ve read on here, and you’re the first person I followed, and I’m glad I found you so early!

  17. I agree with what you wrote and I thank life that I was born into such a family where such beliefs were taken as given (partly, it come from Scottish ancestry). I am especially pained by the whole biological bit about menstruation which reflects a wider disgust with the body and our sexuality. Women will never be treated equally while this sick attitude prevails, and sadly, it is reinforced by most women just as much as by men.

    However, I wonder at your partial blindness. Have you ever been a boy and looked across the dinner table at your two brothers and thought: “If the government so decides, we can by conscripted into some idiotic war in some faraway place and have our lives totally disrupted, live in fear the whole time, and be parted from our lover, come back traumatised and guilty, perhaps dysfunctional, without any legs – if we are ‘lucky’ enough to come back at all”. And then looked at your two sisters and thought: “That wont happen to you because you are exempt – because we are not treated equally”. (Of course, my sisters never complained about this discrimination against their brothers – they never noticed it.) And have you, as a male, carried that idea for years of your life? I have, but as a male I am not allowed to complain about it. I must be stoical and STRONG like a real man.

    (If females had to be conscripted equally with males, history would have far fewer pointless and evil wars.)

  18. thank you for putting into words so many little things that we forget so often. as a newly converted feminist still grappling with the issue of having to answer the why we need feminism question, this comes as a great moral and confidence boost.

  19. Pingback: It’s silly, but I believe. | String of Pearls

  20. Pingback: It’s silly, but I believe. – Courage Is Not An Option.

  21. I thought your post on this so on the mark, and I just saw a glaring evidence of why your message to this boy is so timely and critical – the pro-rape men’s rights leader organizing a meetup day for misogynist in various cities around the world including the U.S. Thank you for writing this with not only obvious intelligence but with compassion. http://sitdaily.blogspot.com/?m=1

  22. This might be a belated response but i just happened see your post now. whatever you have written is absolutely true and well analysed but for one factual error. Please allow me to update. when you say “I am not living in India, where access to basic menstrual supplies can prevent me from attending school”- that was prevalent a couple of decades back. Not now.

  23. Pingback: It’s silly, but I believe. – Marwa's Thoughts

  24. Maybe you already are doing something to tackle the inequality. Maybe you are shaping the mind of that 14 year old boy by writing this and that is something that is enough for now; because he will remember it the next time he has this conversation with someone

    Great post

  25. Your post is real and honest to the point of causing discomfort to people who still ill-treat women in some form or the other. It’s not enough to say that we are better than some others, because this relative ease does absolutely nothing for those women who are being treated badly, in progressive societies, day after day. What do they care about Saudi Arabia if life is not good to them in the States? Thus, beautiful post, one that more people need to read.
    Btw, I have my own blog on wordpress – Feminism is common sense – https://feminismiscommonsense.wordpress.com . It would mean the world to me if you could take a little glance at it and tell me how I’m doing. Criticism would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  26. Awesome! I love your blog. It would be awesome if you check mine-free people. I’m 13 year old too and sometimes this question pops in my head too. I’m a girl and here in India it is so bad if you start menstruating now. I have and my familty thinks of this as a bad omen. I’m being treated with disgust outside but my grandmother and father understand it so they are quite good to me.I found this so relatable. Thanks for inspiring!

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