Friday, December 14, 2012

MAMA Manifesto

Just a week after the anniversary of the attacks at Ecole Polytechnique, today hits me with news of two more attacks on groups of helpless people, and this talk by Anita Sarkeesian, discussing the massive campaign of serious abuse she suffered after she spoke out about the ever-present mysogeny and sexualization of women and girls in video games.

The fact that there's a word for people like us - "feminist" - is just plain ridiculous. Deserving of equality is not an ideal of left-wing liberal nuts called feminists -- it is simply life. I had heard of this story, but had no idea of the horrific online abuse she had suffered, and unfortunately I know too much of this sort of thing pervades our world - even our children's world - and it causes me huge despair.

I need to work harder on this front; I've let it go for a while, but not anymore. We, as mothers, have the responsibility to teach by example, that we ourselves have value, and that our children do too, and that not EVER, for any reason would we stoop to the kind of harmful behaviour that our culture seems to accept. Children only learn by example.

Today two schools full of children were attacked. 20 children and 7 adults killed in Newtown, Connecticut, USA, and 22 children wounded by a knife attack in Chenpeng village in Henan province, China. I'm sad for the people who've lost their children and family members; their faith in safety and community, but I also can't help but think about these two men who so obviously needed help, and the weapons they used (guns and knife) which are so ubiquitous in our culture.

It isn't that I think we need tougher laws - I think we need to take responsibility for our children! I talked about this in the bullying post, a couple of weeks ago, but it's just SO important! As our children
soak up every word we say; every hand-gesture, every movement of eyes and facial expression, are we living the life we want them to emulate? How many of us just sit back and allow our kids to play games (online and otherwise) without engaging them in conversation about what they are playing, and the ramifications of it? If our children witnessed a bloody murder in the street, they'd have free counselling and support for years as they dealt with the ramifications. When they see it on a video-game, holding a plastic gun in their hand and watching their digital victims explode in a rain of red and black, we tell them to get on with their studies, or turn it off and join us for dinner. Or we send them off to bed without once considering that this too has lasting psychological consequences and that they should be talking about it. In fact they should have been talking about it long before they were old enough to have thought it was a good idea to buy themselves those games. I won't for a moment assume that conscious parents would buy those games for their children.

When my children asked me what rape was, I told them. And I watched this Anita Sarkeesian video with them. We talk about wars, and politics, and sex and drugs and mental illness. We pause movies and games when things need to be explained, and my kids soak up the explanations (and questions) sometimes with more enthusiasm than the film itself. I can't stop them from participating in what is now popular culture, and if I did, they'd only want it more. But I can lead by example, and so can you. We all can. We have to. It's our responsibility. We didn't have children to tend the farm or to look after us when we grow old; we had children because we love children. So it's our responsibility to raise them with integrity and awareness, that they go into the world full of questions and willing to look around, but also with a conviction to find their own truth and right path.

There is no time to waste. And the smallest things make a difference; the random comments from my children remind me of this. My daughter once said, "I can't wait until I grow up so I can have pimples and wear cover-up, too!" My son said "I hope my wife doesn't think I want her to shave herself. That wouldn't be nice of me." Once my daughter reprimanded her father for some grammatical mistake and then turned to me with pride in her eyes. Oh no - did I teach her that? Of course I did! And it will take a lifetime to undo. Not everything we pass on is what we hope for. My husband reads fantasy novels - when I read them I always discover that women are either helpless or brutally evil. Men are either affable or macho. My son has been trying to read some, lately, and I was happy when he told me that the people in the books aren't very nice to each other, and they're not so much scary as just upsetting. He's just not interested. My daughter can pick out obnoxious, unkind behaviour in the books she reads, too, and goes on to find better books when she encounters it. It matters very much not only that we lead by example, but also that we teach our children - from birth - that their own opinions and questions matter; that any question is valid, and that when we don't know the answers we will help them find them.* It's important that we reach for the best possible version of ourselves, because that will be the standard our children measure themselves against, and it will effect every single generation to come.

It is not OK for us to condemn violent video games but make jokes that put people down. It's not OK for us to practice attachment parenting but escape our children for a night at the bar. When they find us in the morning and discover that sour old booze smell on our breath they will learn that that is the smell of being with friends, and all the threats in the world won't take that lesson away from them when they're 14 and their friends are offering them cheap vodka under a bridge. It's not OK for us to tell them to be nice to each other, but to put our own community members down, to gossip, and to blame.

We are mothers, and our demonstrated values and behaviour are the greatest teacher our children will ever have. This goes doubly, of course, for those of us who stay home with our children; who homeschool or unschool.We are mothers! We must take the importance of this incredible occupation very seriously, because there is nobody who can make a bigger change than we can, in choosing how we raise each new generation.

I have been working on the MAMA Project for over 3 years, now. I've shown it at festivals and twice as indoor installations. It makes a huge difference to the awareness and thoughts of the people who visit it, and it matters to me to continue making that difference. I've financed it nearly alone (or rather I should say that my husband and his paid job have financed it nearly alone) and worked on it almost only late at night when the kids have gone to bed. But something's got to give, now. It needs to get further. It's way past time.

*I know many people who have a difficult time talking to their children about upsetting issues. This is a great piece I was forwarded today, which may be interesting to some who are struggling with this: Family Resource Center at Minneapolis Children's Hospital: Advice on talking to children about violence against children.

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