Such Is Our Power.
A couple weeks ago my daughter’s best friend told a girl in her class that “when she was a little girl, she wanted to marry her best friend.” The girl she told decided this was evidence that my daughter’s friend is a lesbian. She then spread the rumor to the sixth grade class that this girl was gay.
She is now bullied, alienated and harassed by children who used to be her friends. She comes home in tears, devastated—wondering what it is exactly she’s being accused of and why. I imagine she also desperately regrets that moment she shared a piece of her life with the child of an ignorant homophobic asshole.
Wait. Was that my outside voice? My bad.
But actually, I have some evidence for that statement.
When the mother of the bullied girl spoke to the mother of the instigator, the instigator’s mother said, “Well, my daughter swears your daughter said she ‘likes girls,’ and now, my daughter is uncomfortable around yours. You know, when she tries to hug her and things like that.”
Yes, people. You heard that correctly. The mother justified the bullying based on the idea that the girl is, in fact, gay. As if “actual gayness” makes the bullying defensible, or even more terrifying, understandable.
The next time I saw this child, I hugged her a little too long. As she sat curled up with my daughter on the bed, giggling and looking at books, playing Barbies, lost in their fantasy land, I wanted to move my family to an abandoned island. I wanted to pull all kids of all the people I know out of school and home school them (you know, cause that went so well last time I tried it).
But my feelings were not all so gushy.
To put it bluntly, I was also fucking pissed. And I still am.
A certain sentence keeps coming to mind:
“You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.”
I see the truth of these words everywhere: if you don’t do something to create change, you’re maintaining the status quo.
And people, that is where we are right now.
Our kids are going to school with the offspring of the ignorant. They are hanging out with kids raised with bigotry and hatred. They are going to school with children indoctrinated with beliefs and approaches we would rather not believe even exist in 2012.
But they do.
It isn’t enough to simply not be bigoted ourselves. It isn’t enough to teach love and acceptance of others and figure our kids will know what to do when they are confronted with some kid getting bullied. We all want to think our kid won’t be the follower of the bully, but it isn’t enough to think, hope or assume. We must face these things directly.
It isn’t enough to send our kid to school each day figuring they’ll stand strong when the homophobia of American society stares them in their young faces.
It isn’t enough to figure: “We live in a liberal community. Everybody is open here.” Because they aren’t.
If we aren’t explaining to our children the injustices of this society, we’re part of the problem.
If we aren’t empowering our kids to act, we’re part of the problem.
If we aren’t making it very clear what we’re up against in holding the belief that all people deserve equal access to civil liberties, we’re part of the problem.
This isn’t about marriage equality (though seriously, how do we not have it yet?!). I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about basic respect for others, and whether or not they live like you do.
My friend came out when he was 15-years-old. He immediately faced harassment. He approached his teachers and they did nothing. One day at lunch he walked up to a table to sit down with the kids who used to be his friends, and none of them would sit by him. He turned around and walked out of school, and never went back.
(Incidentally, he moved to San Francisco and joined the circus, which clearly makes him the coolest human being to ever walk the earth, but that’s another story.)
The fact is that someday our child will be the one standing next to the kid who just came out.
Our child will be at that lunch table, deciding, watching.
Our child will watch a girl’s face fall as it turns toward the hatred of her bullies.
Our child will be the one who will make the decision to be part of the problem or part of the solution.
What are we doing to do to help determine the outcome of that moment?
There is so much power in the home. There is so much power in motherhood. We are the ones creating the new wave of citizens. Often we think of power as prestige and control in a high-powered position: as a spot in government, as a place “above” a bunch of people.
But I believe the most power lies in the words and hands of mothers and fathers, in the way we speak to our kids about what’s going on in the world, in the books we choose to read, in the version of history we share. In the tools we place in our children’s hands: awareness, perspective, a sense of justice and morality, a sense of what’s right.
And a passionate desire to defend it.
When I was around five years old my babysitter was a lesbian. One night I spent the night at her and her girlfriend/wife’s house (not sure which).
The next morning, when I got in the car with my mom, I asked “How come they are both women but they sleep in the same bed?”
She responded, “Because sometimes women love men, and sometimes women love other women.”
And I remember thinking to myself, “Oh, okay.”
And I never questioned it again. Such is the power of a mother, to form the foundation upon which a lifetime is built.
Yes, this is a call to arms: for you, for me, for us. Why now? Because I’ve been shocked by the proximity of ignorance and hatred to my own children.
And it ain’t funny.
Once again I see that I can’t protect them fully, block them from the assholes, shield them from what I’d like to ignore. And so, I must choose: to back down, to turn away or to let it go.
These are our kids. This is our future. And we’ve got some say in that. Because we’re mothers. And such is our power.
The author lives in Northern Californian with three kids, a questionable attitude, and a husband who thinks “getting dressed up” means shaving his forearm tattoo.
Editor: Edith Lazenby
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