oh noez, the divorce monster!
Do you ever think back to shit you said and realize what a jackass you are/were? It happens to me all the time.
When I was 9, I had a conversation with my childhood best friend about the evils of divorce and how a woman can take everything a man works for. We talked about how unfair that is to men and we promised to a) never marry and b) never join the army. I kept neither promise.
Where the hell does a boy of 9 get such thoughts? That sexist message came from the adults around me - along with a great many other messages.
In the fishbowl of our childhood world: school, playing outside and family time - we took in the news, values and questions of the world around us and struggled to form our own minds. As kids, we traveled in and out of these vastly differing conversations of the adults around us. Our world was a maze of sidewalks, alleys, classrooms, kitchens, yards, church basements and family gatherings. My friend and I roamed the self-carved paths and tunnels of our daily navigation like ants in a colony.
The world was changing.
We lived in a Polish / Slavic neighborhood in the declining steel mill days of South Chicago. There was a lot of anxiety with the loss of the mill. It was the 1960's and the population of the neighborhood was changing. Latinos were moving into the neighborhood and "mexicans" were the common target in the kitchens of my childhood friends.
News of the world was so big and powerful that it forced its way into every home. Conflicts over civil rights and equality for women were on everyone's lips and the Việt Nam war was raging (hence the promise to not join the military). Waiting for 9 year old boys in working class neighborhoods, was 'the draft' - a law that takes you out of your home and drops you in the middle of slaughter. A lot of people were dying from famous ones like Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Kennedy's to the older brothers of some of my friends.
Every family in the neighborhood was its own amalgam of values, opinions, judgments and traditions. My own parents were a mixture, too. My mother was an adamant feminist and a Democrat, while my father was an Republican. They agreed and disagreed on a great many things.
Women's Lib, as it was called in those days, was fighting for mind-share with anti-war protests, politics, economics and more. There were public, political struggles like burning bras, changes in divorce law, property law and marriage contracts. The movement had well know figures of its own and equally well known opponents.
Unlike the war, the economy or political intrigue - the negotiation between women and men was being played out in every house on the block. Husbands and wives, girlfriends and boyfriends and people in between relationships were all trying to balance the past model if unequal gender roles with the conversation for equality. Some people blindly adhered to one view or another and some labored to think and choose for themselves through the whole process.
We lived in a sense of borrowed time.
War, racial inequality, sexism - these were all things that conflicted with the model of liberty, democracy and justice that we were being taught about in school - not to mention the desire of children to be children. We were getting older and puberty would hit. We didn't know what that meant, but we knew that somehow we would change from children to adults and that when we did, things would be very different.
Childhood was ending and we felt the pressure to start making choices. The reactionary expressions of racist and sexist language we parroted were only part of what we could take from our parents and neighbors as we created our own identities.
As I thought about the person I would want to be, I found myself looking in the direction of equality, justice and life. With so many people struggling, fighting and dying around us, I knew that my life would be in pursuit of equality and justice. But, I was still a product of my environment and I was taking a lot of opinions without questioning them at all.
So, we stood there on that warm summer night in the alley between our houses. We talked about how we would resist the loss of our freedoms as we knew them. It was neither noble nor noteworthy. We could not distinguish between the sense of injustice that we felt regarding the loss of male privilege and the real injustice of the draft. Eventually, I thought things through on my own and came down on the side of equality. We were children lamenting our childhood's end.
I went on to say more stupid things. I am not without flaws nor am I a perfect example of anything. I am not one of those people that have thought everything out thoroughly and have never made racist or sexist statements. I'm just someone that has learned from those mistakes.
Really, all I wanted to show is that even in situations where outside influences are powerful and difficult to ignore - we still have choice. We are always choosing. We may tell ourselves that such-and-such is responsible for our actions, our beliefs, etc., but it is each of us, forever choosing. We choose, even after we made a wrong choice.