Who Can Find a Virtuous Woman?

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I learned, recently, that discussing gender roles is a surefire way to get everyone I know angry at me and angry at everybody I know who seems to support part of what they think I have to say.

It was a messy afternoon, let me tell you.  So, I thought, why not wade in to the fray again?  This time, I can give everyone more and better things to yell about!  My Sunday’s looking open, and it’s been a while since I’ve broken a bottle of Guinness against the bar and threatened someone with it.

I have 7 children – 6 girls, and one boy, smack dab in the middle of them.  My 3 eldest are all nipping at each other’s heels in the race to puberty, and I am finding that The World At Large has a renewed interest in them.  Up until now, most of the direction and the expectations were aimed at me, the mother.  Now I am being told that it’s time for me to quit sheltering them, and let others take it from here.  The girls are on the cusp of realizing their sexuality, after all, and with sexuality comes involvement in long-term relationships, with the accompanying solidification of identity.  That is not something parents can expect to successfully guide their children through.  Kids think parents and sex are a disgusting combination.  Did you not know this?

Before I sign my pubescent children up for the standard fare of teenage-hood, I feel the need to examine what is on offer, here.  The school system, the Church, and popular culture all seem to think that this is a time for girls, in particular, to discover what it means to be a woman.  I’ve spent 34 of my 35 years wondering what it meant to be a woman, and extremely unsure that I met any of the qualifications beyond having a uterus.

As I struggled to fit myself and my worldview into any semblance of acceptable femininity, I spent a lot of time observing how people interacted with my girls.  Here are some things I have noticed –

Most people call little girls, “Princess,” the vast, vast majority of adults do it.

Everyone comments on their clothes and their hair.

People expect me to coddle them more than my son.  No one would bat an eyelash when I let him climb playground equipment by himself at age 2, but my daughters get an average of 3 assists per half hour if I’m sitting on the bench and the toddler is climbing by herself.

People expect me to respond to my girls’ cries by picking them up and removing them from the situation, but I got smiles of approval if I waited for my son to come to me when he went ass over teakettle.  I was actually told, “You don’t want to make her hard!” when I protested a man picking up my toddling daughter who had taken a very minor spill and was self-correcting with some minor whining.

People like to tell my girls what kind of faces to make.  “If you’re going to say no, do it with a smile!”  No one has ever said that to my son.  Ever.

Toys, clothes, and especially shoes that are made for girls are absolutely worthless trash.  Many of them are designed to show off assets that girls that age don’t even know they should want to have.  And they are not designed for any kind of active play.  I can buy shorts and shirts for my son and expect the next two kids to wear them out when they get around to acquiescing to being clothed.  My daughters are no longer passing clothes down to each other – they get holes or become misshapen in about 3 months of careful wear.  If the kids wear them to play outside, the clothes are ruined immediately.

toddler

I could also pick through talks and lessons from church, children’s books, television programming, movies, lunch boxes, magazines, and newspaper headlines, and complain all day about this – girls are taught to sit still and look pleasing/hot.  Girls are taught to look to others for approval, permission, and even a sense of self.

So where do these girls go for power?  If a girl’s identity is based on her relationships and her ability to coax “Princess” out of someone with authority, what will she do if and when people stop swooping in to save and comfort her for a scraped knee, or aid her in getting to the top of the slide?  Will she realize that sending messages of sexual availability can give her both status and power?  When we rush in to deliver our girls from over-exertion and apprehension, we aren’t teaching them to be gentle and pliant, we’re teaching them that they should use other people to get what they want rather than getting it themselves.  We’re teaching them to manipulate others.  And since we’re teaching this to all girls, we’re implicitly teaching them to manipulate men to get what they need.  Is it any wonder that girls are then so likely to obsess about their looks, to dress in ways that make parents and elders so uncomfortable, to become consumed with portraying just the right persona at the expense of other pursuits?

why-men-love-a-damsel-in-distress

I think it is vitally important for me to first and foremost, look to my children, individually, to know how to raise them, individually.  When the woman with an issue of blood came to Jesus and touched the hem of his garment, Jesus said, “I perceive that virtue has gone out of me.”  I love that phrase, because it tells me that virtue is not something we put on, like a straight jacket, to prevent our wicked selves from flailing around and laying waste to our surroundings, it is something living inside, that we bring out to bless others.  This is how I attempt to deal with my children.  I try to look at them as fully human people with less experience in meeting their own needs, not as raw material that must be molded into the correct shape.  My job is to facilitate the bringing forth of their inherent virtue, and that often means weeding out actors who wish to direct my kids rather than to support them in their self-direction.

The forces that wish to train my girls to be humble and teachable are not the only ones I feel the need to engage and subvert.  Pop culture – movies, television, music, and all the attendant merchandising that it serves, often portrays itself as the answer to antiquated and burdensome gender roles, and its message to my girls seems to be, “Your body is your currency, and if you give us all your money and all your brain cells, and all your hours, and your will, we will protect the value of your currency.”  We live in a country that spent $8.1 billion on cosmetic surgery in 2015.  In 2014, 92% of cosmetic surgery patients were women, and breast enhancement was the top cosmetic surgery.  But we still don’t have a single, solitary diagnostic test for lactation supply.  If you have trouble breastfeeding your baby, the medical industry in the United States has one drug for you, and zero tests to look at why you might be having problems.

As a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom to 7 children, I get my fair share of funny looks.  If I happen to tell someone I am a die-hard feminist and have named 4 of my 6 daughters after movers and shakers in the suffrage and reproductive freedom movements, I get to watch their eyes really bug out.  What is it that would lead people to believe that feminism is not compatible with bearing children and baking bread?  Why do people who work with children receive some of the worst compensation in the United States?  When did we collectively decide that work that is traditionally done by women is, by its nature, menial and low class?   And why are we perpetuating those myths?  What happens to girls who want to have babies, when we tell them that caring for those babies full time until they are raised is a job for the self-indulgent, the ignorant, and the poverty-stricken?  Why have we discarded the idea that mothers and grandmothers should pass on skills and knowledge to their daughters and granddaughters?  Why doesn’t Hillary Clinton, the feminist with the largest podium in the world, have anything to say about birth justice, or relieving onerous tax burdens on single-income families?  Why are all her solutions to the problems of women focused on programs that simultaneously direct more power and money to government agencies – institutions that are, and always have been, dominated by men?  Where is her concern for the women and girls eking out an existence in countries she is so eager to bomb?

refugee

I value the work that I do in my home – not so much the cooking, and the cleaning, and the wiping of tiny rears, but the creation of a safe place for small humans to chase bliss.  I love to see my children healthy and clear-headed and strong-limbed.  I like cleaning off the dirt they earned during the day, because I like to see the physical evidence of their pursuit of new knowledge.  I value the efforts I make to expose my kids to knowledge and skills, and I value the work I do to inspire them to keep working until their interests become passions.  I cherish the headaches that come from several instruments being played at the same time to different music.  I love the opportunities I get to learn how to say sorry and make it right with a kid who is learning how to own herself and know her needs and desires.

Please hear me, now.  You can’t put a bow on domestic drudgery, call it God’s will for women, and make me love it.  I will always try to get out of doing chores.  Nor can you look at all the boring, dirty, hard parts of my life and tell me I am wasting my time.  Both approaches completely miss the heart of motherhood.  The job that I have dedicated my time, and my health, and my sanity to, is a simple, repeated act of showing up for the tiny people who depend on me.  It’s an opportunity for me to reach into my soul and drag out the best I have to offer, and it’s an opportunity to overcome my fears and my failings.  This is how I Woman.

I will not teach my daughters that God expects them to cook and clean and have babies, nor will I teach them that having babies is a side hobby they might want to fit in around other, more worthy pursuits.

I show them that I value the precious chance I get to be a part of another person’s life and heart.  That’s it.  That’s all they need to know.

Good Friend, I Am Building This Bridge for Him

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I was in a cult during my highschool years. I remember when I was in 10th grade – a sophomore, I guess, we had a Special Outing. It was February in Rhode Island. It had been a long, cold, winter. The heating system was ancient and unreliable, and many of the radiators in the dorms housed families of spiders. The stress of living in a cult plus the terror of going to sleep next to a knocking metal radiator, knowing that spiders would visit me in the night and leave new bites all over my body, had me sleep walking and talking most nights. I even woke up one night jumping on my twin bed and screaming. Some of the girls in my section of the dorm giggled and went back to sleep, some growled, one took me by the hand and put me back to bed. She was waking up with spider bites every morning, too. I don’t remember how that problem was resolved, but I’m pretty sure something changed after the screaming incident because I don’t remember any more spider bites.

One morning, when I went to the office, to fulfill my daily responsibility to print up the schedule for the day, the Director, Maria, was waiting there for me. She told me that today we were to have a special outing. She confided in me that our usual weekly outing had to be cancelled once again, due to more wretched weather, and that the girls desperately needed a boost. We were going to stay home and more or less follow the usual, life-draining routine, but everyone needed to feel like today was special. She asked me to dress up the schedule and give all our usual, dreary tasks new names and by extension, new life. It was amazing how adding a little extra color to the border of the hated schedule and adding clever adjectives to all our usual tasks brought smiles and bright eyes and even furtive whispers (communication outside of sanctioned conversation times was expressly forbidden) to the section of hallway around the bulletin board. Lucky Charms and donuts for breakfast, a slight relaxation of the dress code – jean skirts instead of rayon, tennies instead of dress shoes, a little variety during PE instead of the dreaded, daily, basketball, and board games and puzzles in place of a couple of the afternoon classes, really did change the atmosphere. Most of us lifted a little from our depression and felt renewed in our loyalty to the group, our faith in our leaders and our mission to change the world through obedience.

But, we were easily manipulated. We were completely cut off from the world. Every moment of our lives was scheduled, down to our bathroom breaks. Good luck if lunch disagreed with you or your minimal water and fiber intake got the best of you. There was a table by the director’s office window, covered with newspapers and magazines – full of carefully scissored holes, of course, to prevent us from seeing anything that could “damage” us, and in full view of the director’s watchful gaze, presumably to keep track of who was skipping scheduled activities to find out what was going on in the evil, scary, worldly, Outside. We spoke with our parents once a week for 45 minutes. The phones were public and we were expected to inform on girls who were complaining or seemed unduly emotional during their phone time, as well as reporting on ourselves to our spiritual directors everything that was said during our calls home. The stated goal of the organization was to deconstruct faithful little Catholic girls and re-make them into obedient, faithful, soldiers for the cause of Christ. They drew each of us detailed mental pictures of our sinful selves – each of us was told, privately, in our twice or thrice weekly one-on-one interviews with our leaders, how terribly, how unusually, how colossally prideful we were, how cripplingly lazy, how massively self-absorbed, how pitifully vain and small we were. Of course, we weren’t those things. We were mostly exceptionally generous and religiously-minded teens, but they very effectively convinced us that we did not measure up. If we really were committed to shedding our faults, we would convince siblings and cousins and friends and parents to send more money to the organization, to attend camps and projects and activities. Our countenance would shine with the light of Christ if we were really living the gospel. It would shine so brightly that people would be drawn to us and want to join our organization. If we really cared about being consecrated to Christ, we would never be negative or complain or frown or have questions or doubts. We would always smile, knowing that our faces didn’t belong to us, they belonged to others. If we had love for our fellow men, we would always be positive and upbeat and dwell less on ourselves and more on what others needed in their lives to help them be happy.

Now take a moment and try to remember everything I’ve told you and tell it to yourself again, but this time, imagine that you believe in the system. Imagine you are completely convinced that this program changes lives and softens hearts and brings people to Jesus. Imagine how you would re-write what I’ve written putting a positive light on it and trying your best to understand and accept it as right and good and necessary. Is it difficult? I have lots of practice, so I’ll give you a hand –

I spent the best years of my life in Rhode Island! I made friends there to whom I have a closer connection than my parents and siblings. There were some crazy times, and we participated in some hilarious hijinks, especially at night in those creepy, ancient, dormitories. Remember the night when Anna had to wake me up and put me back to bed? Remember what a great spiritual experience we had that one February when we hadn’t been out of the building in months? Our directors sure knew our needs and cared for us like we were their own children. They were so careful to guard us and protect us and they worked so hard to form us into Women of the Kingdom. It’s too bad so many of us have lost our faith in God, have struggled for years to form healthy relationships, have bad connections with our families or no contact at all with them, have been crippled by depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. It just goes to show you that God will never take away a person’s free will. I pray that those who are lost will someday remember what they learned in Rhode Island and will come back to the faith they know is true, but have rejected in the hardness of their hearts. It is so easy to lose your faith. The small bad decisions people make damage them, and before they know it, they are past feeling. If only they had obeyed more, if only they had trusted more, if only they had been more generous and more careful…

I spoke those words, and then, a few years later, those pitying, accusatory words were spoken about me and to me and much less kind words were spoken, as well. I left the cult, and the Catholic church, and I took up with a group of returned Mormon missionaries who loved to sit and discuss and debate with me the finer points of their theology and my philosophy. I fell in love with a modern day School of the Prophets that happened in fast food joints and the Institute parking lot and parks that we somehow found our way to after classes or YSA activities. I argued my way through the Book of Mormon and parts of the Doctrine and Covenants, and fell in love with the seed of faith that grows if it is good, and the Title of Liberty, and the lesson that Oliver Cowdery learned about studying it out in his mind instead of expecting someone else to do the work for him. I fell in love with a creedless faith that embraced all things that are true and expected to find more true things daily, forever. I fell in love with a faith that recognized that God was not so different from man, just more experienced and more knowledgeable. I fell in love with a God who was both limited and empowered by the same laws of the universe that both limited and empowered me. I was finally, after all the years of trying and giving and obeying and churching, accepted and valued by a church community that wanted nothing more from me than what I wanted to and felt able to offer. This community accepted Me and valued Me – not who I could be or what I could give if I were trained better, but the Me that showed up on the doorstep. This was my community. These were my people. This was the church I joined, and I did not do it lightly. I knew what the response would be. I ran the gauntlet, knowing that even the people I loved the most would not hesitate to beat me with the club meant for those dangerous Others.

Because I’ve been on both sides of groupthink and both sides of the indoctrination machine, I feel I have an unusually sensitive propaganda detection meter. I don’t accept anything at face value. I know how groups operate, I know how people delude themselves into believing that men who claim to speak for God have more authority than God’s voice to their own hearts. I know how conscience is corrupted – and it’s not through disobedience to people in authority, it’s through disobedience to the authority and immutability of moral law.

As my eldest daughter draws close to her 12th year and greater involvement with the church I love, I find myself in a very difficult situation. I know what peer pressure and emotional manipulation can do to a vulnerable teenager. I was one, and I was broken by the messages they burned on my heart. They meant well. They meant to inspire me to do good and to be faithful. Where they failed was in teaching me that good was something outside of myself to be pursued at the cost of the good that already existed inside me, and in convincing me that fidelity was something I owed to an organization or a set of people or a title rather than to a set of principles. The people who actually helped me become my best self, accepted me as I was. They valued me. They did not feel the need to break me down and build me back up in their images. They did not carefully arrange circumstances and activities that would create in me the “correct” emotional response.

My husband and I have gone to some trouble to keep our kids free from the prison of society’s expectations for them. We want them to grow up figuring out what is inside of them and how to enhance the parts they like and channel the parts that would keep them from accomplishing their goals. We don’t have TV or Target ads or Barbies or anything else in the house that will make them feel like their looks and their style and their thoughts and their goals are something they need to buy or imitate or long for. Our idea, our hope, the goal we’re working for, is for them to figure out who they are, not to learn from our sick society who they are expected to be. Until I became more familiar with the youth programs, I expected the church to be our ally in this goal.

We have Trek in our stake every 4 years. For those who are not familiar, Trek is a multi-day activity in which the young men and young women of the church dress up in period costume (dress pants, a button-up shirt and boots for the boys, a pioneer dress for the girls – ankles to wrists covered, a bonnet, an apron, and bloomers), they go out to the desert, usually in the middle of the summer, and hike, push handcarts, and camp out. Adult men and women go along to assist, to teach, and to chaperone. As I read the Trek Handbook, I feel a lot of conflicting emotions. A hiking and camping trip with a bunch of great kids, singing, walking next to people playing guitars and violins, a hoe down, campfire cooking – all these things are my idea of a superbly great time and a tremendously beneficial activity for any kid. But many of the descriptions of how the activity should go seem primarily concerned with how to get the kids to feel this, that or the other. There are several elements here that bother me – first is that the clothing is almost always inappropriate for the weather, especially for the girls, whose movements are hampered and whose costumes are much more intense. The Women’s Pull, when all the men take off and leave the women and girls to fend for themselves is described this way:

The women’s pull can be a valuable part of the trek and can be used to emphasize the principles of faith, obedience, and sacrifice. This pull humbles the young men as they observe it and helps the young women rely on their own strength and their faith in the Lord. http://www.handcarttreks.com/documents/trekhandbook5-20-10.pdf Page 8

My guess is that the girls are learning more about how the game is rigged – pulling handcarts in the girls’ costumes is going to be a lot tougher than it would be in pants and a collared shirt.

The second element that struck me is that the historic moments that these kids are re-living are presented as a shining example of how Latter Day Saints are called to follow the Prophet of God, even if it means getting your family into a situation that results in most of them dying. It makes me very uncomfortable that the church so seldom differentiates between following the Prophet and following God, as if there is no possibility that the Prophet’s desires for us could ever conflict with God’s desires for us. The Trek Manual has a classic example of that tendency to conflate the Prophet’s pronouncements with God’s –

Obedience: “No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands.”

(Heber J. Grant, Teachings of President of the Church: Heber J. Grant).

Motivated by their faith in Jesus Christ and their desire to be obedient to a prophet of God, Latterday Saint converts gathered together in the American West where they could make temple covenants and help establish Zion.

If the youth of the Church are to triumph over evil and obtain eternal life, they too must learn obedience to God’s commands.

http://www.handcarttreks.com/documents/trekhandbook5-20-10.pdf Page 6

I find it so difficult to square this quote and this omnipresent idea in the church that we will always be blessed if we follow the Prophet, even if we follow him to perdition, with the ideas and the conversations that drew me into the church in the first place. I love this quote by Charles Penrose, who describes so eloquently what is so very troubling about this wholesale abdication of personal accountability –

“We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who preside over them — even if they knew it was wrong. But such obedience as this is worse than folly to us. It is slavery in the extreme. The man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent beings until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise this idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the Saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves.”
(Apostle Charles Penrose, 1852, Millennial Star, vol 14, num 38, pgs 593-595)

Trek is by no means the only aspect of the Youth Programs that gives me pause. I deeply question the number of hours required, the emphasis on sameness, the emotional highs that the teens tearfully relate to us in testimonies after boys’ camp and girls’ camp and temple trips and other youth activities. Emotional manipulation is hardly novel, much less unusual. We are constantly bombarded with bids for space on our emotional bandwidth. If we were to base our moral choices on emotional experiences alone, well, we’d live in a world much like the one we now inhabit, where people change their moral stances according to the winds of political and cultural changes rather than on studied, rational ideas about how to safely and ethically operate in a complex world. Substituting the cultural winds of Mormonism for the cultural winds of Americanism is hardly a solution to the problems we face today.

We know that racism and bigotry motivated our own prophets to claim they were speaking doctrine when they were actually speaking from the fears and idiosyncrasies of their own experiences and prejudices. https://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng

 Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

We also know that prophets and apostles have warned us to think for ourselves, to put our trust in God, not men, and to always look for our own light and understanding rather than expecting others to direct us in everything we do.

“What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.”
(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 9, p. 150, 12 January 1862)
“Do not, brethren, put your trust in a man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a president. If you do, they will fail you at some time or place.”
(Apostle George Q. Cannon, Millennial Star, v 53, p 658-659)

So I’m left trying to figure out how a church, conceived when a 14-year-old boy went to the woods, got on his knees, and asked God which preacher to follow, can tell that story almost every Sunday and still somehow forget that God said that all the authorities were wrong. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf makes it clear that seeking continual revelation is not only the domain of church leaders –

“The invitation to trust the Lord does not relieve us from the responsibility to know for ourselves. This is more than an opportunity; it is an obligation—and it is one of the reasons we were sent to this earth.”  (What is Truth? By Dieter F. Uchtdorf) https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/ces-devotionals/2013/01/what-is-truth?lang=eng

As I draw closer to the fateful day when my eldest transitions from Primary to Young Women’s, I ponder daily how to suck the marrow of rich history, freedom of thought and conscience, love for intellectual pursuits, tolerance for new ideas, curiosity about the great and beautiful things of this world, supportive community, and the shining examples of service, love, loyalty, and outstanding moral courage that the church offers, and still somehow save her from the groupthink and other unhealthy institutional behaviors that cut me so deeply as a young girl who wanted nothing more than to offer her heart to her Savior. We are 6 months out, and I still don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I do rest easy in the knowledge that the sacred Mormon traditions of self-reliance, continuing revelation, and personal accountability will buoy our family as we find our way in the church.

I have had so many experiences in my life of the Spirit whispering to my heart, “the path lies this direction,” that I have full confidence he will continue to guide our family in the way we should go. There was a time when I was certain God’s plan for me was to live a life of celibate religious devotion, but that bend in the road lasted only a short season, and it served to prepare me for richer and more challenging times ahead. Since then, I have accepted his promptings without making such permanent plans for the future. The path winds in ways I can’t guess, but I do know where it ends – in a better, more satisfying, more grown-up, more fulfilled, more crowded with family and friends place than where I stand today.

The Bridge Builder

By Will Allen Dromgoole

An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

Know This, That Every Soul Is Free

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I just read a little story of a mother discussing relationships with her son. She asks him what it means when someone says to him, “You would do x if you loved me,” or “You would do it if you weren’t a mamma’s boy,” or “You would do it if you weren’t afraid of everything.” The son replies that the person who says those words is more interested in getting something out of him than in being a friend.

Sometimes it is difficult to understand love and obligation. With love comes sacrifice. We trade personal comfort, independence and solitude for connection, acceptance and the joy of pleasing another. This is something everyone knows. In love, you give and you get. It’s somewhat harder to put this knowledge into practice safely, since love requires vulnerability and vulnerability attracts reptiles – people who have no heat of their own, but rely on the goodness of others to warm them.

When I was young, there was a girl named Jane who lived down the street. Every once in a while, she would come to our house to play. We were always happy to see her – she usually brought an interesting toy, and I can’t speak for my sisters, but I was mesmerized by her hair. Mine was curly and wild and never did what my haircut expected of it. Hers was silk. Her bangs were a multi-colored stream that flowed precisely to the middle of her eyebrows, and the rest of her hair fell down her back in an unbroken, flexible sheet. It always looked just-brushed. Maybe it was.

We were glad to see her, but we were even happier to see her leave. She was an only-if friend. No matter what the game, she had conditions. We could only play house if she could be the (overbearing and needy) mother, she would only play jump rope if she never had to turn and always got to jump. She would only play on the jungle gym if she got the best swing – no sharing. After 20-30 minutes of this, we were generally relieved by her tantrummy exit.

I doubt there is a grown human on this Earth who hasn’t met a Jane – an only-if friend. As we gain experience and wisdom, most of us leave the Janes behind, recognizing that there are plenty of people with whom we can have meaningful, reciprocal interaction and that we have no obligation to remain hostage to the self-serving conduct code of reptiles.

Love is one of those things – one of those scientific mysteries that defy quantification. It’s like antimatter. We can’t really see it or touch it or measure it, but we know what effects it has on the universe. The very creation of antimatter results in its immediate dissolution, just as our attempts to grip love too tightly, to examine it and quantify it, to measure it and parse it out in standardized portions, dissolves heady transports into tedious labor.

Demanding proof of another’s love might be a forgivable quirk in a child, but it’s a serious matter in adults. When parents, for instance, require constant assurance of the love and esteem of their children, there are two possible outcomes – the children grow up, become healthy adults and disconnect from their parents, or the children are forever hampered by their parents’ greed; harried to set serial fires and keep their cold-blooded family members warm, and by default, prevent healthy relationships from thriving in the scorched earth those children must inhabit.

Reptiles teach their children that there is no difference between love and slavery. No expression of love, no sacrifice, no gift, no action, word or feeling of any kind will satisfy the parent’s need for veneration. And so the child, when ready to form other relationships, looks for an owner, not a lover. But love is impossible without freedom. To love is to give one’s self to another and receive his gift in return. If one side attempts to take ownership or sets strictures on the other, love dissipates and only duty remains.

This phenomenon is not reserved for families. Any time a person or organization treats individuals as resources or problems to be solved or obstacles to be overcome, love loses to slavery. When one party becomes an object to another, the object loses, every time. When education is compulsory, it becomes a trial to be suffered through and we call short school days “early release” and build fences and add metal detectors and subject children to searches of their bodies and their personal spaces. The children lose. When governments decide that smoking must be discouraged and add punitive taxes to cigarettes and criminalize black market sales of tobacco products, we get the Eric Garner debacle, wherein a peaceful man selling individual cigarettes for 50 cents a piece is strangled to death by an agent of the state. Despite graphic video of Garner begging for his life as Officer Pantaleo suffocates him, Pantaleo was acquitted of all charges and apparently continues to be employed by the NYPD. The citizens lose. When churches see their faithful as charges who must be harangued into heaven, families are sacrificed on the altar of religion. No religion should cause someone to give up on a relationship with a loved one who actually loves. No philosophy, no heaven, no hell, no sin and no belief should keep us from giving and receiving without restraint.

If you’re reading this, you’re old enough to be done with only-if relationships. You’re big enough to love and to let the reptiles find another life source to feed on. Do as E. E. Cummings directed and, “Be of love a little more careful than of anything.”

Duggars and Dreams for My Children

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The Duggars are in the news and I never wrote part two of my sheltering post, so my head is exploding. This post is first to explain sheltering gone wrong, and second, to explain what Ben and I are expecting to achieve with our parenting methods. Let’s start with the Duggars – the glittery pastel poster family for crazy huge religious homeschooling families. Some people see them as a creepy burden on the ecosystem, others look at them and wish they had the faith and the bionic woman body to attempt it. I think most people are completely unaware of what lies under the patina of Aussie Instant Freeze hairspray, or if they are aware, they don’t differentiate between the strange workings of a large family and the deeply damaging effects of belonging to a high demand group.

The Duggars are tightly allied with the disgraced Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principals – tightly enough to be featured speakers at the 2014 conference, and to have sent their son to a training camp post-scandal. Gothard’s teachings are pretty closely aligned with the patriarchy movement, though he rejects the movement itself. He still asserts that women should not vote, girls should not attend college and should live in their parents’ homes until they are handed over to husbands, and women are subject to the God-given authority of men. He teaches that women were created to serve men and to be under their authority.

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Take a look at an IBLP instructional pamphlet about how to deal with sexual abuse. Truly disgusting and frightening. I shudder to imagine the women and children of IBLP who have been blamed for the abuse they suffered. What a coincidence that a sexual predator taught his victims that abuse is their own faults and God wants it to be swept under the rug

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The Duggars don’t hide their support for IBLP. They stand at the Training Center podium and speak. They have not repudiated Gothard or anything he has preached. They are the celebrity face of his teachings. Being an organized, joyful large family is one side of IBLP, but that side can’t be divorced from the teaching that children are the property of their fathers and that, even in cases of serious abuse, they should not be removed from his direct, physical authority – at least, not by his wife. That’s a job for higher authorities. The wife’s job is to first appeal to her husband to quit diddling Junior (since Daddy presides over her as well as the children). If that doesn’t work, she may ask her parents and his to tell him to stop, the next step is to ask the church authorities to get him to stop, and if all else fails, call the cops.

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Never mind that Junior is still suffering the abuse through this entire charade. Junior is a child, and his job is to obey without question. Also, anything that happens to Junior or Mother while they are under the umbrella of Daddy’s authority is God’s Will, so quit yer sniveling.

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Michelle Duggar has explained that she uses a form of blanket training on her toddlers. This technique was first described in Michael and Debi Pearl’s To Train Up a Child. That book and the methods it teaches have been implicated in several child abuse related deaths. It focuses on obedience training children in ways that most people would consider too violent and humiliating to employ on an animal.

Even if Michelle has modified the Pearl’s approach to the point that it is hardly recognizable, (and that seems likely, based on her description), the concept of blanket training or “quiet training,” as she calls it, is contrary to my ideas of morality. The most significant difference between humans and animals is that, starting from birth, we have a miraculous ability to learn and learn and learn, abandoning old practices that worked for new ones that might work better. Watch a baby learn to creep, then crawl, then walk. He can get from point A to point B very well on his belly, but he can’t resist pushing up and trying to crawl. Then those babies crawl so fast! They zoom all over the house wreaking havoc with abandon. But it’s not enough; next they’re standing and taking a step and falling and stepping and falling and stepping and falling. That baby was so fast crawling around the house, but now he insists on walking, and he has bruises on his head and scratches on his hands, but he won’t quit. Getting out to the car or into the library takes an hour because he insists on using his new skills. Soon enough he can’t crawl at lightning speed any more. Crawling has been abandoned before walking is fully developed. And there’s a reason for that. Learning is a child’s highest priority, and he is willing to sacrifice almost anything for more experiences and more skills. A mobile baby is into Ev-er-y Thing! Lock the dvd’s in a cupboard, put latches on all the cabinets and don’t leave your water glass where he can climb up and get it because the world is his oyster and he’s going to open it, eat what he can and break what’s left.

Now imagine taking that creeping, just learning to crawl baby and putting him on a blanket with one toy. Every time he makes it off the blanket, you give him a little swat on his thigh with a flexible ruler, or maybe if you’re a very enlightened blanket trainer, you take the extra hours and just keep physically placing him on the blanket without hitting his precious chubby legs. You keep putting him back on that blanket until he learns to stay on the blanket. Congratulations! You have completed Michelle’s first step in training up an obedient puppy, I mean, child. You have also taught your child that curiosity and exploration are not for him. This fits nicely with the theology of Bill Gothard. Children who are curious and brave grow into adults who don’t follow the rules, and where will Bill find his next victim if there aren’t enough pliable, obedient young women following him around or if their fathers fail to show proper deference to church authorities and make an unnecessary fuss?

In his analysis of Gothard’s teachings, David Henke explains the aspects of the IBLP’s methods that make it distinctly cultish. The article is comprehensive and lays out a damning repudiation of Gothard’s methods, but one particularly relevant criticism Henke had was the IBLP’s very intricate regulation of family relationships; reducing every family interaction to a series of steps. Here he quotes another critic of Gothard, “Wilfred Bockelman said, “It seems that Gothard fails to adequately present the need for relationships with children, positing instead the proper role and proper discipline that is necessary to get a desired response from the children. The preoccupation is with control, predictability, the proper behavior instead of the need for nurturing relationships in which learned behavior and attitudes come from models, not coercive manipulation” (p. 83, emphasis in original).”

I don’t watch 19 Kids and Counting, and I question the common sense quotient of any couple who would invite television cameras into their home, but I think it is important, especially for homeschoolers, to have clarity and to speak with clarity about the problems we see in the homeschool movement. Jim Bob and Michelle aren’t random weirdos. Their scheme is doomed. It will become obvious that you can’t train a child like a puppy and expect her to retrieve your slippers until you hand her over to a new master whose slippers she will retrieve until she dies, hopefully of natural causes not related to the 15th child birth in 17 years. When one or more of the Duggar children rejects their upbringing with a spectacular explosion of self-destruction, it won’t be another entertaining reality tv meltdown, it will be a homeschooling scandal that will bring more attention and regulation to our community.

The most frustrating thing about the Duggars is that their family picture flashes in most people’s heads when they hear that I have 6 kids ages 11 – 1 and I homeschool. It sounds ridiculous, but please believe me when I say, the Duggars would hate me if we met. Our world views, and more importantly, our views of parenting are so wildly divergent they would scream in pain if they ever came within shouting distance – and they won’t, unless of course the Duggars come to Jesus, and I sincerely hope they do before they hurt any more of their beautiful children.

There is a very small and very noticeable contingent of homeschoolers who keep their kids out of traditional schools because they wish to train them better. All of the rest of us keep our kids out of school because we don’t want them to be trained. We want them to be educated. We don’t keep them at home because we can build better, tighter fences to keep their brains hemmed in and operating on the only frequency we can allow. We bring them home to give them space to run free. We don’t want them sitting quietly, obeying without question or guarding their thoughts from unapproved intruders. We shelter them from influences that would crush their creativity. We guard them from the cruelty of sameness and ridiculous standards of perfection. We want them to have a social life that is interesting, enriching and uplifting, not deflating, demeaning and insipid. We bring them home to grow into the beautiful people they already are, not to impose a single acceptable life path. We wish for them neither slavery to a cubicle nor the kitchen, but a life of their own choosing, one that involves pain and sacrifice for the things they want most and rich rewards when they achieve them. We want their lives to be as fruitful for the rest of us as they are for our children, and that magical mix happens when people are allowed to discover and nurture their gifts and turn them into a way of life.

When I imagine my children as adults, I don’t dream about their religion or the size of their families or their political affiliation. I fantasize about their confidence, about the love they give and receive and the joy they find in the work they have chosen. I know that the vast majority of homeschool families dream the same dreams for their kids, and all of us participate in this educational labor of love for the same reason – our kids are not gifts to us. We don’t own them. Our time with them is the gift, and we refuse to give it up or to spoil it by trying to turn them into our possessions.

This means that we have a duty to children who are not our own. All adults have a responsibility to the children in their community, and homeschooling parents have a special obligation to look out for the children in the community they have chosen. Those who are being treated like possessions usually come to awareness in their teenage years or young adulthood. They often awaken from a daze to realize they have no skills, very few original thoughts and no support from their family. Unless you have been a ray of sunshine during the years of fogginess and blind obedience, you are unlikely to be able to help when the moment of crisis arrives. It takes almost nothing to be that sunbeam. Kind words, genuine interest, a candy bar surreptitiously dropped into a pocket, offers to drive when a ride is needed, help with chores or projects – all of these simple acts add up to the love and acceptance children living in cults or abusive homes are starving for. Keep your eyes open and your heart open, and if you encounter a family where the abuse escalates from messages of cruelty to acts of cruelty, don’t hesitate to do what it takes to make sure those children are protected.  If we want to keep growing happy kids in our homeschooling garden, we have to tend to it, and that includes pulling weeds and helping the children of weeds to bear fruit.

If Your Kid Needs a Publicist, You’re Doing It Wrong

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A few months ago, this video was making its way around FB.

It tells the story of a little girl named Ryland who insists she is a boy. It’s a series of photographs and a video clip of a cute little kid with written narration of her increasing determination to be recognized as a male. As early as 2, the kid is dressing up in Dad’s tie and dress shoes, and by the age of 5 or 6, the parents decided to help Ryland transition to a male identity. The final scene is Ryland speaking at the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast. It would be too aggravating to try to refer to Ryland without using gender pronouns, or to keep going back and forth, so for the rest of this post, I’m going to refer to Ryland with male pronouns. That is his preference, and since I’m invading his space by telling his story, I think it’s the least I can do.
The reactions I saw to this video fit cozily into two categories – “Accept transgender people!” and, “Accepting transgender is wrong!” While those positions are definitely positions –
Yeah, I don’t know what to say about either statement. They both make me bored.
There is something very interesting about this video, though, and it has everything to do with LGBTQ acceptance. When I saw this, I was incensed at the intolerance of these parents. Yeah, you heard me. They’re bigots. This is one of the worst cases of gender stereo-typing I have ever seen. Actually, it is the worst. It pisses me off.
“She began to show aversion to anything feminine.”
“Some told us it was ‘just a phase.’ The trouble was, phases end, this was only getting stronger.”
“Ryland began to display increasing amounts of shame. She said, when the family dies I will cut my hair so I can be a boy.”
“We cut his hair, we changed pronouns to he/him, we changed his room, we sent out a letter to friends/family to explain.”
My son plays with baby dolls. He wears pink hand-me-down sandals. He makes bracelets on his sister’s Rainbow Loom and asked for one for Christmas. No matter how many times I correct him, he calls his underwear panties. There’s maybe a 2 inch difference between my haircut-resistant son’s do and my brushing-resistant daughter’s do. My eldest girl got a Leatherman for her 10th birthday, and now her younger siblings can’t wait to turn 10 so they can get their own. My girls and my boy hunt, they hike, they climb trees, they think Tim Allen’s Home Improvement is the pinnacle of visual art, they want shoes and jackets made for boys because boy stuff lasts through more than a day of rough play. Legos and art supplies are the two most-loved toys in our house. Hands down, no contest, everyone’s favorite. See, if one of my kids prefers to play with “girl stuff” or “boy stuff” he or she is going to have a heck of a time figuring out what, exactly, that means. Toys are toys. Colors are colors. Haircuts are haircuts. Why does anyone at the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast care what Halloween costume a kid wants to wear or what color his room is painted? Is there something notable about having a blue room and a vulva?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret, here. This is big, so pay attention. A SIX YEAR OLD DOESN’T UNDERSTAND SEX. Sure, you can explain it, but he doesn’t get it. That’s why we call it abuse when someone uses a six year old for sexual gratification. There is no such thing as consensual sex with a child because a child doesn’t have the experience and the hormonal cocktail that make sex both meaningful and pleasurable. Until you understand sex, you can’t really truly understand your own gender. I would argue that understanding and appreciating your gender is a life-long pursuit. Sure, kids identify as boy or girl at some point in the preschool years, but their understanding of that identity, not to mention their ability to express it to adults, is about equivalent in complexity to a preschool drawing of a Reuben painting. “Yeah, I think that’s The Fall of Phaeton he’s trying to convey there. Stand back here by the window. I’m pretty sure those are horses falling out of the sky. No, no, turn your head kind of clockwise and squint your eyes a little.” That’s what Ryland’s parents are doing to Ryland, and they’re using that demented judgment as the basis for choices that have life-long consequences. His name and his picture and his story are all over the world. Everyone who is acquainted with the family knows that Ryland has transitioned from a female identity to a male identity. That’s a pretty heavy burden to put on a kid. And what are parents of Ryland’s friends supposed to do? On the one hand, you don’t want to leave this kid friendless, but on the other hand, if I was faced with this ridiculous situation I would be hesitant to invite the influence of knuckleheads like those parents on my children.

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This summer, I was at the library with my kids, when a family we knew from basketball walked in with what I assumed was a neighbor boy. I was looking at the door, waiting for the daughter who had played on the same team as my girls, when the mom smiled and said, “That’s her. She wanted a really short haircut, and I figured it’s her head, her choice.” The neighbor boy was the daughter. I smiled back, we laughed about the terrors of long hair and that was it.  All of it.  I didn’t need to comment on her daughter’s choice of hairstyle or clothing, my kids neither wanted nor needed an explanation. There was no reason to pry into this little girl’s feelings about her gender. She wanted short hair. It’s her head. It’s not the Alphabet Soup Organization of Victimhood’s head, it’s not Harvey Milk’s head, it’s no one’s head but her own.
If you are unaware of the genetic differences that can cause gender confusion and ambivalence, please read up a little. Some children are born with extra x’s or y’s or other variations that don’t lend themselves well to neat and tidy gender classification. This is not a Bilderberg conspiracy to trick you into accepting she-males. Some people are born different. They deserve just as much love, understanding, and respect as every other human being, and they deserve the time and the space to figure out where they fit in the world. Everyone deserves that space. Lay off the boy playing with Barbies, and quit pestering the girl who’s not interested in wearing a Disney Princess dress to prom. In reality, we understand next to nothing about genetic variation or how environmental factors can affect a growing child’s perception of himself. And acting civil should not be dependent on understanding.
I grew up in a home that embraced wifely submission. My sisters and I were expected to learn to be good home makers and to live with our parents until we were married. I was taught that women and men are designed for different roles and that married women who worked outside the home were undermining their husbands. There were no brothers living at home when my parents developed these ideas, but I was made to understand that if I had been a boy, I would have been given more freedom. Boys weren’t necessarily more responsible by nature, but they needed more opportunities to develop the male characteristics of derring-do. I felt jipped. I often wished I had been born male. I was interested in home making because there was plenty to learn and I was starving for intellectual stimulation, but girly stuff has never appealed to me. I wore mascara for a year when I was in college, but then I got tired of it and quit. I had to look up the word for the stuff you put on your nails just now. I knew finger paint couldn’t be right. I think most of my personality traits are more common in men than women. As a preteen and a teenager, I never knew what was going on when I was in a group of girls. Despite being embarrassed by them, boys felt much more comfortable to me. I still have a hard time figuring out what’s going on in a typical gathering of women. For many years, I saw my gender as a mild disappointment. I never felt like a boy, but I never felt happy about being a girl, either. Then I met my husband, and after a few weeks of dating, I was in a grocery store, and I saw a couple walking out with their groceries. Dad had the toddler on his shoulders, and Mom was cradling an infant, and I was standing there at the checkout – my card in my hand, the checker staring at me, and I had my mouth open and tears in my eyes. I realized then and there that I hadn’t wanted a family because I hadn’t met someone worth having a family with.

Then I gathered my wits, paid for my groceries and tried to forget what had just happened. I was going to do something worthwhile with my life, not be tied down to home and family.

Meanwhile, my future self was:

stopEven after I got pregnant, three months into our we’re-waiting-a-couple-years-to-start-a-family marriage (if I have one of those genetic variations, it’s probably the one that makes you ovulate when you see a pair of booties), I had no idea what being a woman would mean to me. The more I studied about pregnancy and birth, and the more subsumed I was by my sweet little parasite and her needs, the more I realized what power and beauty were wrapped up in my femininity. Each subsequent pregnancy and birth brought me deeper into the ethos of womanhood. Then my daughters started growing and thinking and being, and I realized that I am the one who gets to teach them what it means to be a woman, and it doesn’t have to include anything about pink sparkly cleavage.
Now, when I see a kid who thinks that being a boy means Spider Man and a short haircut, and being a girl means a pink room and barrettes, and that if one is irritating, you should be the other one, that makes me really, really sad. I have no idea what’s going on with Ryland. He might never look back. He might be an exceptionally insightful kid who knows who he is and what he wants. I hope so much that he is, and that his parents didn’t just make a bewildering maze out of what could have been a gradual and painless journey of self-discovery. There’s nothing wrong with a boy who likes pink or a girl who prefers jeans and low maintenance hair. Maybe your daughter wants to be called the big brother. Call her the brother and give her a kiss. Don’t call her the brother and hire a publicist. If you’re going to send letters to family and friends, write about who your kids are right now, not who you’re sure they’re going to be.

photo credit
Children’s art: http://psychohawks.wordpress.com/2010/02/21/childrens-drawings-what-can-we-learn-from-them/

Reuben: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Fall_of_Phaeton_%28National_Gallery_of_Art%29.jpg

I’m gonna pee: http://www.jokideo.com/stop-stop-im-going-to-pee/

Letter to the Editor

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I sent this to my local paper, but I think the sentiment has universal value, so I’m sharing it with all of you, as well.

~~~~~

In July of 1789, a mob of starving, desperate, French peasants stormed the Bastille, freeing the few petty criminals imprisoned there and liberating a large cache of arms. The fall of the Bastille sent a very clear message to the corrupt ruling class of France. It read, “We have the power. Love, the underclass.” In its Declaration of the Rights of men, issued one month later, this new power then proclaimed to the world that all men were born with the same inheritance, “liberty, property, security and resistance of oppression.” Four years later, the New Power instituted the Reign of Terror, and while famine still ran rampant in the countryside, the streets now ran with the blood of innocent men, women and children. As many as 60,000 were executed or died awaiting sentencing in the span of one year. 1789’s dream of liberty, equality and brotherhood had been replaced with the nightmare of the guillotine in less than one presidential election cycle

F. A. Hayek, economist and historian, pointed out that the French Revolution’s rapid descent into bloody despotism was no mystery. It was a direct result of apathy – “since all power had been placed in the hands of the people, all safeguards against the abuse of this power had become unnecessary.”

As we draw near to yet another local election, we would do well to heed the lesson of the French Revolution. Although power has been placed in the hands of people we see at the grocery store and with whom we attend church and high school football games, we have no right to spurn our responsibility to guard against the abuse of power. While it is charitable to forgive and forget the personal failings of our friends and neighbors, ignorance and apathy in the face of government failings is no charity. It is an ugly vice that results in tyranny for all but a privileged few.

We live in a tiny community. There is no reason that each of us cannot take the time to find out what our commissioners and board members have been up to during the last few years and make an informed decision about their ability to continue to govern. For, as Abraham Lincoln said so beautifully in regards to his own re-election, “It is the people’s business – the election is in their hands.  If they turn their backs to the fire and get scorched in the rear, they’ll find they have got to sit on the blister.”

“A faut espérer q’eus jeu finira bentôt” (Let’s hope that this game will soon come to an end) A French Revolutionary era cartoon showing a pointy-eared peasant wearing sans-culottes and clogs, bent over double carrying well-dressed representatives of the Priesthood and the Aristocracy on his back. Note that he is so busy carrying this burden that he cannot keep the birds from eating his grain or the rabbits eating his cabbages.

Photo and caption credit: http://davidmhart.com/liberty/Guides/ClassTheory/Atlas.html

The Modesty Talk

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I don’t know how it happened to two solidly average looking people, but our daughters are showing signs of being “Honey, get the shotgun” beautiful. They run the gamut in the modesty department, from refusing to wear anything that shows even half a knee, to the child who, when forced to at least wear undies one hot, summer day, fashioned them into a thong. At this prepubescent juncture, I try to keep them undied at home and ask them to follow Mormon dress standards in the presence of those outside the immediate family. We explain that the way we dress when we’re in public helps others feel comfortable around us.  It’s also a way that we show respect for our bodies. And undies are just more hygienic than naked buns. Easy, understandable, no fuss.

For a girl, part of puberty is discovering the power of her body to influence others. Some girls discover that power sooner, but puberty is when I’m expecting to have a more interesting talk about modesty, and these are the ideas I hope to convey –

Your body is changing. It’s sending signals to every male that comes in contact with you. These signals are a big part of the reason humans have been so successful as a species. They make men and women stop thinking about anything but making babies. They’re very useful, and they’ll be an important and enriching part of your life if you can harness them. Harnessing them takes some real effort, but it’s worth it. If you fail, you’re much more likely to be treated as an object. When I interact with men, I know that I have to overcome their first biological reaction to me. That biological reaction is all about determining my potential as a mate. Of course, most men aren’t consciously giving me the up-and-down. Most of the time, I doubt they recognize what’s going on in their own heads, but it’s there, just as it’s there for me. There’s a difference between looking at, say, Brad Pitt during his Thelma and Louise days (excuse me, my knees are getting weak) and, I don’t know, the guy from Blue’s Clues. The difference doesn’t really have anything to do with their views on Iran Contra, as I’m sure you’re aware.

A woman who sees a man as a potential mate can feel compelled to act silly, unintelligent, affectionate, submissive and weak.  A man who sees a woman as a potential mate can feel compelled to act overbearing, protective, macho and aggressive.  Conversely, a man who dismisses a woman as a potential mate can feel compelled to act just that way – dismissive.

Young women are at an even greater disadvantage than Brad Pitt when it comes to having their views and ideas heard and respected. It’s even more difficult for young men to overcome their biological reaction to you than it is for me to overcome mine to J.D. What I’m telling you, is that if you want to be heard, you need to be modest. If you want men to take you more seriously as a person than as a possible planter bed, you need to tone down those signals. Walk with confidence, don’t pretend to be stupid or helpless, draw attention to what you have to say and what you can do, not what your body looks like.  And then be bold and courageous.  Let your presence speak so loudly it cannot be ignored.

You own your body. No one has the right to determine how to use it but you. If you use it wisely, you are less likely to experience the grief of an emotional and physical connection to someone who doesn’t care about you and you are infinitely less likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease. You only get one body; treasure it. Be careful with whom you choose to share it. Make sure he’s someone who shares and values your goals and aspirations.

Here are some things I will never say to my girls, nor will I act in ways that give them to understand these lies as truth:

You will never find an eternal companion if you’re not a virgin.

Sex makes you dirty and undesirable.

Kissing before marriage is morally equivalent to sex before marriage.

Your body must be covered to keep men from sinning.

Your body belongs to your parents until you give it to a man, then it belongs to him.

Honestly, I doubt that this conversation will happen all at once.  These are lessons we learn best by example, by experience and from parents who watch for the circumstances that make their kids receptive, then swoop in with words of wisdom, kindness and love.  I’m looking forward to the lessons my girls and I will teach each other and I hope I don’t miss too many of those golden moments.

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