What is the female form of emasculating? I don’t think English has one. Why do we have a word for making a man less of a man, but no word for making a woman less of a woman? Is femininity so bullet proof? I think not. In practical terms, “maternity” will probably serve, despite being the most feminine status possible. Practical considerations like body changes, sleep deprivation, and the touched-out feeling that comes from days spent with toddlers all join forces to strip women of the very thing that made (most of us- adoptive moms represent!) mothers in the first place – our sexuality.
Adding insult to injury we have mom jeans and mom-friendly music. “Mom-approved” is code for “completely harmless.” “Mom” has become the standby term for “square.” Somehow, in the process of socializing our tiny primitive humans, we allow ourselves to be declawed. Women who could out-swear sailors (women who are sailors!) scold their kids for potty-talk and stop listening to music with “bad words.” We abandon edgy artwork in favor of “pro-social media.”
It’s not only societal pressure – the grinding daily reality of childcare has a lot to do with motherhood dulling the sharp edges that make women valid participants in the cultural dialogue. Regardless of whether the driving force is societal or circumstantial, cultural conservator is not a role that many of us would gladly assume if we were less busy wiping tiny butts and noses.
In the Icelandic sagas, three year-old Egil drinks beer after saddling and riding a horse to a distant farm unattended. Other children are aware of the “intimate” grounds for a notable divorce case, and use it as the basis for a game. Life to the Vikings was just life and it didn’t matter if you were three or thirty. I can’t agree that we should be quite so age-egalitarian today. I have no interest in finding out if my four year-old is as belligerent a drunk as Egil Skallagrimsson (especially because I suspect she is).
But I do think that our efforts to create a kid-friendly world – to completely segregate their experience from ours – is not only detrimental to them because it fails to prepare them for adult life, but it is efemulating to us.
I don’t want my girls to think that being a mom means they have to be uninteresting, so I have to model a less binary reality for them. That is why I don’t automatically drop the laptop when my kids call me. I try to get out to shows, and I took a vacation by myself last year (dad gets to go this year).
I don’t watch my language around my kids, or tell them not to copy my foul mouth – I do tell them what will happen if they swear at school or at friends’ houses. I send my eight year-old on errands up and down our street, and expect her to bus our tables at coffee shops. When she spends her allowance, she goes to the register alone. She does her own homework.
I try to answer questions about religion and death and sex and race and adoption with the truth rather than hedge or deflect, even when it sucks. And I show my kids real art. Our first whole-family concert was a daytime performance by THEESatisfaction, because I want my daughters to see lesbians of color take on the world on their own terms with grace and style, and because it’s good music. I am proud that my four year-old asks to hear Macklemore’s “Same Love” and that she pulls out a mean little death growl when I play death metal.
Many of the bands and most of the movies that I like best are too intense or scary for my kids, and I save those for after the little ones go to bed. I decide what’s appropriate based on how the kids react – not on what seems appropriate. Just because they aren’t ready for everything doesn’t mean I have to fill in with crap. The late nights and subtitles of opera may be years away, but we still don’t listen to Raffi in our family.
PS: We also don’t do pole dances or drive Volvos in this family. Sorry.