As a feminist, I think my opinions and behaviours had an impact on my children - striving for the right to work and live equally alongside firstly white women and secondly men, any ethnicity, but certainly those people that I considered were successful – by being successful I denote this as a mother and wife and then as a member in my community, home and work.
I asked my two sons, now both in their 30s, if they thought that if the above belief was true for them and if there were any anomalies. After reading Bell Hook’s book on Feminism is for Everyone I grew to better understand patriarchy and the influence of it on my world, but equally I questioned what my influence, as someone who passionately sought equality, was on my children as adults. As someone who seeks social justice, (my philosophy changes daily) and equality I wanted to know the possible answers as I believe when we know better we do better. T
he pursuit of self-improvement is something that most humans aim for - to do and be better. I have a strong belief in the Epicurean philosophy to live a free, reflective and simple life, minimising suffering. I lived that life until I entered into a high stakes environment, which often resulted in high anxiety and a high suffering environment. Up until reading Bell's book I never saw myself as a feminist, not wanting to be compared with The Female Eunuch’s author Germain Greer and burning the bra’s fantasists. For me this was how feminists were depicted in the 70s and I did not wish to associate with this image; my race was already represented as an angry anti social group, so I didn’t want to perpetrate that further. With Bell Hook’s book I felt she explains that feminism is the dismantling of the patriarchy model and the pursuit of equality for all. It was in this moment that I completely surrendered to her philosophy of feminism and I didn’t have to burn my bra to prove I was a feminist. Her book, which was 40 years in the making, opens by testifying that her commitment to the feminist movement is stronger than ever. This commitment is possibly because she has witnessed the success of the feminist movement, not only in her own life but that of the world through behaviours, art, music, roles, employment etc. Contained within the book she charts the history of feminism, the feminism movement and the vision of its impact for the future.
I believed I had helped my sons to develop positive relationships with all. As young children I wanted them to develop into happy functional adults. Aiming to help them understand that their role in life is to be a responsible community member of the world first and second to look after their family and serve and help them to become responsible community members too. My children have no extended family; no cousins, aunties, uncles or grandparents. Key influencers today are their community, their own family and their older half brother and sister, who they have grown up with and remain close and engaged with. They have a strong sense of right and wrong, even though it may be different to mine or yours. I believe it is based on their world view and personal experiences. I believe one of the biggest insults you can give any mother, regardless of whether it is true, is that she is unfit to be a mother. She is happy to chastise herself, but woe betide any perpetrator even suggesting that she is.
Growing up in care with parents who fostered over 100 under 5s the subject of unfit mother was part of my lexicon from a young age. However, it wasn’t my parents who were using this language, ‘unfit mother’, but society. My parents saw it as their duty to support the foster children that they cared and loved for and this meant loving and caring for their parents, regardless of these parents’ circumstances. My parents weren’t perfect and didn’t always subscribe to this school of thought, but always had strong morals. So being a parent has been and always will be my most important role I play in this world. Equally in my role as headteacher I often witness the anxieties that both mothers and fathers exhibit should I or anyone else question their capacity to parent, albeit subliminally. Simply, if a phone call is made to the parent to say that their child does not have their lunch money and the school needs it, regardless of how you couch this statement in fact or with sensitivity, what some parents hear is – I am an unfit parent and then challenge this theory, sometimes with fear and anger. Most parents are fiercely protective of their children and are fiercely protective of their capacity to parent; I am no different.
My children have taught me so much about living, for example about when to be selfish and when to be selfless and it is these lessons I am eternally surprised by and grateful for. 2 years ago, my son left an abusive relationship. A relationship that he had been in and out of for 10 years. We had witnessed him commit to be the best father and partner he could be. He was responsible in my opinion. Working, supporting his community and living a life that was liberating and seemingly authentic. But to listen to him give a police witness statement 2 years ago detailing how he had endured years of abuse, physical and emotional, was hard and I felt I had let my son down. My capacity to be a parent was called into question as I had to consider what part I had played in his suffering. He later told me that I had told and taught him to be resilient in a relationship and to consider feminist rights. That to pursue equality it may mean him sacrificing part of himself and his values in order that his partner could live as freely and equally as him. One of the unexpected consequences of this had become that he remained in an unequal relationship where it appeared the other partner had assumed control and dominance; this had become a normal way of life for him. 2 years on, he is in a very different relationship, but I remain nervous for him.
The best predictor of the future is the past but as we develop our sense of who we are and our roles we carve out slowly a better lifestyle for the next generation. When we know better we do better. I don’t not want him to suffer again and I certainly do not want his children to suffer and repeat any of these submissive behaviours. To have the opportunity to have a question answered honestly and openly by those that you respect is a privilege. It is interesting what both my sons say in relation to my question on the influence I may or may not have had on them. There are movements all over the world that are interchangeable and influencing government or community policy. We are responsible for the outcomes, even though we don’t want to acknowledge it at times. There is a reason why we currently have Donald Trump as one of the most influential leaders in the world, making catastrophic and unsocially justified decisions. There is a reason why Europe is experiencing the most turbulent times in politics during peace times. Have these times been carefully engineered by us or a total coincidence or a mixture of the two?
Most plans result in better lifestyles for most the feminist movement has resulted in women feeling more empowered, safer, able to affect the world positively, but has the feminist movement brought about unexpected consequences? There is always a set of people, for whatever reason, who continue to be unknowingly and unwittingly be part of the problem as opposed to being part of the solution, as both sons testify. I myself have to be guarded and aware of how our values and expectations we have on ourselves and that of others result in unexpected and negative outcomes, but we continue to strive to be aware of these, mitigate them so we minimise suffering.
As a feminist, I think my opinions and behaviours had an impact on you. Do you think this is true?
Son M It is a difficult question to ask as I never really attribute any single person no matter how influential to be a major part of the growth of my overall personality and way of thinking in terms of moral compass and level of empathy and understanding of issues such as feminism (Even my own mother) but part of a massive puzzle that leads to defining a person’s ethics and personality. Although the most influence does come from family, as this is where most social skills are learned the amount of impact that my mother had on my opinion when it comes to women's rights is far too complex to quantify. I would say that is more a case of looking at what your overall interaction with your family teaches you. Growing up then further down the line you learn more from your peers, in most cases at this point, you have a good solid base to go by. In my case, my close family taught me the basis of equality. This for me is the natural reason for lack of women's rights in the world. If you treat everyone, no matter their background, race, religion, gender, sexual choices, job or anything that makes you decide a general opinion, that equality is pre-meditated then all should begin equal. Does everyone has the opportunity to grow like this with this mindset? As I was growing up I had no understanding of racism, most of this came from being in a family of whereby there were differences in skin tones and this is all I could see it as. I also had never thought about what family in terms of DNA is, blood tied family if you will and no thought process at any time to separate one person’s value in life from another.
This philosophy would only come into play after time was spent with that person that would give me information on their personality that would allow me to have an opinion. So, in terms of my upbringing from an early age I had no thought process to divide a woman from a man or vice versa. I put this down to not just my mother as we never spoke directly about woman's rights, but as I say a part of a bigger puzzle that created a personality in myself that is unbiased in every sense of the word. When it comes to the wider issue of woman's rights, I have little or no understanding of issues in the UK or USA or the more developed countries in the world but growing up I have spent the past decade in the charity sector and woman's rights is one of the biggest and contentious issues on the planet. It is a cycle that needs to be broken but is much harder to break due to the lack of platforms women have in order to change the way men think and see them.
Things are moving in the right direction, but in very small steps, the most frustrating thing about it is, all that needs to happen is men and women need to be educated alike. In certain countries, for example, women are starting to flee FGM and villages are popping up naturally standing up for these brave women and providing refuge. In other countries you find charities such as OXFAM educating women in trades or vital skills for the community that men are now looking to learn from them. Off the back of this what is often seen is a complete turnaround in the way women are treated and regarded in these small pockets what this suggests is the way men value a woman needs to change and it is up to woman to change that as in most cases when men are asked in these countries to change their thought process and treat women as equal 90% agree very quickly and you see the overall wealth and growth of the village or areas nearby. The problem lies within women being held down and uneducated from a young life thus being given an unfair chance and men passing down miss directed views to their sons on how to treat women.
So in terms of fixing the issue, it comes down to education from a young age and to elders as well as the communities out there that are not treating women equally and they need to start now to understand why it is so important and beneficial for all and younger men and women need to be taught, this so the cycle is broken. The problem of course lies with how you go about that in the most effective manner of course charities like Amnesty Plan UK, Oxfam, Red Cross, etc. can continue to educating small pockets of the worst affected areas, but until women get more significant and wider platforms to change things my concern is it will be generations until women in the developing world are given the chance to go to school, seek equality etc. despite their fathers seeing the value in them from how bright they are, as opposed to their gender. So to answer your question, I can't answer your question, as I feel everyone that lives takes a lesson from how they live, not from any individual family will always be the most influential player. My understanding of equality in all people comes from my whole family to my peers for example.
The reason why I am so passionate about women's rights is the line of work I have taken has educated me on the wider impact this has on the planet. Had I not taken that route who knows if this would even be a subject I could even comment on in depth. But if I had to say who has influenced me the most it would just so happen to be the women in my family as my mother has always taught me to be fair to all and my Nan taught me that just because people have an opinion on something trust in yourself and what you feel is right; she did this simply by adopting my mother.
Son A Well you could say that I never really saw or experienced the ‘patriarchy’. The man as the ‘head of the family’ didn’t exist in my childhood. The man contending with a sort of fierce force of nature -- whose submission to any kind of instruction not aligned with her own agenda was minimal -- this was probably closer to reality. That’s probably not politically correct but there we go. The man who earned one pound for every 80 pence his spouse earned, or the man who expected his wife to cook and clean, or the man who was even married, he also didn’t exist. Essentially this power this spooky power dynamic espoused by feminist was difficult to identify in my close relationships. In fact, it’s fair to say that nowhere in our family can it be observed -- like, not even close.
You might say the opposite is true in some fashion. So, it does feed into a discussion of power. In these intellectual spheres power is often conflated with income wealth. OK well I was the only earner in my relationship -- did it mean my ex had no power? Yes housewives really do have power and influence, and men really are beholden to that in myriad ways. I say ‘housewives’ because of the conflation of money and power.
But really the broader reality is women do have power which isn’t really accounted for in the traditional theory of patriarchy; at least so far as I can tell. Y’know, who raises you? Who are the adult figures at nursery? Who are your teachers predominantly up until secondary school? You really think the female authority figure isn’t by that stage mapped out and established? OK so yeah the archetypal female authority figure was mapped out for me just fine and it is probably that which may have influenced the romantic relationships in our close families.
All the above along with some other social pressures probably did lead to a mindset which accepted female dominance, even to the point of abuse, as just part and parcel of being a man. This works just the same way as male dominance might be traditionally mapped out for girls… we’re just witnessing pendulum swings here -- or probably more accurately just different spheres of power dynamics. My general thrust on this subject is that power and dominance is infinitely more complicated than one could glean merely from a basic understanding of patriarchy. My final thought is that we have a tendency to become that which we fight against; and nowhere is this more true than in feminism (the women fighting misogyny can quite easily give into misandry, the anti-fascist can become the fascist, the civil right activist becomes the racist etc etc etc. I see this literally every day, in fact fighting against these things, paradoxically, appears to be the only occupation in which such behaviour is actually accepted, even in the mainstream).