Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why I'm a Feminist

My dad made me a feminist.

Before you get all proud and happy about enlightened maleness, let me explain.

My honey and I stopped at my parents' place on our return trip from Voyageurs National Park and it was not good. Being off the grid for a week meant that I missed the whole #yesallwomen phenomenon and the crime that inspired it, but I find this hashtag and its attendant backlash very interesting because of my own situation.

My dad does not accept me for who I am. I suspect that he never has. My choices are never right, my decisions are wrong, and my opinions are irrelevant. I'm actually not sure if any parent anywhere has the ability and willingness to accept their kids the way they are, but I have many friends with kids now and they certainly seem to accept their kids as they are...but you never know what goes on in the home. My story is a case in point.

Every time my friends have met my parents, for my whole life, they always come away impressed with my folks' vigor, energy, and kindness. My parents are great in public. But you know that idea about public face versus private face? Yeah. Well.

Here's an example of what goes on to this day when I am in my parents' home:

Dad starts talking about how a CA town needs to take water from somewhere in another state or they'll go dry. I mention that's been done before, how it's not a good idea for the people living in the place where the water is, and...

Dad stands up and cuts me off with a loud and vehement, "I don't want to hear any of your liberal crap!"

I turn my head and stare at my honey and my mom, who gently scolds dad's comment. I'm used to being silenced by my dad. He's been trying to silence me my entire life.

I proceed anyway and explain the story of the Hetch-Hetchy Valley, how John Muir fought to keep the valley from being flooded to provide San Francisco with water, and how devastating that dam was to the ecosystem in the Yosemite region. I then attempt to bring up the Glen Canyon Dam, which now blocks the Colorado River from flowing freely, that was installed to create a recreation area as well as to provide electricity for the region.

Dad's getting angrier and angrier and as per usual, starts yelling about how I don't know what I'm talking about and on and on and on.

I am a feminist because the example of male behavior I grew up with showed me that men control, dominate, and silence women.

During this same visit, I asked my parents if we could please have a half gallon of gas - they have several five gallon cans in the shed full of gasoline - and we arrived with the low fuel light on. It was Memorial Day and they live five miles from the nearest gas station, so I figured taking a half gallon would guarantee we would not get stuck on the way to get gas in the morning. I offered to pay for it, too.

Mom said yes.

Dad said no. Because he didn't want to have to drive that five miles to fill up that lost half gallon.

He would rather me run out of gas and get stuck on the side of a remote mountain road than give or sell me a half gallon of gas.

In the morning, I whispered to my mom: "Let's go out to the shed so I can get that gas."

She said, to my horror, "I dare not override your father."

Shocked and appalled, I whispered, "He'll never know! Don't tell him, just let's go."

True to her word, she went over to the dining room table, where my dad was talking to my honey, and interrupted them to ASK if she could give me a half gallon of gas. I was on my way out the front door, and just heard my dad protesting mightily. I shut the door and walked out to the shed. Mom joined me and I tried handing her a five dollar bill. She declined it and said, "I'm not like Dad."

"Good thing, or I'd never be here," I said.

The worst part of the visit was shortly after we had arrived the night before. We were sitting in the living room and Mom announced that they would not be coming to my annual summer party this year. My dad then took over and gave only one reason - they would rather stay home.

This weekend, they are traveling to visit two different sets of friends in SC and GA.

But they don't want to drive across the state to attend my family and friend party that I've put on each summer, usually around my birthday in July, because I just enjoy being surrounded by the people I care about.

Evidently, that's not enough. Dad would rather stay home than come to my party and see me.

To say I'm insulted is an understatement.

And to show how serious their plan to remain home is, my mom gave me my birthday present right then and there. On Memorial Day.

As we left, it occurred to me that my Dad must love me because I'm his daughter, but he definitely doesn't like me. He never asked me anything during our visit or addressed me directly, except to yell at me to be quiet.

I left home at 18 because of this. I am a feminist because of this.

I am also a feminist because my Mom can't be. I really listened during our visit and almost every sentence that came out of her mouth deferred to my dad: He wants, he likes, he doesn't want, he doesn't like. I wanted so badly to ask my mom, in my dad's presence, what does SHE want? But I know her answer because I've asked her before. She would say, "It's just easier this way." And if I asked in his presence, there would have been a fight, as usual. For my mom, it's easier to just cater to my dad's every whim because of the stressful misery her life becomes when she doesn't.

I'm a feminist because my mom has spent most of her adult life serving a man who sees fit to insult, be mean, and silence both her and her daughter whenever he feels like it and then acts like it's our fault - we brought it on - it's not him, it's us.

The repercussions of this reality still affect me today. I have tried, very hard, to NOT look at men like the enemy - but I do not have a healthy relationship with men. Even my honey now, whom I trust and who has done more for me than any man ever has, and who is NOTHING like my father, feels the brunt of my unintended reactions. Every suggestion is a sharp criticism in my damaged brain. When he told me this weekend that he might as well change his name to my dad's name because that's how I treat him, I felt this comment like a punch to the solar plexus. I was devastated all over again and remained upset all night.

My dad never beat me, and always provided financial security, but he did damage me. He's kind and outgoing to my cousin, his friends, my friends, but he is not kind and outgoing to me. Not only do I feel disrespected, I also feel so very sad. Because this is my reality and even when he's gone, I will still have to deal with the consequences.

That's why I'm a feminist.


Jessica Fogleman said...

Thank you for sharing. And thank you for being YOU, the strong, caring, inspiring woman that you are. Sometimes the most painful experiences can forge who we become, and you inspire and empower so many people around you. We accept and VALUE you just the way you are.

American Puzzle said...

Thank you, Jess. I do appreciate that. <3

K said...

Thank you for sharing this. Your father reminds me of my father and grandfather (actually, like most men in my family). We grew up with a running "joke" that a Sauerwein male is never wrong. I love my father and my grandfather, they both have some great qualities but they are very stubborn, controlling and old fashioned in a lot of their thinking. Even though my mom and my grandmother both worked their entire lives they have always been expected to cook and clean while the men do "mens work". I also grew up with my brother, noticing how he was always treated differently.

I also completely understand what you are saying about how your mom isn't allowed to do or say what she wants. My grandmother has always had to tell me her opinions in private. I think the best example of this is that my grandfather is very homophobic and I remember talking to my grandmother about it one day and she whispered (even though he wasn't even there) that she believes that love is love no matter the gender.

So I guess my family is also why I am a feminist.

American Puzzle said...

Thank you for sharing your story, K, and for your kind words. I've had many of those hushed conversations with my mom - she even goes into a different room when we talk on the phone sometimes to get out of my dad's hearing range. Sick that so many women are in this situation.