Polly Dunning has managed to compose perhaps the creepiest sentence ever written: “By having sons, we do feminism a great service.”
The line appears in Wednesday’s Sydney Morning Herald, in a piece entitled “Having a Son Went from a Dilemma to Being the Most Valuable Lesson of My Life.” “I’ve always been a feminist,” Dunning writes. But after longing for a daughter, she discovered that she had become pregnant with (horror!) a son. She describes the anxiety that followed:
There were two parts to the feeling: I had to mourn the life I thought I was supposed to have, the elder daughter of my two girls (why do we plan things we cannot control?!), and I had to come to terms with having a relationship with a son that I had never really considered. There were dark moments in the middle of the night (when all those dark thoughts come), when I felt sick at the thought of something male growing inside me.
And looking to the future, the anxiety grew:
How do you raise a white, middle-class boy not to think his own experience is the default experience of the world? How do you counter a society that makes things easier for him than for others, and make him see it? See how it is for women, for people of colour?
But all was not lost. Dunning, refusing to bend to the patriarchy, decided to embrace the opportunity. “I will raise a feminist boy,” she declares.
I will point sexism out to him at every turn, and he will never get away with it without being called out. I will show him that girls are just people like him and that products and art targeted at them are no less valuable or enjoyable. He will be immersed in feminism by a family who models it in their everyday life.
She will, she says proudly, “do feminism a great service.”
The last hundred years are stocked to excess with the utterances of the apparatchiks of totalitarian ideologies: the brainwashed praise of “comrades” and “Dear Leaders.” But sinister ideologies don’t always take the form of men in boots and epaulets. Sometimes they are soft, even cooing.
Polly Dunning loves her son — but only in accordance with the dictates of her political dogma. This is ideology — an “abstract rigorous set of political dogmata,” in Russell Kirk’s phrase — at its purest and most dehumanizing.
#related#At a moment of intense polarization and political anxiety, it’s worth remembering that politics is far from the most important thing in any life, and that one’s politics should be made to serve the more important things, not vice versa. If your politics make you fear basic human joys, such as having a child, your politics are wrong. If you cannot find any beauty in family life until it is shaped by your politics, your politics are wrong. If your political “-ism” must be prioritized ahead of the needs of living persons, your politics are wrong.
It’s a delicate matter to question someone else’s child-rearing, but it seems that a boy should be brought up not to be a good feminist, or a good Communist, or a good Republican, but to be a good man.
Is that not enough?