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Mar 08 2006

I Love Flea

You know me. Well, no you don’t, but you do know the fictional character Twisty Faster, so you know that it is not often a blog post makes her bust out crying, or at least, if it is often that a blog post makes her bust out crying, she conveniently neglects to mention it.

But when I read Flea’s letter to her future kids, wherein she uses the My Lai massacre as teaching aid, there was not a dry eye in my house. Flea knows what time it is, girls. Read it and weep.

40 comments

  1. batchfile

    i got to it via chris’ blog a little earlier, and i am going to read it to my own 14 year old son tonight.

    the only thing that kept me from choking up is that i am in the office. but i know i will not be able to read it out loud to him tonight without losing it. but that’s ok.

  2. flea

    Damn it, you know flattery from you makes me all sheepish and tongue-tied. If you don’t cut it out, you’ll end up with another recipe for dip. I’m thinking Caramelized Onion and Garlic this time.

    But thanks.

  3. Ms Kate

    I’m reading it to my ten year old now.

    Then again, it’s not flaky iconoclastic peacenik artist boy I worry about – it’s future banker brother, lover of structure, order, and rules. At least future banker has a powerful sense of justice and fairness and will fight to the end for that.

  4. Chris Clarke

    Agreed, Twisty. If there are 2006 Koufaxes, I’m nominating that for Best Post.

  5. CafeSiren

    Fantastic. This should be disseminated widely, printed on t-shirts & coffee mugs (okay, really big ones), be anthologized in high school textbooks, be read at graduation speeches, misattributed to Winston Churchill, and on and on, until the next generation rolls its eyes and thinks “Duh! I’ve been hearing that one since kindergarten! Do we have to read this again?”

    By all this, I mean to say that I’d stand up and cheer if this bit of Flea’s writing were ever to form an indelible part of our children’s mental/cultural landscape.

    Thank you, Flea.

  6. Ann Bartow

    Okay, sorry but tiny little rant of my own: I have to register every time I try to comment here. If you notice a raft of Ann Bartows with different middle initials, that is why. Granted no one has ever mistaken me for a Nobel Laureate, but jeepers, if you want me to stop commenting here simply say so, just don’t make me register 50,000 more times.

    But on to Flea: Her post was amazing. I just wanted to repeat here what I said at One Good Thing. The author Pat Conroy has a very different story with the same moral (I’ve had the thrill of hearing it in person but he tells it in two of his books as well, Prince of Tides and My Losing Season) which is: His mother had him and his siblings read The Diary of Anne Frank, and then told them she wanted them to grow up to be people who would hide Jews. This will be a *somewhat* easier subject to broach than rape for younger children, but the lesson is the same: put your ass on the line when justice so requires.

  7. Kimberly

    I’ll admit to tearing up over many a well-written blog post, but bawling loudly I reserve for the special few. I’m sending Flea’s post to my sister to read to my two beautiful nephews when they’re old enough.

  8. Sasha

    Wow, you meant weep literally. Thank you for sending me there.

  9. Mandy

    I agree, should be printed in parenting handbooks!! Just wonderful, thanks to Twisty and Flea!

  10. Sylvanite

    I read that post at Flea’s. It really was phenomenal (I didn’t leave a comment there, ’cause I was in a hurry.) I think I’m going to read it to my fiance. He was raised without a clear view of how to be just.

    I also need to place an order at Flea’s store.

  11. wordgirl

    Mother of three sons here. I printed up Flea’s post and it’s waiting everyone’s return from school. Required reading before they do anything else. it’s the topic for dinner tonight and will be posted on the fridge until they’re no longer living in this house.

  12. Mary Sunshine

    But will any of these boys take it seriously if it’s *just* coming from their mothers?

    My sense of the male psyche is that it develops according to messages received from other males, not messages from females. They love female admiration and attention, but in no way do they get their “how to be a man” instructions from us. It may be gratifying for you to imagine that they can, or will. But the fact is, they just *don’t*.

    Rather, we are the ones getting our “how to be a woman” instructions from them.

    M.S.

  13. Erin

    Maybe it isn’t so much a “how to be a man” lesson as it is a “how to be a person” lesson. I think it’s fairly universally agreed that mothers hold tremendous sway in that realm.

    Men raised by women who expect to be taken seriously tend to take women seriously, in my experience.

  14. k

    I guess I was lucky.

  15. laughingmuse

    I love flea, too.

    That was amazingly excellent.

    *holds up lighter*

  16. kathy a

    flea — ya done good.

    mary s. — oh, hell. boys do take a lot of messages seriously from their moms. maybe they don’t always admit it — for sure they don’t, very often, in the dark latter years of teen-hood. you are right about the message needing to come from various places.

    but i also believe that what we say to our children about caring, thought, and how to be a real human does get through in important ways. what we say about our own experiences sticks.

  17. Pony

    I’m with MS on this one. These kids won’t be taking their mother as example once their into puberty, if not long before. The male ethic is what they’ll be guided by. It’s well known that young men drown out the voices of their mothers, and female school teachers.

    Moreover, I fouind it extrememly sentimental, setting standards impossible for young men of our culture to live up to, leading to self-hatred, and mother hatred too, upon the inevitable failure and falling short.

  18. Pony

    “…standard almost impossible to live up to…”

    Sorry I am rushed and my computer keeps crashing. I shall retire to a Nanaimo Bar orgy now.

  19. kathy a

    pony — how can a mom telling her child why raping is bad possibly lead to “setting standards impossible for young men of our culture to live up to?”

    sorry, dear, but i think you are wrong. and don’t try to suck me in with the self-hatred and mother hatred stuff, either.

  20. Mandos

    I’m with MS on this one. These kids won’t be taking their mother as example once their into puberty, if not long before. The male ethic is what they’ll be guided by. It’s well known that young men drown out the voices of their mothers, and female school teachers.

    You realize that you’re effectively claiming that this is forever. ie, you and MS sound like you believe that any such thing is basically impossible.

  21. Pony

    Kathy A: Don’t call me dear.

    Mandos: The message won’t be a one of; it will be woven throughout the child’s upbringing, delivered by family and culture. It will be appropriate to the child’s age and level of understanding and will not terrify him or her with something they cannot understand beyond horror, and will not be hero-making because heros are impossible to live up to and part of why American culture is in such deep shit. Furthermore, finding a standard to live up to willl be something the child will decide for themselves, not because someone made them promise something when they were 6, but because of how they see those people actually live. A child’s ethics will change over the years, but will not be a copy of his or her parents, ever, or something he or she must do to make mommy happy. Unless of course we want him hanging onto his weenie for several decades.

  22. kathy a

    pony — i apologize for the “dear.” i don’t apologize for feeling angry at your dismissal of mothers who try hard to raise decent young men, or at the implicit assumption that all men and boys are going to fail at being human.

    i object strenuously to the premise that boys cannot ever hear the women in their lives, and that mothers talking to boys is “setting standards impossible for young men of our culture to live up to, leading to self-hatred, and mother hatred too, upon the inevitable failure and falling short.”

    as a mother, trust me, i’ve gotten a good load of mother-hatred and mother guilt in my time. often, i can accomplish my quota of inspiring mom-hatred for the day by saying “good morning!” but sometimes we really talk.

    children will decide their own ethics, as you stated in your followup. there are other external influences. in the end, i think people make use of what is important in their lives, and what has been important to people close to them.

    flea’s post was written to her children *in the future*, because they are too young to hear it now. but these are things she will discuss with them, at an age-appropriate time.

    nobody said anything about *making* kids believe they have to be heros. refraining from things like rape and other forms of human degradation is not heroism — it is just human. it is right. regular humans can do the right thing.

    my kids don’t share my ideas about cleanliness, music, schedules, fashion, or a hundred other things. so what? they value human integrity. that is their choice. they make me nuts, but i think they are on the right path.

  23. Mandos

    Yeah, I thought that this letter wasn’t for the kids today, but for n years in the future, where n is some nontrivial number.

  24. wordgirl

    I’m on good terms with all of our sons. Sure, they fight me on the cleanliness thing as well as other issues, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. Same thing for taking personal responsibility and respecting others. I can’t guarantee that they’ll follow my advice (or that of their father…and for what it’s worth we’re a united front in this), but that shouldn’t and won’t stop me from trying. It’s my job as a parent to create repercussions for them if I see they’re not following our advice while they’re still living here. What they do once they’re adults has a different set of consequences…far beyond the scope of anything we could do. If we don’t try to instill a respect for all humans in our children, I’ve failed–in part, at least–as a parent. You have to talk about what’s right to them and you keep saying it and keep saying it. Screw the possibility that they might get a little hostile.

    Sure, teenagers rebel and resist correction from parents, but I don’t necessarily believe that boys are born resisting female advice and instruction. I think that is probably taught to them and the attitude of the father is certainly key. Sure…society/the patriarchy/their peers have a lot of influence, but that kind of knowledge shouldn’t paralyze you and keep you from trying to tip those scales in your favor. I mean…if you’re not even going to try, why have those kids in the first place?

    As for the hatred…well…hating your parents for the stuff they tell you is part of the package. At least that’s true for a while. I can’t let that scare me. What’s right is what’s right…regardless of whether or not they want to hear it and regardless of whether hearing it makes them hostile toward me.

    As for the self-hatred…hmmm…I don’t really get your point. A man who rapes women or kills children or harms helpless beings IS a failure as a human being. That’s not a high standard. It’s the only standard. Period. Failure to live up to that makes you unfit to live among the rest of us and such folk deserve whatever consequences come after. If a little self-ciritcism follows such heinous behavior, I’m certainly not going to quibble.

    Fortunately for me, my husband feels the same way I do, so if the concern is that I can’t give them advice on how to be a man, there’s still someone here who is willing to hammer that message home. Trust me. It’s the same message.

    I detest the word “hero”. The term is “human being”. Our job is to raise three human being who happen to have dicks and maked damned sure they don’t turn into Dicks.

  25. Ms Kate

    Pony, I’d be interested in hearing how your experiences as a mother of boys color your academic understanding and research into value development in the adolescent period.

    I’m listening …

  26. Kate

    Flea’s letter was excellent. Absolutely the way mothers should teach their sons!

    I remember telling my son that he’s a prince, no matter what anyone says. We were poor as hell at that time and we was getting it good from all sides at school.

    One thing I kept telling him was that princes have a responsibility. We all have power, but its how we use that power that gives our lives meaning. Story telling facilitates this process in the child’s mind and that is exactly what Flea is doing; story telling and using real life scenarios and stories.

    My son turned out pretty good, albeit he’s not quite as ambitious as I’d like, but we gotta take the whole package.

    Flea shows by her example and I can tell you by my experience with three children, we can teach our children despite the bullshit that is flung at them.

    But we have to take the time to do it, again and again and again until you hear them repeat it to someone else in their own words, or better yet, watch them in practice. We can raise the next generation of activists by spending time with and teaching our children. Change will come by teaching the next generation.

  27. Kate

    CORRECTION! CORRECTION!

    I had mistakenly typed ‘we was’ in a sentence of my above paragraph.

    Let it be known to all those who may be snickering over there, I don’t say ‘we was’ never did (unless paradying something someone else said) and certainly wouldn’t type it on purpose.

    It was a typo. Ok. A typo. I may have been poor, but warn’t no idiot (see there, now I was making a joke).

  28. Pony

    “Change will come by teaching the next generation.”

    No parents ever thought this prior to your generation.

  29. arse poetica

    Chris, I’ll 2nd that nomination. I’ve already made note of it. That’s the best thing I’ve read on the interwebs in awhile. Well, at least since whatever it was that you and Twisty wrote last.

    CafeSiren, let me know when you want to start that printing company to get this the hell out there. I’m in.

  30. cypress

    i’m happy to have to register. anything to reduce the number of idiots taking up your space and time.

    flea’s post gives me hope, and i’m always grateful for hope. thanks for the push to read it.

    combine that inspired and moving post with your later post about the traffic in women and girls which is being arranged to make some bunch of patriarchs and their lackeys a significant pile of money; is the word irony big enough?

    be well
    cypress

  31. a nut

    “Change will come by teaching the next generation.”

    No parents ever thought this prior to your generation.

    You’re not serious right? Because how can you possibly say that when new generations of people, especially those margininalized, have been popping up since the beginning of time to make the world a better place for all of us? How would you explain the progress we as a society has made if it weren’t for parents teaching their kids that a better life was possible?

    And how can you honestly make such a blanket statement as that?

    I think what pissed me off most about your argument is how you assume we moms of sons can’t possibly teach them anything worthy of being human. You think our sons won’t listen to us but, like someone else said earlier, you know they’re listening when they repeat what you have told them a hundred times to someone else all of their own volition.

    Yeah, how about that mom-hatred huh? Way to minimize the hard work I really put into trying to raise a feminist son against all the odds people like you stack against him.

    It’s people like you who make my job that much harder, writing my son off (who is only 6) before he even gets started.

    I’m also pissed because I can’t believe you had the audicity to make such a comment to several of us who have sons and love them just like any other. Should we love them any less because, after all, they’re only boys and Lord knows they’ll just end up raping or killing some woman somewhere right? That is their fate because they have penises instead of vaginas?

    And just how, exactly, does this help the supposed solidarity of the feminist movement any?

    (I am now getting too angry so I’m just gonna hit “blame,” which is oddly apt right now.)

  32. Mary Sunshine

    From the post above:

    “(I am now getting too angry so I’m just gonna hit “blame,” which is oddly apt right now.)”

    So now you’re blaming other women for our perception of how the patriarchy works.

    There’s a whole huge area of privilege accorded to mothers of sons in the patriarchy. I see shining examples of this in so many of the posts in this thread. Oh, what would we ever do without all these Saviour Sons? Hail Mary full of grace!

    I guess *all* of the rapists who have ever lived and live now had mothers who just didn’t compose the right inspirational lectures for their boys.

    Ahh! Someone to blame other than those nasty female skeptics who question the sanctity of the words of Mothers of Princes.

    While we’re all shovelling the blame around onto other females I might as well hit the button ….

    M.S.

  33. Pony

    “Change will come by teaching the next generation.”

    No parents ever thought this prior to your generation.

    I meant, of course, every generation of parents has had the same goals. Mai Lai gave us Abu Ghraib.

  34. kathy a

    the patriarchy is all about making blanket, unwarranted, gender-based assumptions, then using those assumptions to assert superiority over other humans.

    patriarcy-blaming, as i understand it, is about exposing the ways that patriarchal entitlement hurts women and diminishes humanity. it targets acts and effects; it only blames individuals when they are worthy of blame. in other words, patriarchy-blamers do not amount to the “i hate boys club.”

    some of the comments in this thread are disturbingly patriarchal in nature, if not content. i don’t believe for a minute that all men are hard-wired to be rapists, any more than i believe that women must be virgins or whores, or that women are suited only to be mothers, secretaries, or teachers, and incapable of being carpenters, lawyers, doctors, business owners, etc.

    even more disturbing is the extra layer of contempt for mothers who try to raise boys to not feel entitled. blaming mothers is a page torn straight from the patriarchal handbook. it’s mama’s fault if she does not sacrifice all for junior; it’s her fault if she is over-protective; it’s her fault if he is lazy or delinquent, if he has birth defects or is a sissy.

    some men undeniably turn out to be rapists. why is a good question. a good number of them may have been sexually abused themselves [numbers are hard to come by, because the patriarchy decrees that boys can't be raped or else they will be queer]. some or maybe most rapists act on a sense of entitlement, often while they are high. some mothers of rapists may well have contributed to whatever went wrong with that particular son — there are certainly some rich mamas who try to fix every mistake of junior and never want him to suffer consequences; and there are certainly other mamas who don’t protect and nurture their sons, perhaps even bringing into the home the neanderthal who decides to introduce junior to sex.

    it doesn’t follow that all boys are born rapists and all mothers of boys are repugnant.

    i frankly think it is wrong to assume that all generations of parents have had the same goals. someone else has pointed out that social progress happens over time in part because parents have different ideas than their parents did, and their children embrace and build on those.

    my parents, for example, talked about racial equality [although that didn't stop my dad from making racist jokes sometimes]; this was a huge shift from the open and broad racial hostility of my grandparents.

    certainly, i can’t speak for my whole generation, but many parents i know, schools, and the media speak more now to gender inequality, fighting homophobia, and basic human rights. this is not to say that racism has died out; just that the discussions with our children are far broader than the ones we had with our parents. much has happened during my lifetime to advance the options and protections available to women — i can recall when there were different minimum wages for men and women, to name one small example — and much remains.

    if anyone thinks feminism is the “i hate boys club,” well, everybody’s entitled to an opinion, but please don’t bludgeon me with it. i think feminism is about advancing human rights and human dignity, and i try to do that, in the ways i have available — personally, professionally, as a mother.

  35. Pony

    Sure we’ve had the same goals.

    Mothers, generally, (and fathers too) want to raise good sons and daughters. But we don’t all have the exact same person in mind when we think of this “good” person. Nor do we all have the same methodology in mind. Nor can we expect our goals for our sons and daughters will be their goals. You simply cannot assume some mother failed because her son became a rapist, or her daughter a Dole.

    I can’t think where exactly to put this but here seems as good a place as any. Pardon if you know of this already. I found it last night and I was overjoyed to see it online: all the books, articles and feminist thinking of *my* feminist youth. I hope some of you may find this worthy.

    Deja vu:
    http://www.cwluherstory.com/CWLUArchive/classic.html

  36. Angus

    I posted a link to the letter over at one of the Livejournal parenting communities, and it’s sparking some heated debate:

    http://community.livejournal.com/parenting101/481687.html

  37. Pony

    The LiveJournal moms rock.

  38. Jezebella

    Hey, y’all, don’t be hatin’ on the moms. I have cats, not kids, and hope it stays that way, and I can only imagine how hard it is to raise a boy right in this fucked-up culture. Although girls ain’t easy either: a friend’s four-year-old, a pretty little redhead that people ooh and aah over all the time, recently asked grandma, and then mommy:

    “Do people love me because I’m pretty?”

    She’s four. FOUR. She goes to church, and to the babysitter, and to violin lessons, and only watches parentally-approved g-rated kid media. She’s not even in school yet. And she already knows what people value her for: she’s pretty.

    I blame the you-know-what.

  39. CaseK

    Flea — thank you for this: “You do not have the right to punish these girls, no matter what you think they may or may not deserve.”

  40. Elise

    I know this is an old post, but I’m going through all posts on this blog and I’m very curious about this letter – I can’t access flea’s blog though. Is there any other place on the internet where I can find it, or maybe a new address?

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