Grade: 12th at Quincy High School
1st place Live Arts Contest
Bite Your Tongue for the Cookies
My government and politics teacher made it a point to have her first lesson be, “Politics don’t have a place at the dinner table.” I sometimes ignore that little bit when in conversation with my dad, because, well, even if we don’t agree, he’ll still be my dad. If it isn’t over politics, it’ll be over how late I can stay out. But other than that, I do keep politics out of social conversations, because it’s awkward when you don’t agree with someone, and often you’ll be turned off by someone you could have otherwise gotten along with swimmingly. I’m afraid I learned that the hard way when I left Starbucks crying after my best friend told me he didn’t “get feminism.” Maybe I overreacted, or maybe he’s just stupid. The point is, though, that I became aware of my sensitivity to the subject. It’s easy to hate-watch Fox News, but when I’m confronted by a real-life person who even questions feminism, I’m practically brought to tears by frustration.
One not-very-particular Friday night, my girlfriends and I are over at our friend Augusta’s house watching a movie and eating pizza. Somewhere upstairs her brothers are reenacting Peter Pan’s battle with Hook while her mom, Noreen, is baking cookies in the kitchen. The house is small and mildly hectic, but it’s warm and comforting — like how you would imagine the nuclear family’s house back in the 50s or something (minus the flat screen TV and the Apple laptop lying on top of the un-tuned piano.)
After the movie, Noreen joins our hot cocoa sippin’ gossip sesh—only she doesn’t really come to gossip—she just audits and occasionally offers adultly moral advice and the like. And it’s not the advice you roll your eyes at, because Noreen’s pretty funny. She’s a cool mom. We all love her. As we’re all talking and laughing, I’m wondering what it’s like to have such a cool relationship with one’s mom. It’s not that my mother and I aren’t on good terms or anything, but it’s made clear since the beginning that she’s my mother and I’m her daughter, she’s in charge and I’m not. It works out just fine for me and my mom, but we’re not friends. We don’t talk about school or boys the way Noreen talks to us.
When I tune back in, Noreen is saying, “What is feminism? These women are out there burning bras and scaring away men, and they expect the rest of us to be on board with it!” Wait, what? “They want all these really high positions, but the truth is, women are just catty by nature. They don’t want to see other women succeed, and they just want to be on top. ”
I make an effort to keep my jaw in check to make sure my mouth isn’t wide open, guffawing at the idiocy of what I just heard. There is this intense urge to shake her by the shoulders and say, “Do you even know what feminism is? Have you bothered to know what it stands for and what it’s done for women? How do you have your own job? How were you allowed to go to college? How are you able to own this house just as much as your husband?”
But instead, I shrug and keep my mouth shut as she goes on. “We might as well just let the men keep their positions, since they can actually handle it.” I notice that a few of my friends glance at me quickly and look away (probably not to make it so obvious that I would be the one to take offense… Then I would really have to suffer Noreen asking me something rhetorical like, “Well, don’t you agree?”)
We’re saved by a phone call reminding her she has a dentist appointment tomorrow at 3. As soon as she leaves there’s an awkward silence and then we all burst out laughing. One of my friends goes, “Martha I thought you were going to shrink and disappear into the couch.” To that I tell her I thought I was going to, too.
Noreen comes back with batch of cookies and some iced tea this time. “In case you girls were getting sick of hot cocoa! So what were we talking about?” Someone says they forget and instead turns the subject to prom. For the rest of the night we’re talking about themes and dresses and limos.
When it’s time to go home, Noreen walks each and every one of us to the door with a goodie bag of cookies and a hug goodnight.
Noreen is not a bad person, as evidenced by her shower of deliciously baked goods and overbearing hugs. She just has a really bad misconception of what feminism is. While I do stand by my beliefs, it’s difficult not to plead ignorance on her behalf. It’s difficult for anyone to undo their upbringing entirely, and that ought to excuse the ignorance part, at least for a little while. There’s a difference between preaching to a room full of strangers on women empowerment, and fighting with your best friend’s mom under her roof right after she’s just fed you. One’s empowering, while the other is just, well, really awkward.
There can be small steps to changes, and not every one of them has to start with making everyone in the room recant all their beliefs in one hour. It’s easy to take offense, but it’s hard to consider where the person comes from and why they believe what they do. Somewhere along the way, feminism became hate-reading, hate-watching and hate-blogging the patriarchy without considering the side effects of so much hate for too many people in one movement. Resentment here is justified, but the hate that comes along with it needs to stay in check. It’s easy to go full force and push these ideas that are (unfortunately) radical to many people (even in 21st century). But maybe the reason it’s taking so long to get the message across is because so many people are startled by the amount of pressure to be and do something entirely different than what they’re used to.
It’s hard to know that there is a kinder, gentler way to go about proposing ideas to help women know their potential. Isn’t feminism, after all, letting these women know that they have the power to be who they want to be, and not reinforcement that they are mistake-ridden creatures that don’t know what they’re doing ever? Making women feel bad about themselves for whatever reason seems counterproductive, and anyone would get defensive, whether we believe they’re wrong or right. Sometimes a little patience can make all the difference.
Martha is an avid fan of cupcakes and tea. She enjoys binge-watching TV shows that are at least two seasons in, and plans on one day becoming a traveling writer-dentist as a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders.