Friday, May 29, 2009

On Misogyny and Mother-Hating

This is the deal: we all have issues with our mothers. I don't care how seemingly perfect, fabulous, sweet, loving, giving, caring she was, she did something along the way, likely not on purpose, that scarred you, that you're angry about whether or not you admit it. I feel this with much certainty. It is the first topic most therapists will move toward at the beginning of seeing a new patient. It is important.

Yesterday, I happily handed a gold star to a barrista at yet another Brooklyn coffee shop I frequent, this one more to buy mugs and ground espresso for home as it has no place to sit. I was rummaging through the basket of used books for sale when I came upon a title that intrigued me, Danielle Crittenden's What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us...The barrista looked at the book and then rolled her eyes. "What they didn't tell us...that's a lot!" she said dramatically in her best Brooklynese smoker's rasp, joking but angry. I laughed. "Right? Those bitches," I joked back. My openness to the joke and addition to it gave her carte blanche to break into a full stand-up comedy routine on mothers, one that began with how much bigger this small paperback book should be if it really told everything our mothers didn't tell us. She leaned way over, hand stretched down as if holding an enormous, back-breakingly heavy book and regaled me with her hilarious vitriol. Included in her rant was information about how clueless her mother had been about her being a lesbian. She earned her gold star. She should go into comedy, she's great.

Wiping away the tears in my eyes from laughing so hard, I walked out of the store and began to look at the book and to think about my memoir class where women of various ages have weighed in on their choices, their mother's choices and the men in their lives and men, of various ages, have weighed in on business and sex and, oh, a little, maybe, on their mothers. Reading one 70+ man's story of his youth, it was obvious that he took out his sublimated anger on his mother on other women in his life, on teachers and lovers. I thought to myself that he was a misogynist, though I might not have said it straight to him had he not raked me over the coals for how he viewed my actions in a story of my own. As it was, I went off, telling him all I saw in the subtext of his piece, that he better deal with the anger he had toward his mother or else it would corrode every relationship in his life. I was breathless when I finished the rant. It wasn't nice, but my writing teacher said later that it was not undeserved. "He had really pushed your buttons," she said in excuse of me. I appreciated it.

In the man's next story, that he turned in to the class Tuesday, there was a cover sheet noting that my comments had a "profound impact" on him and he called my his "furious Muse." Nice. Just call me FM for short. He said he thought long and hard about the women in his life in regard to his feelings about his mother. Amen. I think that's what we all need to do.

I guess I talk about misogyny a lot lately because I talk about relationships a lot and, as a heterosexual, I think mostly about my relationships with men. Looking back at past lovers and at my husband, I am always trying to figure how their view of their mothers--that primary, opinion-shaping female relationship in their lives--and the anger I assume they had in one way, shape or form, affected or affects how they view and act toward me. I am selfish that way. I talk, mostly, about how I feel, mostly because even that is so hard to do. If I focus on how men's views are shaped by their fathers, it too leads back to the mother relationship, the one their father had with their grandmother. It all comes back to the mother. As a mother, how I wish that wasn't true. I pray for the future girlfriends or wives of my two precious boys. God help them. My older son, Eli, might not have one, though. He said recently, at 7, that he didn't want a girlfriend. Why? "They talk too much, and get in your way," he reasoned, judging--of course--on his dear old Mom. Misogyny lives, in my own house. I must try to persuade him: not all women talk this much. It may be too late. He may not believe it.

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