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“I would not send a poor girl into the world, . . . ignorant of the snares that beset her path; nor would I watch and guard her, till, deprived of self-respect and self-reliance, she lost the power or the will to watch and guard herself .” -Anne Bronte

I have never been what you might consider a mainstream individual; homeschooled through high school, raised in bizarre Westboro-esque fringe “home” churches and moving every two years, it is often a struggle to identify even vague similarities between myself and the people around me. Nothing has isolated me more from society, however, than my views on feminism; and in particular, the way those views shape my efforts to nurture and protect my son.

A recent rainy day found my son and I, accompanied by an adorable pint-sized friend, on a walk through our local wetland en route to the playground. The two kids sloshed through the mud ahead of me with tiny walking sticks, chattering away to one another in near-baby talk as I trailed behind, tuned in to the persistent kick-kick-kick of my daughter in utero.

The kids rounded a bend in the path just a few feet ahead of me, and I smiled to hear their squeals as they met up with a friendly dog walker. I was still smiling as I approached, and my son turned to beam back at me, his hands full of muddy dog. And then, still smiling beatifically, he turned and slammed his little friend off the trail into the shrubbery. No provocation, no reason- he is simply a toddler, and he is learning, and the process is often uncomfortable for an adult to watch.

The little girl, who is several months younger than my son, sat crying in the shrubbery while the dog owner attempted to simultaneously scold my son and verbally comfort the sobbing little girl.

I ignored the woman and stooped to lift the sobbing child out of the prickles and mud. I carried her back to her original place by my son, and then told her firmly, “I’m sorry you got hurt. That should never happen. You have the right to play safely. You tell Darren that he is not allowed to push you around!”

I could feel the dog walker stiffen.

Little Dorothy, who has been a regular visitor at our house for several months now, stiffened her tiny back and turned on my son ferociously.

“Bad!” she screamed. “Never, never okay, Darren! RAR!”

She curled her tiny dimpled baby hands into claws and lunged upward at my much larger son, growling menacingly.

“Dorothy is telling you to play nice,” I translated to my wide-eyed child. “She will not let anyone push her, because she is a tough cookie!”

“No pushing!” my son echoed, clearly a little shaken by Dorothy’s Godzilla impersonation. “Play nice!”

He reached his hand out tentatively, open palm, and waited for a moment while Dorothy eyed him suspiciously. The growling stopped, and she accepted his high five of apology before turning to continue her trek to the playground. Both children were laughing and cheerful again within seconds. The dog walker looked genuinely offended, but she is not my responsibility, and Dorothy and Darren are.

I can’t in good conscience intervene on Dorothy’s behalf when her much larger, stronger, more coordinated friend picks on her, because in doing so I would be actively training this infant to view herself as a passive victim whose only recourse in life is to appeal to the strength (and hopefully the benevolence) of her authorities when her rights are threatened.

Dorothy’s femininity makes her vulnerable, but as she clearly demonstrated it does not render her helpless. She is a force to be reckoned with, a powerful person who only needs to be unleashed from society’s patronizing demands.

Conversely, I can’t stand back and watch my own son take advantage of his size and strength to abuse the vulnerable people in his life. As I see it, I have a window of about eight years before he hits puberty and becomes truly, permanently privileged by nature, large enough to intimidate and threaten or serve and protect. Before those final, terrifying growth spurts hit and my son takes on a stature that could make him real a threat even to me, I feel compelled to help him realize his own vulnerability and the true nature of the women he will one day decide to abuse or cherish. I want him to learn to see our fundamental similarities, our unifying traits, and not be swept away by our differing physical characteristics.

Certainly, it would be simpler to force a stubborn “sorry” out of him. Society would be far more understanding of that approach. I have a heart like anyone else, and it breaks like any other when I see a tiny little girl crying and forlorn. I want to scoop her up to comfort her, to take advantage of her sadness to get a little snuggle time. I want to play the hero and fix the situation myself so that I can claim ownership over her happiness. But I can’t do those things, because I will be damned before anyone takes advantage of my own moments of sorrow and vulnerability.

I am privileged, grateful to have heroes ranging from Simone de Beauvoir to Nancy Pelosi whose lives shine like beacons in history to help me and my sisters find our way through this often dangerous world. How can I turn my back on the lessons I have learned from Lucretia Coffin Mott, Benazir Bhutto, and Maysoon al-Hashemi? How can I withhold these lessons from the next generation of American women? It would be dangerous, as well as wrong. I will not put children at risk for the sake of my own comfort. I can’t rest comfortably on the backs of others.

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Written by GRSeim

February 22, 2011 at 4:15 am

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