Desperately Seeking Mary Wollestonecraft
The Next Gen Women
Attendant Worries Over Letting Go
On the day that I, a single dad, dropped off my daughter on her first day of preschool, I was close to tears. It takes a lot. Now she is 16, and I had just watched her go off to do her thing with two friends. As they walk away I can only feel an echo of the first preschool day. It's a wordless concern about all of the things that could happen to my girl as she ventures off without me.
The trio I met with today nearly seemed like a representative sample of young women. Keenly aware of their personal spotlight, each of them displayed the essential teen lack of awareness of all the things they don't know.
My daughter's two friends are polar opposites. One is a strawberry blonde who is somehow convinced that the most popular guys would not be interested in her. She has a serious frown most of the time. I understand that her real father is long gone and her mom's boyfriend is not okay. She says little, and observes a lot. I get the impression that balancing her beauty with her natural intelligence could be a long hard struggle.
The other, like my kid, is more of a cute unfinished beauty; the kind that must be grown into over time. This one has an obvious discipline about her that is suggestive of an eating disorder. She is tall but thinner than you might expect. Friendly and more talkative, she still betrays an exquisite care with every word and expression. She'll be successful at virtually anything she does, even at failing because she can't put limits on her self-discipline.
Mine is an unhappy medium between these two. Verbally very smart, she is convinced that being seen as smart is some kind of death sentence. Her refusal to approach any successful behavior is at war with her keen observation and ability to reason. I worry that the struggle to realize her natural gifts will consume all of her energy before she reaches a balance.
The missing member of this sample is the supposedly daring one who enjoyed her popularity with the boys. Gone to live with other family elsewhere, her father was also not in the picture. These girls sometimes refer to her slutty fashion sense as a comment on how misguided she is. I never got the sense that she was so delusional about the way she toyed with her boyfriends, though. For her there was a sense of control in it. The only concern I had for her was that she would try to apply that control to the wrong boy.
As a father, I am in a mad rush to tell my daughter, and her friends, all of the things they need to know and beware of, but the only time she wants to hear that from me is when I don't try to tell her anything. My authority seems useful only when I don't use it. I have all of my 45 years of experiences informing my fears for each of them, and the best advice I have is to not say much of anything until asked specifically about it.
And so away they walk into Rutland, a small section of a much bigger Canadian city that, itself, is as representative as the girls. I just don't know what is going to happen after this. I mean there are vague ideas. I can outline in detail what happened to my girl's mom leading up to her death. I can describe the factors that support this or that event causing turmoil in peoples' lives, but I am a guy. The girls have roads to walk that I simply can't walk on.
The Unnecessary Parts
They're not doomed or anything. It goes without saying that some roads have to be walked alone. I would just wonder if it is really necessary for them to spend the same twenty or thirty years learning the more unnecessary lessons that my older female clients have already learned. It's the part where fatherhood can only watch helplessly. Only the older women really know.
The unnecessary parts: The parts in which they each spend those years believing that there is no guidance available, that nobody really knows, that nobody can say. Can they avoid years of working and behaving as though they are totally alone, right next to another woman working and believing the same thing?
The unnecessary parts: The unquestioned and wordless acceptance that “you can't” for all of the bullshit reasons that we are encouraged to invent. The unreasoning assumptions that certain roles are made for certain people, and that certain types of people are obligated to fulfill those roles. The vacuous narratives assuming these girls will simply understand their place, or too bad because who has time to worry about it.
The unnecessary parts: The lack of education and the lack of discussion and the lack of leadership leading to absurd tragedies because in our vacant wisdom we have left children to devise their own destinies and pretended that we don't know what is happening.
But we do know.
A Coinage No Longer in Circulation
It's fair to say that the ladies over 50 cohort knows these four girls inside and out, backwards and forwards. They lived those lives. They played with the same boys that the girls will meet. They played house with the same boys and raised kids and held the same jobs that will be available to them. They have been there and done that. More importantly, the older ladies have heard and bought into and ultimately discarded all of the same bullshit that these girls will have to wade through before they realize that they should not be doing the listening; they should, perhaps, be doing the directing.
It was about 200 years ago that Mary Shelley wrote a general notice to all women (and men) saying that they really ought not to be building up boys the way they had been to act like entitled power-mongering penetrators. The idea that men should simply and unquestionably remain “in charge” at the expense of women is actually the worst idea in the history of bad ideas. The obvious counterpart, that women should just be birthing and raising kids and directing culture from the kitchen, is another face of a coinage no longer in use.
It's a mistake to label it as a real idea, though. It is just a habit that has become a tradition fallen back on when nobody discussed it: Just the way things are done around here. You can hear it offered as an explanation by older male clients. Why are they miserable? Why are their lives professionally great, yet personally in shambles? Why won't the ex’s listen or talk to them anymore? They were just doing what they were supposed to be doing. Just doing what everyone else was doing.
Or, why do I have this feeling of emptiness? I did everything I was supposed to do. Everyone is safe and happy. Why can't I feel anything? Is that normal? Some gentlemen will actually get to the question: Why has everything I “knew” turned out to be so misleading?
The older ladies will mostly tell you the same things. The difference, it seems to me, is that they don't feel obligated to hear the narratives that are so dominant among younger generations, or accept them or use them to explain what is happening to them now. The men, on the other hand, by the time they have questioned their disaffection with their roles of mastery, are finding that nobody cares to hear about it; Or that nobody cares to hear about it, from them.
Replacing George Carlin
On both sides of that issue, there is room for some leadership and that could come in a form as simple as engaging the girls in the kinds of discussion they want to hear. Now that George Carlin has passed away, who will be there to say “It's Bullshit—and it's bad for ya.”? I contend that we need to ask the women if only because the men will be George's age before they come around to it.
There are numerous precedents for doing so. We tend to look back upon Prohibition as if it was a cursed policy that ultimately failed, but it is seldom told just how devastating alcoholism has been on society, and how women brought society back from the brink. In the Canadian prairies of the 19th century, alcoholism was so malevolent a force that construction came to a halt. Law, such as it was, broke down. Business stopped because people stopped going to work. Money stopped flowing because of alcoholism. It was Women that got business going again, using prohibition.
Fashion is seldom thought of because mostly what we see is anorexic tall women on runways, but it was women in the early 20th century who were forced to make changes because the restrictions imposed by Victorian morality, such as miniscule waistlines, were preventing women from ovulating. Nor was it men who developed birth control. Why on earth would they? Birth and children were feminine issues. It is now relatively safe to deliver a baby because of those “feminist” movements.
Now we have nearly done a one-sixth portion of the 21st century. Anyone can take a step back and survey what we have come to. Major authorities in our society are suggesting that mental health is costing us some $55 billion dollars annually, but we are charging onward and downward into alcoholism and prescription drug addiction and obesity. Yet another survival situation is looming because of our unquestioned traditional narratives, encapsulated by the directive “this is just the way things are done.”
It's bullshit, and it’s bad for the girls. I can't help but watch them walk away and think that maybe we have four “birds in hand” who are worth eight somewhere out in the mentally deranged chaos of “just the way things are done.” What do we need to do to develop those girls into our leaders? Who is going to warn them?
Learning to Fly
We can't stop the girls from seeking out experience, but maybe with a bit of cooperation, we can help them avoid most of the lies and manipulations that make them believe that they are not worthy, not smart, not capable, not beautiful—not potent or powerful. There are women out there that, in a very real sense, are images of these girls' future selves. What kind of an impact would it be to reach out and allow the girls a glimpse of those futures? It would be just like teaching them to walk or swim: “That's right. Come towards me!”
As a dad, I can only watch as they walk away and hope they keep returning to let me know what has happened. But I am not a girl, and I can't pretend to walk in their shoes. My role is different. We need to drop this every woman or man for themselves idea. We need a few firm-handed women experts to stand up and show the girls which direction to walk in, how to fill those shoes. We need them to reach out to those women who are now in their 20s and 30s and start having the dialogue of intelligence and wit.
Today, I hear the girls repeating things they heard from Bobby, the boy from gym class who can score dope and thinks that ADHD means he is “mad legit” secretly a genius. So ya. They like totally need some older women intervening.
The solution to my worries may only be more quality voices out there in the ether, giving us a feminine echo of George Carlin, a modern revival of Mary W. Not to demand more respect or more rights, but to really just assume control of a dialogue that is leading us off the precipice of doom. It may be women in business openly mentoring young business women and using national media to brazenly challenge tradition. It may even be a full-fledged revival of First Wave Feminism. As a father of girls, I would line up and pay to listen to that because my concern for them vastly outweighs my concern for traditional gender roles. It's really no contest.
I think Jim Morrison said it best, “No eternal reward will forgive us now for wasting the dawn.” I would just like to know that there was something more substantial waiting for the girls than our fake and hollow traditional narratives. Those girls could be the most important people to ever happen to society.