I took the boys to see Brave this weekend and it sparked an interesting observation by my 12 year old: “I totally wasn’t expecting this to be about a mother and daughter. We don’t see that very often, huh?” And I agreed. We listed off some of the kid’s movies that are about a father/child dynamic: Finding Nemo, The Little Mermaid, Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Twilight, Alladin, Avatar. Then I asked them to think about movies that are about mothers: Tangled (Rapunzel), Cinderella, Snow White… all of whom are step mothers that happen to be raging assholes. Off the top of their heads the only mother roles they knew of were non-biological and abusive? Misogyny anyone?
So as we casually strolled home from the theatre we had a lovely casual talk about patriarchy. I defined patriarchy for them as “Father culture; where fathers are the ones with the most power.” And then I asked them who they thought would have less power in that kind of structure.
“Mothers,” said one.
“Only mothers?”I asked.
“Lesbians!” said the other.
“All women,” I said, “have less safety, authority and choice in a patriarchal society. But who else?”
“Men who aren’t fathers?” said one.
“Exactly. So who is that?”
“To a degree, right? That’s a big part of gay rights, to be able to have a family while open about who they love. Think about that as a choice men were forced to make, they couldn’t be both a father and gay. So hopefully that’s changing. Who else?”
“Big yep. Children don’t have any power. And what little bit of autonomy is granted, boys get more support than girls. In a patriarchy, girl children are valued less than boy children. So, who else?”
They paused. I wasn’t sure if they were thinking of more or absorbing what we had just said. It is a lot. So I offered, “What about people who don’t fit into the either/or categories? People who aren’t just one gender. Where do people who are both fit in a patriarchy?”
“Well, they would fit, but it would be a pretty miserable experience. They would fit as the extreme other, unrecognizable and unfit for consideration. Mothers aren’t the opposite of fathers, we’re supposed to be one rung below them on the “I get to be in control of your existence” ladder. We get a lot of attention because we are the ones who make them into fathers. So everything we do matters way too much. All the time. It’s oppressive.”
“So the mom changing her mind at the end of the movie and making new rules for the clans…” started the 12 year old his eyes lit up from making connections, but then the 11 year old piped up. “And there was no kiss at the end! Finally a movie about a girl that doesn’t end in a kiss.”