Sunday, April 02, 2006

Peace Should Be a Family Value

I attended a baby shower for one of my friends today. It was a beautiful day to be sitting outside, talking to interesting people, and eating wonderful food. Inevitably, as these things go, talk turned to mothering, childbirth choices, and (in my crowd) analyses of how affulent our society is in comparison to the "third world." The latter point emerged in relation to my friend explaining the content of some of her pre-natal care classes. Apparently, the moderator of one session painstakingly mapped out the amount of time that a new baby would require and then asked each of the expecting parents to consider from where they would pull this time to devote to their new baby. The message is: new baby becomes the center of your world, and you must abandon many of your former pursuits in order to attend to your new baby.

One of the guests joked that they should be giving these presentations as birth control, not when it is too late and you're 4 weeks away from your due date. Then, two of my colleagues remarked on how much these pre-natal care workshops are the mark of an affulent society. My colleague from History explained how little the lives of poor women in third world countries change after birth, because their survival depends on them continuing to work. Hence, new mothers rely upon the help of their neighbors and bring their children to market with them or into the field where they work.

I sat there listening, with pure delight, to this conversation of incredibly feminist mothers. I was entertained by their tales of how they chose to deliver their babies, how they refuse the many efforts by "mainstream" institutions to force them to raise their children in the image of its values or picture of what normalcy is. One of my colleagues from Psychology talked about how her son came home from day care to announce he no longer wanted one of his dolls because it was a "girl's toy." Luckily, she continued, he still loved to wear the color pink and pretend to be "sleeping beauty." I was particularly gratified that these women are raising boys in this day and age. Hopefully these boys will grow up with less rigid definitions of what it means to be a man, and a wealth of resources for combatting the subtle and not so subtle tactics that other children and adults apply to make them conform.

I watched Jarhead with Za last night, and I couldn't help but be horrified by the ritual ways that the military tries to condition a certain kind of manhood. I see similar tactics among fraternities. I started to imagine the absolute terror that less "manly" men can face if they don't measure up to the narrow standards of what it means to be tough in American society. The hazing necessary to make a obedient and coherent unit is enough to break even the toughest of human beings. A society that believes it must continually maintain a military and therefore subject men to these narrow standards of manhood is a sick society. Either the men are broken and beaten down in their training, or they are subjected to horrific inhumanity and violence when they ship off to wars. A militarized society is a horrible, pathological place. I couldn't help but fear for the future of any young boys after seeing that film. I imagined what it must be like to be "different," i.e. to care about poetry, to want to share stories of their family, to love another man, or to be anything that resembles femininity. A boy that is too "soft" in this world is likely to get the snot beaten out of him. And parents, worried about such a boy's fate will often apply some of the same poison to prevent him from facing such cruelty on the playground.

How we need peace. I wish it was "manly" to work for it and cherish it for future sons. I wish this was a "family value" and we would see parents demanding that we stop building this culture of war and fear that requires us to raise boys into ruthless killers trained to hate our enemies and withstand unbelieveable cruelty.