Last week, right around the peak bloom of the cherry blossoms here in DC, I attended and lecture and book signing by Elle Luna, co-author of a new book called "Your Story is Your Power". It was an intimate setting which meant that those of us in attendance actually got to interact with Elle.
Elle introduced an idea in her book about how we, as women, don't often recognize the culture of patriarchy and misogyny that surrounds us. We learn how to adapt in this specific culture very early in our lives, so that by the time we are adults, it is the norm. Unless we pull back the layers and examine how we each got to where we are, we can't fully understand ourselves. She put this quote, by neuroscientist David Eagleman, up on the screen:
We are like fish challenged to understand water: since the fish has never experienced anything else, it is almost impossible for it to see or conceive of the water. But a bubble rising past the inquisitive fish can offer a critical clue.
Then Elle asked us to write down a response to the question, "Have you experienced discrimination against a woman?" The first thing I wrote was about was the experience of watching my daughter play soccer. From ages 4-9, during every game that she played I would feel a strange mix of dread and excitement when she was on the field. You've probably heard me talk about her fearlessness, the drive to score and compete. It's quite distinct from the way most little girls play soccer. I felt this and the other parents standing next to me definitely did as well, evidenced by moms running onto the field after being plowed over by my daughter, Carly.
At first I didn't know why I chose this to write about. But then we began discussing our responses with Elle. She told a story of a young boy at a cabin with two friends, also boys. They were watching the sunset from the porch and the little boy said, "Isn't it just so beautiful?" His friends replied by giving him a shove and telling him to stop acting 'like a girl'.
I realized my soccer story was the girl version of this. Why did Carly not acting 'like a girl' get me (and others) so ruffled? I always wondered this because I call myself a feminist and I admire the way she plays.
The answer is in the water. The water that I have been swimming in. Since I was a little girl I've been taught to be the good girl: please others, don't speak up unless it's your turn, follow the rules, get the right answer. This is simply the water in which I swam. While it has occurred to me before and I've worked on undoing some of these messages, this was a new way of looking at it.
The reason I often feel unsettled by Carly's behavior is because she is literally changing my water. And it feels uncomfortable to me because it's a different temperature and a new color. I didn't ask for the change. I expected her to swim right alongside me. But somehow she recognizes the limitations of my water and it determined to change it.
This was such a huge realization for me. To think that my daughter is helping me to change these deeply embedded beliefs by simply being who she is. Isn't that so beautiful?
So, I ask you: What is the water that you are swimming in? Take two minutes to write down a response. Think about where you were born, your religion, your gender. You never know what will come up. Maybe it will be a whole new realization.