Some might ask what doesn't anger feminists these days, but what follows seems particularly silly:
“A gentleman lets girls go first,” he says, explaining that every day at naptime all the girls go to the bathroom before the boys.
His explanation, along with the quiet solemnity with which he delivers it, is completely endearing and yet it makes my heart ache. This adorable little boy, who is only beginning to learn the ways of the world, just got his first lesson in sexism — and from a teacher who, I don’t doubt, believes she’s doing something wonderful for womankind.
She isn’t the only one.
Start to complain about your preschooler adopting gentlemanly behavior and you quickly discover how out of step you are with the rest of the world. Almost everyone I mention it to thinks it’s lovely and sweet. What’s the harm in teaching little boys to respect little girls?
The implication, of course, is that I’m overreacting, and as a parent, I’ll admit to being prone to the occasional bout of hypersensitivity. For months, I grumbled that the inappropriately breathy tone of Cinderella on Emmett’s LeapFrog Princess laptop was warping a generation of impressionable young minds.
But I don’t think it’s an overreaction to resent the fact that your son is being given an extra set of rules to follow simply because he’s a boy. His behavior, already constrained by a series of societal norms, now has additional restrictions. Worse than that, he’s actively being taught to treat girls differently, something I thought we all agreed to stop doing, like, three decades ago. That the concept of selective privilege has been introduced in preschool of all places — the inner sanctum of fair play, the high temple of taking turns — is mind-boggling to me. How can you preach the ethos of sharing at the dramatic play center and ignore it 20 feet away at the toilet?
Yet as much as this double standard offends me as a mom, it’s nothing compared with how much it infuriates me as a feminist. Forty years after the tender, sweet, young thing in “Free to Be You and Me” gets eaten by a pack of hungry tigers after asserting that ladies should go first, we are still insisting on empty courtesies that instill in women a sense of entitlement for meaningless things. Many women see gallantry as one of the benefits of their sex; I see it as one of its consolations.
Letting girls use the bathroom first isn’t a show of respect. It is, rather, the first brick in the super high pedestal that allows men to exalt women out of sight. A true show of respect is paying us equally for the same work, not 77 cents on the dollar, which is the current average. That’s the world I want my son to live in and I seriously doubt it will ever happen as long as women believe men should hold the door open for them.
Global economic considerations aside, the real tragedy is that these girls aren’t being taught the fine art of yielding to others. Nobody is giving them the opportunity to be gallant. Instead, these fabulous little creatures, who absorb everything joyfully and tear through barriers gleefully, are being fitted for the same old corset. The stays are a little looser but the whalebone is just as rigid.
I'm hard-pressed to understand how teaching a young boy how to be a gentleman translates to a ban on teaching young girls the fine art of yielding to others but then... there's not much of this entire piece that makes any sense to me.
Into that senselessness steps John Paul II:
In 1988, John Paul II sent out an Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, or, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women. In this letter he began the use of the term the “genius of women” in describing the special attributes and contributions of females. He outlined the special characteristics that set us apart from men. And in a refreshing move, he upheld these unique talents as both beautiful and necessary to compliment the traits of men. This came not long after a time when women’s gifts were often belittled and considered “female weaknesses”. A woman was considered a “weak” leader if she felt empathy for those working under her. This deprecation of natural feminine characteristics is what led many women in the decades before Mulieris Dignitatem to leave their roles as wives and mothers and seek the recognition and appreciation they needed elsewhere. While he encouraged all women in their roles as wives and mothers, JP2 also encouraged further participation in politics and economics. JP2 never said women’s gifts were only useful in the home raising children. Instead he first worked to affirm that these traits were innately good and necessary, and then made the move seven years later to more directly challenge women to bring them to every aspect of their lives.
In 1995 JP2 wrote Evangelium Vitae, and called for a “New Feminism” to take root in the heart of the Catholic Church. He called for the women of the Church to infuse our world with our “feminine genius” and return to our culture the role of motherhood and the beautiful truth about women’s true talents and contributions. He called for us to “promote a “new feminism that rejects the temptation of imitating models of “male domination” in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, exploitation, and violence.” He even went so far as to say that this was a prerequisite for creating a Culture of Life and placed this task in the hands of the women of the Church. (EV n.99)
There has been some debate about his use of the term “feminist” saying that what he called for was something so completely foreign to the Feminist mantra that we should avoid using the word altogether when describing this new movement of women who embrace and love the feminine genius. Some have suggested the term “Complimentarianists” is a better fit. (Although even typing it is honestly a trial!) And others have just not wanted to create confusion and be mistaken with the women we talked about so fondly earlier. They fear creating scandal by association with that word. I tend to think John Paul II knew exactly what he was saying when he chose to send us forth as New Feminists.
Of course there's more and it's rich with that which makes sense to me and with what brings a renewed hope I think Catholicism brings to the thinking.