I forget that I live in something of a progressive/feminist bubble, both in NYC and on the internet, so when I go to west to Small River Town to see my mom, I invariably get a little shellshocked about what I see and hear. I hadn’t been there in two years, so it was perhaps a bit more acute than it might have been during my recent holiday trip
Below, a smattering of the latest examples that caused me cognitive whiplash and/or feminist despair, many of them at the hands of my nearest and dearest.
1. The most egregious–if only for being the most common–was the truly ridiculous amount of fat-talk I witnessed, especially from my mother. “What do you think of this bread? It only has X calories per slice!” “I can’t eat that fudge.” “I haven’t been to [the health club] in weeks. I’m so bad.” (The counterpart to this were the greetings from all of the women I saw after a year or more absence: “You look great! So skinny!”)
During the first few days of this, I tried changing the subject a few times, but it came up so much that one night when we were having dinner together, I just went there. “Mom, I wish you wouldn’t talk about food as if it were the enemy. Enjoy it. Your weight is fine, and you’re in good health. You eat lots of fruit and veg and whole grains. ” And I went on to talk about HAES a bit. I don’t know if it got through at all, but I still heard some self-disparaging remarks. All while she’s making christmas cookies, of course.
2. In another conversation about students and their parents. Mom, who’s been a special ed teacher for more than 30 years, said something to the effect of “I think mothers today just aren’t home enough; they can’t spend good time with their kids [who are acting out or doing poorly in school].” I countered: what about the dads? “…well, them too, I guess.” My mother worked before my brother and I were born, and returned to teaching when I went to kindergarten, so…? I suppose we were just a special case.
3. Small River Town is a place where you have to drive to get anywhere, so I spent a lot of time riding along, seeing giant, anti-choice billboards along the roads: “My mommy chose life!’ “Protect your babies…born and pre-born” and “Abortion stops a beating heart.” They all have pictures of chubbly, smiling white infants on them, of course. I’m not sure if I should take the prevalence of these messages as evidence that no women in the SRT area get abortions, so disapproved a practice it is, or as evidence that abortions are so common that multiple enormous, maudlin advertisements are needed to dissuade them.
4. Before I left, I had the opportunity to visit with a few friends from high school–both dudes–one I haven’t seen for 3 years, the other for nearly 10. While there was pleasure in catching up with each of them, I was sorry (if not terribly surprised) to learn that each was a world-class mansplainer. While I can stomach hearing them hold forth on their own careers (my knowledge of contemporary orthopedic surgery, for example, is less than expert), I found myself getting a bit snappish when they presumed to know my business better than I: “Oh, so your dissertation is about X. Of course.”
And I was snappish out of frustration with myself at least as much as with them; I found myself going-along-and-getting-along far too much. I allowed them to monopolize our conversations–perhaps first out of real curiosity, but then out of old habits or politeness. Lady politeness. Let the gentlemen speak. Don’t disagree too strenuously.
I left SRT for all kinds of reasons, and obviously have deeply mixed feelings about returning, even for brief visits, but lest I think I’ve successfully banished the Big P from my life–either the one I walk around in or the one in my mind–all it takes it a quick trip out of my bubble. It’s like a booster shot: painful, but necessary and ultimately good for me.