I had bundled myself against the Return of the Rain for my morning walk--outer layer of my ski jacket, fleece sweats, hat, gloves. Overkill? Maybe, but I don't enjoy getting soaked on my walk.
As I headed up my street, I noticed a young boy walking toward me. We live near an elementary school, so his destination was obvious. However, he had the saddest look on his face, and he was wearing a t-shirt and no coat on this rainy February morning. He looked longingly down our street, then turned to the crosswalk leading to the school. I asked, "Do you have somewhere dry to do?" He pointed to the school. I said, "Good! I'm glad." and went on my way, trusting he would soon be in the warmth of the cafeteria, enjoying some substance they call school breakfast.
Several thoughts collided in my mind. I thought of how much I've enjoyed being a mom. How I've structured my time and work so that I could volunteer and be involved in my sons' schools and activities, cheer at their sporting events, attend scout Courts of Honor, be present at the occasional award ceremony. How I've welcomed their friends to our home, brought them on vacation, made lunches and cookies and bought enough pop and chips to feed the troops in Afghanistan. How I've nurtured relationships, taught several of their friends sexuality education at our church, nudged and helped friendships grow through youth group and swim team leadership programs.
I thought about how blessed I have been to be able to make that choice, and not have it mean that we couldn't pay bills, or afford to go on vacation, or buy new clothes. I thought of the support of my spouse, and all he's done to support our doing all the above. And I thought about this Washington Post article about the illusion of equality for women in America, and how we still make only 77 cents on the dollar compared to men.
I thought about how partisan everything has gotten in our lives--not only politically with Democrats and Republicans, but with men and women--all those male-bashing emails that go around from time to time that I admit I've laughed at. But they always make me think of an old friend and colleague, Bernie Dorsey, who started a movement called Conscious Fathering, and brought to my awareness how damaging those types of attitudes are in our culture.
Which then made me think about the cultural competence unit I'm in the middle of for a course I'm taking, and how it relates to gender. Check out this iceberg model of culture. It's a great visual for what we tend to see and what is hidden. Somehow, when we wouldn't dare to criticize another ethnicity, we find it OK to openly joke about and criticize the other gender with jokes about courses they should take, or blond jokes (99% about females) or what planet they are from. We say, "it's a guy thing" or "it's a girl thing" to dismiss or discount something without going into an explanation of why that behavior was important to the person. Without really trying to understand.
It took years of me living with them and hanging around many different varieties of them to come to the realization that teenage boys are some of the most misunderstood people on the planet. They are stereotyped as trouble makers, shallow, wanting only sex, insensitive, etc. In reality, many are working diligently to handle the emotions they feel inside and the hormones raging through their bodies, the pressures they feel from society and media, the differences between how they think about things and how many young women do. They lack adults in their lives who will listen without judgment, mentor them without criticism, and celebrate who they are.
At the same time, young women are victims of a false sense of equality. From Jessica Valenti's Washington Post article:
...more than 1,000 women were killed by their partners in 2005, and of all the women murdered in the United States, about a third are killed by a husband or boyfriend. A leading cause of death for pregnant women? Murder by a partner.
In Iraq, women serving in the military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.
Even the government underestimates the crisis American women are in. Last year the Justice Department reported that there were 182,000 sexual assaults committed against women in 2008, which would mean that the rate had decreased by 70 percent since 1993.
But a study by the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center showed that the Justice Department's methodology was flawed. Instead of behaviorally based questions, such as "Has anyone ever forced you to have sex?", women were asked if they had been subject to "rape, attempted or other type of sexual attack." Victims often don't label their experience as "rape," especially when someone they know attacked them. The center says the actual number of U.S. women raped in 2008 was more than 1 million.
In church on Sunday, we were singing a hymn. Our church has embraced mostly inclusive language, but this hymn was a bulletin insert and had "His" in several places. I sang "Her" and "She" and felt the difference of that in my heart and soul. Neither is bad or wrong, they are just different--and equally valuable.
We have a long way to go in our country. We may expect our leaders to put aside political differences, but what are we doing personally to do this? Where in our lives can we insert more understanding and effectiveness and less need to be right?
A friend of mine has two sons in the military. She doesn't always understand why they have chosen that route. But she supports them. She sends emails to her friends asking them to send encouraging notes, and she updates us on how helpful they are. She had Christmas in July when one of her sons was going to be deployed in Iraq over the holidays. She sends cookies and other treats, she prays, she grows. She's a mom.
I walked back by the school as I was finishing up my walk. I sent silent blessings to the little boy in the t-shirt, hoping he had dried off and found a friend to spend the morning with before school started. And I wished the same for every child, boy or girl--that someone would send them silent blessings for warmth and a friend today. Once a mom......