I would have been around seven or eight the first time my father told me about the one way he truly believed men and women were not equal.
“Men are physically stronger than women,” he explained. “They have bigger muscles and that’s why it is never okay -- under any circumstances -- for a man to hit a woman. Ever.”
I wish I could say I accepted this as gospel as soon as the words left his mouth, but as the smallest kid (of either gender) in my grade, I encountered plenty of girls who could kick my ass if they were so inclined and balked at what I perceived as the basic unfairness of this. I immediately attempted to find loopholes.
“But what if she’s a giant and he’s a little person?” (Note: I did not actually say “little person.” I’m whitewashing history to avoid causing offense.) (Note to my note: I apologize to anyone offended by my use of the word “whitewashing.”) “Then is it okay?”
“What if she’s a ninja and has throwing stars?”
“What if she has a great big axe?”
“Not even a bazooka.”
The best I could get him to do was to say that it was okay to try and non-violently disarm these imaginary female assailants, but stopping them cold with any outright force was unequivocally unacceptable, no matter the situation or the peril that this theoretical man faced. No matter the circumstance, I was (or would at least someday become) a man and I was not allowed to hit women. Ever.
So I never have. And that’s not something to be congratulated for. Nor is my father for drilling this edict into my head. It’s just the way the world should work. The fact that it doesn’t work this way is -- to risk getting overly philosophical about it -- profoundly fucked up.
My father didn’t go to university, though he would have really liked to. Not long out of high school, he got a job at an industrial supply company and spent most of his four decades there working as a traveling welding machine salesman. He didn’t live in a world of debate and ambiguity; there was right and there was wrong and you did what was right.
That meant doing his share of the household chores, including laundry, cleaning, dishes, cooking, shopping, etc. He understood that it wasn’t fair for my mom to be stuck with all of that on her own and he didn’t expect anyone to praise him for doing any of it. Again, this was just the way the world should work.
My mother didn’t go to university either. She worked in bookkeeping when she met my dad, became a stay-at-home mom for almost a decade and then began working at the elementary school I went to after her volunteering brought her to the attention of the principal. She was still working there the day she passed away, 30 years later.
Though she hadn’t done any reading on the subject, she had definite opinions about gender equality. Every time I childishly suggested that boys might be superior in some ways to girls, I would catch some sort of hell for it. She made it clear that there was nothing a man could do that a woman couldn’t do as well. In her mind this wasn’t a political statement, it was just a fact and that’s how I came to accept it.
Neither of them was perfect. Both were products of their times and occasionally expressed views we’d all deem offensive today, but as their experiences tested those views they came to the right conclusions -- especially if family was involved. Shunning a family member for being gay, for example, would have been anathema to them -- as natural as sticking their heads underwater and trying to breathe.
Once again, this was just the way the world should work.
And it was with this attitude that I entered the world, and I have never stopped being shocked whenever I’m confronted by someone who questions it -- someone who truly believes that men are better than women, that it’s fine for a husband to end a fight by punching his wife, that there are “men’s jobs” and “women’s jobs,” that the world as it is actually does work the way it should.
So, naturally, I’m shocked a lot, but that shock seldom turns to anger, only sadness. Having lived in a miniature version of the way the world should work, I know how good and happy it is. Living in the bulk-sized version of the way the world does work, I only see how it leads to bitterness, anger and misery for everyone involved.
Neither of my parents would have ever called themselves feminists. I don’t think it matters. Given the choice between action and words, action is the one to pick if both isn’t an option. Through nothing more than their beliefs in what is right they showed me a world where men and women were treated equal, save for my dad’s one important exception.
The fact that these two people existed, met each other, married and raised two sons who shared their values is why I am able to remain positive even during my moments of sadness. They were not extraordinary. They were not special. They didn’t do it for any praise or reward. They just believed the world could be a fair place and did what they could to make it so.
If they could do it, anyone can, and that gives me hope. I realize that for many people out there hope is not enough, and I respect that, but it (and Red Bull) is the fuel that gets me through life -- it is a privilege they bestowed upon me that I truly cherish.
That said, I still have no fucking clue what I’m going to do when that giant ninja woman comes at me with that bazooka. Hopefully, I’ll have a jetpack to escape or something.