Wednesday, March 08, 2006

They Are Woman

I said to Maya, "Y'know how last month was Black History Month?" We had had many talks about this. We had gone to the African Family Festival at the Bowers. Her school had acknowledged it. She said, "Yea." I said, "Did you know that March is Women's History Month?" She said, "What?"

When I explained what that meant, she was excited to hear stories about important women, even if these stories will only be told by me. Apparently, this is not on the school's agenda.

For Black History month, the Orange County public school system talked a lot about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks -- which, thank god-- but many important leaders and figures were neglected. But it is difficult ---and ridiculous-- to have to cram the history of so many significant people into 28 short days. Anyway, in terms of the civil rights movement, I always talk to Maya about Malcolm X too. I tell her, "Many people don't want to talk as much about his contributions." I imagine our conservative school system would think they were promoting violence or radical activism, but I explain to Maya, "If you were told you were less than human, and not allowed to have basic human rights, wouldn't you want to rise up and physically fight against that?" Maya asked, "What if they had worked together more, Malcolm and Martin?" I said, "They were fighting the same war, but in two different ways. And that's ok." I also tried to explain that George Washington came to this country and organized his group to take a stand against mistreatment, and Patrick Henry proclaimed, "Give me liberty or give me death", and these things are regarded as historically heroic. Malcolm X was basically doing the same. Washington and his crew were not non-violent. They were fighting for freedoms. Why is one heroic and the other radically dangerous?

I tell her, "Just keep in mind that the spin on history is not always what it seems."

Pieces come together for her in conversations like these. Especially when the complexity of discrimination is put in more relatable terms. I see it in her face: Things are not always what they seem. Examine situations from all angles. She is getting this slowly.

So, now we're cramming for Women's History Month; a month to display our brave groundbreakers and prove that they are still important, and that we still need them. The empowering that goes on in my house is a year-round event. It doesn't stop because I'm aware that the issue of women's rights still gets eye rolls by the majority of people. And I'm aware that the strength of my girls still needs to be validated and fought for outside of our house even if they are completely unaware of this. But I gladly clear the brush for the groundbreaking they will do in their lifetime.

Today in TaeKwonDo, my six year old Mina had sparring. She is excited by sparring because she's good at it. She was paired with an older, taller and shyer girl. And Mina wailed on her. I heard one mom say to the other, "What is she doing? She's so rough." Then they realized I was behind them. They turned around and giggled backbitingly. "Boy, Mina is so tough," a mom said fakely. I said, "Yea, well her sister's a black belt and they go at it at home." She said, "They're the ones that did that dance at Christmas time?" I nodded. She said, "Mina was so sweet then. What happened?" And the words What Happened made me want to snatch her tongue from her mouth. I said smiling, "This is TaeKwonDo. She puts on the sparring gear and spars. She's tough." They nodded and as she turned back around I could feel her eyes rolling at the unladylikeness. It saddened me profoundly. Because had they been our sons, nothing would have been said at all. It would not have been "cute" that my girls take TKD seriously or that they want to be masters some day or make the Olympics or own their own studios.

When we left, I high fived Mina for her great work, and we went home to tell Maya and Papi the story. I told Maya, "See? This is why we need reminding of women's history because sometimes people forget that we can do anything." And Papi said, "Just sing them the song already." And I told them the I Am Woman story and then I belted out what I could remember. The girls laughed and it was their turn to high five me.


Regina said...

I love that you looked those women in the eye and proudly state that your daughter was being herself and doing her best. Raising responsible women is never easy but we owe it to them to allow them and encourage them to be every single thing they want and can be. Society is much more comfortable with all of us doing what they think is our "duty". Our duty is to live by example and bravo to you for doing so.

lovegreendog said...

"Just keep in mind that the spin on history is not always what it seems."

i love this line, thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

In honor of the month, the name of Maria Skłodowska-Curie deserves mention. She overcame personal tragedy and gender and ethnic bigotry to become one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century, winning two Nobel prizes. Extraordinary human being, a super hero and a scientific bad-ass mo-fo in physics and chemistry. A hero for persecuted geniuses, dorks, and anybody who is willing to sacrifice themselves, both physically and financially, for the progress of humanity. Her daughter was also a Nobel laureate. The world was lucky to have her.

Three Sheets

Laini Taylor said...

It's great to see your girls involved in so many things -- my mother made sure we got to try everything. Gymnastics, soccer, karate, piano, whatever. Some stuck, some didn't. But there are kids I know whose parents can't be bothered to do this for them, and I know those kids are being deprived of their maximum growth potential and it makes me so sad. I would understand more if were for serious time & money concerns... but it often isn't. More of a failure of understanding how vital these things are to young minds, bodies & identities. (also, wow your girls are beautiful!)

White Trasherati said...

These are the kind of girls I want as future daughter-in-laws. Can we work that out? My boys are very cute, and I'm trying to rear them to appreciate women such as yours. : )

madness rivera said...

WT - absolutely. Maya & Mina Rivera-Trasherati They may have to wait a while. Maya's talking marriage in her thirties. Mina's talking now, but that's to me and Papi.

Three Sheets! Awesome reference and homage ESPECIALLY on the very fresh heels of Larry Summers' resignation as the Harvard prez/idiot who suggested that women are innately and genetically incapable of becoming top scientists and the reason they are underrepresented in the field. MOTHER FU-- is this 2006? Isn't Harvard, like, a good school?

Laini - your mom sounds rad and it sounds like you came out pretty great because of it. Thanks for sharing.

Marigoldie said...

I wish I'd had more of THAT kind of raising and less "little girls should be seen and not heard."

I think the Black Panthers' story is a good one too.

la vie en rose said...

you inspire me! what a wonderful mother you are! blessings on you friend for having the awareness and dedication you have. your gilrs will be superheros for it.

HollyRhea said...

Have you ever read "Reviving Ophelia"? All about reclaiming a girl's right to be fully human.

My father once told me that studying engineering was not something I should do. It was a "man's field", even though he always welcomed me out in the woodshop to help him make furniture.

Today I engineer patterns. Guess you can't fight nature with paradigms.

acumamakiki said...

I so want my girl involved in martial arts, even more so when I hear these stories. I wish you could snatch her tongue (or at least give it a tug) for saying, what happened? Too bad that woman lost touch of the girl in her, the one that can dance AND spar AND compete. Not because it's boy or girl, but just because she can.

mastimaker314 said...

You know, your story about Mina made me think. I did Tae Kwon Do in middle school and early high school, until I stopped because I was too busy with school and swim team. I was really good at it, and like Mina, LOVED to spar. I could, and did, kick most of the other girls butts (the exception was my best friend). My mom usually came to class and watched, like the other parents. She's never told me about anything like that happening, but now it makes me wonder if other mom's said the same thing about me that those women were saying about Mina.

That's awesome news about Larry Summer's resignation. As a physicist, I see a lot of gender inequality. None of my physics professors are female, and I've often thought about how awesome it would be if there was at least one woman prof. in the department. Someday it'll happen. We'll make it happen.

madness rivera said...

Masti M, if that was, what -- ten years ago, I'm sure your mom was throwing down at least a little for you. And I have a feeling YOU may make that happen some day. You rock.

Marigoldie - next year in middle school, we're so reading about the Black Panthers. Speaking of which I just heard a speech on the radio by Angela Davis. Did you know she was still teaching? At UC Santa Cruz. The speech was gorgeous; sage activism at it's best.

Kathleen said...

you rock so damn much.

andrea said...

I'm with ms. kathleen.

andrea said...

oh, and I love that you sang 'I am woman' to the girls. tell me you busted out that album so they coukd see ms. helen reddy in all her glory.