Obscenity alert! Somebody call the Family Research Council
! Dial up the Eagle Forum
step up to the plate on the side of decency. I thought when Virgin Atlantic Airways introduced the company’s newest VIP perk, urinals shaped like women’s open mouths, great numbers of organizations would be offended. But only the National Organization for Women
Offended doesn’t even come close to describing what I felt when presented with the idea of young boys following their fathers into the men’s room to take a leak in a woman’s mouth. And it started me thinking about how often I’ve heard the theory that women’s rights advocates are ruining the country’s boys: the Feminization of Freddy, that sort of thing. Yet it took a feminist organization, NOW, to keep our sons and grandsons from being subjected to participatory misogynistic perversion.
Both my son, Adam Cox, and my son-in-law, Jake Nath, were disgusted by the Virgin Atlantic urinal. Both young men were raised by feminists, and it got me thinking about feminists and their sons.
I am from a continuum of feminists, the fifth of five daughters raised by a Southwest Kansas farmer and a teacher who were both avid women’s rights advocates. My mother came by her feminism naturally, and it was in part her strong political views that so attracted my father. My maternal grandmother worked for suffrage as a young woman, after moving west by covered wagon in 1891.
In 1912, when my grandmother was a 33 year-old, the Kansas legislature made their state the eighth to approve full women’s suffrage. My mother was only six years old on that day, but she remembered it well. The feeling in her farm home was less celebratory than resolved when grandfather brought news of the way Kansas legislators voted. “Well, of course, they did,” my mother recalled her mother announcing.
Frontier theorists would no doubt say that the rural West pioneered in women’s rights as a practical matter, a natural distancing from English society and the beginnings of America defining herself. I, too, see feminism as a practical matter — a meat and potatoes issue. I fear we live in a time when some are putting great effort, time and money behind redefining this country and what made it great, strong women included.
My grandmother raised nine children: teachers, merchants, farmers and soldiers. One of her sons flew 85 missions over enemy territory during World War II. Another son, also a pilot, didn’t make it home. Oh that my God-fearing suffragette grandmother, Sylvia Cave Johnson, was still alive and available for cable television. Woe be unto the self-righteous, Stepford-shill, who accused her of being incapable of raising sons.
In the past several years we’ve seen a glut of magazine articles, talk shows and books like The War on Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Boys
and The Decline of Males
demonizing a simple term: feminism. How silly. Feminists are people who believe women deserve the same opportunities and compensation as men.
The anti-feminist deluge seemed to fall even harder in the wake of the Littleton High School tragedy, where on April 20, 1999, two teenagers committed the largest mass school killing in U.S. history. Everyone agreed that something was going wrong with today’s society, and many pundits placed blame squarely at feminists’ doors. Time after time I watched, listened or read that we activists were to blame for a breakdown in family values in general, and for the dehumanization of American boys in particular. Nevermind that none of the young men involved in school shootings, so-called “wildings” or other violent acts so widely publicized seemed to have been raised by feminists.
I contend it is just the opposite, that feminists gave their children strong values. My parents not only encouraged but also expected their daughters to see themselves as equal with men, to work to their potential and to facilitate others to do the same. And I believe the great majority of women’s rights activists of my generation, the meat and potatoes feminists, single or married, have done a spectacular job of raising their sons, sons who view the world far differently than those raised in strictly patriarchal households.
There are lessons I believe we imparted both in word and action that will affect great change in society as our sons take their places in today’s workforce. We taught our daughters the same values, but we always knew that any significant change required males also working against prejudice and intolerance.
I believe feminists by their very nature imparted questioning minds to their sons, encouraging them to question stereotypes including those existing within our school system: jocks, nerds, freaks and snobs. They learned from us that name-calling is a critical part of alienation. We taught them to appreciate differences, not disdain them, to neither be nor seek victims.
We taught them to be discerning, to carefully evaluate influences, ranging from peer pressure to media input.
For feminists active in the business and political community, sons learned to interact with a myriad of individuals, from the powerful to the disenfranchised. They carried those experiences with them, and, I believe, profited as adults. I also think we imparted a sense of purpose in our sons, the knowledge that every life is part of something bigger and does make a difference.
Children of feminists know that every stand they take may not be popular. They may be subjected to ridicule or contempt as a result of their beliefs. But through the examples of their mothers, they know a worthy stand is worth the price.
I can’t even imagine what my feminist grandmother would have thought had she lived to see a picture of a urinal shaped like a woman’s open mouth. But she wouldn’t have been surprised that it was feminists who got the project flushed.