Rites of Passage

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. 

I listened on the radio to a young woman blaming feminism for women working the double shift.

So, a movement that is dedicated to the equal humanity of men and women, that pursues diversity and values every voice… is to blame for the fact that when women come home from their work day, they are still expected to do the majority of the housework and childcare?

It is because of feminism that these women are allowed to work in careers other than domestic service.  So, that is why!  If feminism hadn’t happened, they’d all be happily working at home even if it wasn’t their home.

The 25 year old on the radio talked about how women are born nurturers and just want to be at home with kids and how she can’t wait for her turn.  Meanwhile, she is able to earn a living at something she loves and is angry at feminism for that?  Of course, men can’t take care of children, why should we expect them to?

I was really annoyed.

I’m not saying men and women are the same, but I do think there is more diversity within the groups than between the groups and that the groups are not so binary as we wish.  I am proud to say that I know many men who are great with children!   I am sad to say that I know women who aren’t.

I know that women have twice the rates of depression as men do.  Biology?  Most likely a factor.  Social structuring?  Well, since the one group of men that has the same rates of depression as women are stay-at-home dads, I would say that is a major factor.

Today, in order to balance out all the focus on women

(nearly half of the radio programs featured women!  My god, it was almost equal representation in honour of women’s day!)

today, they had men talking about men’s issues and International Men’s Day. 

Great, I think we should talk about issues that are relevant for men.  I applaud that sincerely.  But, why does it have to be in protest for shining the spotlight on women?  Why can’t it just be because we need to talk about it?

Anyways, they talked about how young adolescent males need rites of passage.  They talked about risk-taking behaviour.  They pointed out that risk-taking behaviour in men drops as soon as they become involved in taking care of children.

Is this the way to peace?  Having all of society recognize that they are responsible for taking care of our vulnerable children?!!  Sounds great! 

Then I was thinking about my own rites of passage.  I’ve heard it argued that girls don’t need them because menstruation and childbirth and natural markers. 

As a young tween and teen, I felt fire inside.  I wanted to change the world.  I wanted to fight.  I took any dare I was given, the riskier the better.  I was quietly competitive in sports, since it was the only place allowed.  I would race my classmates in phys-ed to the point that I would throw up.  I did some dangerous stuff on the ski slopes resulting in numerous concussions.  I have permanent injuries from trying to show off. 

Apparently, I was male ?  Or maybe just a teenager.

I’m not saying that there is no difference between the competitiveness and risk-taking behaviour between the genders.  I think there is.  I just wanted to be allowed to express myself overtly.

Oh, but I guess I did have rites of passage.  Lets see.

Menstruation.  Age 14.  At school.  It was an initiation into the sisterhood of shame.  Girls whispering, red-faced, asking if someone had ‘something’.  Girls hiding in the bathroom until others had left or opening pad/tampon packages so slowly so no one could hear.  Taunts of boys regarding PMS or red anything.   The dreaded starting in the middle of class…

I was initiated into feeling ashamed.  It was referred to as the woman’s curse.  Yay, god cursed me.

(I plan to change this for my own daughters.)

Next, secondary sex characteristics.  Being called fat for widening hips.  Having frontal appendages remarked on for their size or lack of it.  Strange men grabbing my body and making all sorts of remarks.  Yay, I was initiated into being prey for predators.  Although, I didn’t get teased for a cracking voice. 

Then graduation.  (Getting a drivers’ licence was no biggie in the prairies.  We drove since age 8.)

Graduation.  Fear.  Pressure.  I was supposed to find my way.  Find a career.  Find a husband.  I mostly felt lost.  Normal?  I think so.

Marriage.  Loss.  Gain. (Mostly gain 😉  I love being married to my guy! but I need to acknowledge the loss that came from moving away from my community and stopping my school that came with that time.) 

Birth.  I survived!  I was embarrassed in spite of my beliefs that birth is supposed to be noisy and messy.  On one hand, I felt powerful.  I had done something dangerous and difficult.  On the other, I felt out of control.  That was terrifying.

And I had it good.  So many women feel absolutely helpless during birth.  Medicalization of childbirth turns this event into a place where women are pumped through the system and treated as if they have a disease or are simply a vessel and not an active player.  Pregnancy has become a pathological condition according to the medical language.  Post Traumatic Birth Disorder is becoming a recognized issue.

Taking care of a small infant.  Post. Partum. Depression.  Suicidal thoughts.

So, I guess I did have rights of passage.  But, not into the free, strong, adulthood that I wanted.  Maybe no one does.  Maybe it is a myth.  Maybe we all need to find our own way of being maturing adults and that community celebrations aren’t the rite of passage itself. 

Yes, boys and men need rites of passage.  What they don’t need is to be told that being a man is somehow better or opposite than being a woman.

Women also need rites of passage into a mature adulthood. 

I think its a discussion we need to have together, not in opposition to each other.

5 thoughts on “Rites of Passage

  1. St.ain't says:

    You make a very strong case for what is lacking in our culture- positive rites of passage (including correct information) and a solid support network for females at every stage of their life. There are remnants of these rites throughout the world, mostly in indigenous or the so-called 3rd world cultures- but most of the Western cultures are lacking in such.
    Attempts at creating rites or ceremonies or a solid support network have been ridiculed (remember “It Takes a Village”? because it came out of Hillary’s mouth it was spat on and denounced. Equality is vilified as feminist rants and an attack on “the family.” Poor Mr Mom has been laughed at as the castrated male…)
    Joan Borysenko’s book, “A Women’s Book of Life” is a great starting point of understanding our unique life-stages from birth to death.
    You talk about changing the rites of passage for your own daughter to be more positive- how can we further that dialogue to include more women?
    More daughters? Is there any help for that 25 yr old on the radio to expand her horizons and give her a more positive, balanced concept of the feminine?
    What will it take? More female professors? CEO’s? Scientists? Govenors?
    Or is it the hand that rocks the cradle that has to take back their rightful and very powerful place as the Teacher, Guide, Mentor and, ultimately the one that has a girl’s back throughout her lifetime?
    Great post- it gives us all much to think about. And hopefully, enact change.

    • prairienymph says:

      It really bugs me when men are put down because of ‘feminine’ traits, like being good with kids. Not only is it insulting to the guy, and the kids, but to women most of all.
      It does rankle me that “traditional family values” have little to do with any tradition but the recent private/public divide of the Victorian middle and upper class. And very little to do with healthy families.
      Now rites of passage are viewed as pagan, New Age, and flaky. The Unitarian church has a venue for these types of ceremonies.

      I think that 25 year old will hit her 30s and realize that there is a glass ceiling. If she stays at home with kids, she may love it or survive it, but she will realize it is hard work. And she will have to face the looks of people when they say, “Oh, you just stay at home?”.

      I don’t know what is needed. I think attitudes need to change – and they are. A woman can work at home and be a powerful example of strong womanhood. She can work as a CEO and promote patriarchal values by devaluing other men and women who care about more than the bottom line – but does she have a choice in that institution? Men who talk to women as people and not vaginas do so much good.

  2. Lorena says:

    What a great post! Why is it so great? I find that when bloggers colourfully describe aspects of their own lives, it makes me thing about mine: my first period, my time in high school, being bullied, etc.

    So, thank you for taking me in the ride. I enjoyed it.

  3. ... Zoe ~ says:

    I agree with Lorena. Great post.

  4. ... Zoe ~ says:

    Oops, and I agree also with St. ain’t. 🙂

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