Anti-feminism, society, and their suicidal consequences
How to raise emotionally intelligent and sensitive kids in a performance-oriented society? How to make girls feel strong and empowered in a world that is still mostly driven by men? How to do better than me as a brother and save your sister’s life? How to gradually change the world?
By sharing my experiences, I hope to open the eyes of fathers that still think their sons are worth more than their daughters and of mothers that think they aren’t entitled to speak up. Ultimately I hope to contribute — be it by triggering some discussions or thoughts — to the change of a society, that is solely performance-driven.
A story about loneliness
July 13th, 2008 — The day that changed our lives
We were enjoying a family lunch at my parents’ place. Enjoying in that context is relative, but lunch was ok. We had leftovers of a typical Flemish dish that tends to taste even better the day after, all flavors absorbed.
In the background, we could hear a lot of sirens fading in and out. We speculated a bit on the seriousness of the event that must have taken place, checked if we could see anything further down the street, and went back to our dishes and wine.
After lunch, we moved to the couch for dessert and a bit more comfort, as my ex-partner was eight months pregnant with our oldest kid (the boy is fourteen now, still as cute as they come). Then our worlds changed for good.
The doorbell rang. Two police officers — one junior male and a more seasoned female, wearing glasses on a face that is burned into my retina — came up asking my mom to take a seat. Blood drained from her face and while collapsing into her chair, she realized. We all realized.
Where it all started
31 years earlier, a girl was born. Blonde, beautiful blue eyes, and a catchy laugh (hearsay of course, as I wasn’t around at the time just yet). Very soon it became clear that her gray cells were operating at a rate far beyond average. I can confirm that from the moment I started building up memories.
Like most siblings, we had regular fights. I was a football player, using the gate of the house as my goal, making the building shake with every goal or miss. She was a bookworm and musician, not a massive fan of those continuous earthquakes. But mostly we had fun together, building He-Man caves out of Pampers boxes (number three came a couple of years later, just at the time we needed the boxes), or stuffing shoes with hay from our hamsters — normal kids’ stuff.
As a little girl, she was already very opinionated. She had a strong sense of justice, she knew how the world could become a better place (her drawing gives an idea — equality, nature, and harmony were so important to her), and she was strong in defending those views against my dad (who as you will soon find out, had and has other strong opinions).
I was just a simple boy playing football in a man’s world. Watching my dad get upset every time my sister had a different opinion became normal. She would end up crying in her room, my dad would end up stating she was crazy. She was alone. She was lonely. Not crazy. I didn’t realize it back then.
The anti-feminist and racist home of a feminist idealistic girl
My mom was a nurse. She loved her job, but the moment she gave birth to my sister, she became a housewife. My dad convinced her by saying there was no financial benefit in having a job while having to raise kids. She also gave up her car back then and never drove one ever since. She became fully dependent on my father.
We are all products of our upbringing. Some choose to learn from mistakes, while others follow blindly and pass on that same upbringing. My mom is in category two. Humble (leaning strongly towards submissive), trying to be good and kind to anyone and everyone, but not to herself. Always avoiding conflict, even when it is needed for the ones she cares about.
My dad grew up in a farmer’s family. Very much male-centered and very much afraid of anything and everything looking different than the typical local farmer. He is also category two (although there are many additional complexities and funny — at least for outsiders — contradictions, that might deserve a book eventually). Dominant, always right, and underdeveloped EQ (close to the one of the average kitchen table — just a literary reference to my previous post — I could have picked any other object without emotions).
Both at our kitchen table and dining table, we got fed, fed with ideologies about people from other religious backgrounds, about women. “Why should women even think they need to earn as much as men in sports? They don’t have the physique and posture. Why do they want our jobs? They should be taking care of their kids.” Mom just nodded.
After being fed, my dad used to just state: “a cup of coffee would do me good”. Mom would get up, make coffee and serve. I think she got upset twice in their now almost 45 years of marriage. She already knew the answer waiting for her, as she heard it more often than twice: dad was the one paying the bills.
Maybe it’s not a valid excuse. Even simple boys playing football in a man’s world should see these things. But I was a boy. I didn’t feel it, because I was in the privileged group.
At the right side of that very same dining table, a young girl was being fed with the same ideologies. Every single one of these statements, every implicit command to my mother, and every comment about women felt like a personal attack, a dagger slowly piercing her young, strong female heart. She asked my mom to stand up. She fought my dad when he said what he said. But she was alone. For years. Until she left home… probably even until she left life.
Perform well and all is good
No one sees me
Captured in brains
Marks are good
I am small
I am drowning
Where are the people
Who sees me
I am drowning
And I don’t know how it feels
How it feels to be
Marks are good
but who cares about me
I am small
I am drowning
Society is performance-driven. Power and performance are what matter out there. Achievements at school, a university degree, a nice job title, your next salary increase or promotion, the size of your car, or the pool in your garden… that’s how society measures people. All people.
On the other hand, the spectrum of people is enormous. All of us are different. All with different qualities, different colors, different interests, and emotions. And yet we are all still measured by our society in the same way.
My sister had great marks. Everything was just fine for the outside world, her teachers at school and music school. No reason to worry, on the contrary. To some extent even for my parents, these marks were creating the feeling that they were doing a good job. Yet she wasn’t recognized and accepted as the person she was.
My sister tried to be different but was pushed to fit in. Then again she felt she was different and tried but failed to fit in. The constant loneliness, the struggle to be recognized as a girl, a woman in her own family, in this world… the pressure to be normal she felt from all directions, all together drained her. It drained her to the extent she lost faith in her ideals. She lost faith in society, she lost faith in life.
I hope I will have the courage to jump off. Or in front. But rather off. I’ve always been afraid of trains.
She had always been afraid of trains. Yet that day, the day everything changed, she found the courage. She walked there, put her clothes in a container for the poor, left her ID card in a little light blue Holly Hobbie purse (she had kept that from the days we were making He-Man caves and we were putting hamster-hay all over the house), and jumped. In front.
How to change?
It is so sad to conclude that it took a life to change mine. It changed the hard way. But through the years after, I came to understand my sister better. I came to understand myself. Day by day. Where I used to be part of the performance society, I now started seeing things from a different perspective. One that is irreversible, one that is right, one that is me.
What makes us people different is our souls. The potential to feel, to have emotions, and connections with each other to a level no other animal can. Sure we’re also smart and we perform and evolve at an incredible pace (although it is questionable whether our paradoxical society is good for us), but next to this performance there is the magic of our souls we can’t explain.
Yet there is no(t enough) place for sentiment, for emotions in the nerve center of our society. Companies, governments, and institutions select sharks. People who eat other people if needed, to perform. To please their boss, to climb a ladder. All for money. All for power.
I am convinced we need genuine and authentic leaders, we need people, and we need a people society instead of a performance society (or at least more balance, because in the end, we all enjoy modern comfort — things are not black and white). Perhaps we will evolve a bit slower. Maybe Elon’s commercial space flights would be out of the question in this century. Maybe streaming Netflix in your self-driving car won’t be for the coming decades… but so what? We would have a better world.
Where to start?
Of course by understanding the purpose of life (I didn’t put a smiley because of thousands of content-less articles on Medium stating this is not a good writing practice, but it was meant in a not-so-serious way 🙂 — oops).
More seriously, be it also more cliché: we can and should start by changing ourselves. I chose to change. It took me part of my adult life, strong other people with other views, and some serious events to really evolve and escape from my racist, anti-feminist, and conservative nest.
I chose to focus on the emotional development of my kids rather than emphasizing their more measurable performance. What does your heart tell you? How do you feel? Did you consider the impact on others when you did/said so?
Emotionally intelligent kids are our future. They can bend evolution in a way that can and will make this place a better place to live. Understanding what they feel, sharing and understanding what they feel, and acting on it, instead of blocking every sentiment will eventually be a game-changer for all of us.
Kids and adults that are emotionally educated (leaving aside if they are emotionally intelligent), will always consider the impact of what they do on other human beings. Of course, it is naive and idealistic to believe that we will evolve to a world that doesn’t need feminism, that is inclusive -regardless of skin tone- and where every life is worth as much as another.
But we can change. We can revolve.
Every one of us has a voice, an opinion. However, most people (even in the most democratic and liberal regimes) are looking left and right before expressing it. It will take balls (meant as figuratively as can be — as I hope you understood from the above), but people need to speak up in all layers of society. We need changes at many levels. Time for the next chapter — this might become too much of a prophecy…
Is it possible to change the world? A short rational intermezzo.
99% Of the population wants a better world. Better meaning more human-being-focused. 1% or less is focused on performance, revenue streams, and power. That 1% owns roughly half of the money. Add the middle class to this and it becomes clear that 85% of the capital is (still unevenly) distributed over 12% of the world’s population.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of London tried to answer the question of how many people on earth are needed to ‘revolve’ society. The outcome hints toward 25 percent of the population (the full article can be found here).
I tend to disagree with that bold statement and would like to add a sauce of relativity on top: if that 25% of the population is not equally distributed in the different layers of society and let’s say all of them come from the “miserable” red group (with all respect for the red people— I didn’t pick the labels), they are screaming in the desert.
On the other hand, this could also be good news: if we want to change the performance-driven society, it might only take 25% of the mid-class and millionaires to move the needle. Relatively good news: fewer people in absolute value, but the hardest ones to convince to speak up, as they ‘benefit’ from the society they might even dislike.
If we want an inclusive world, we probably also need a decent mix of 25% (don’t pin me on that number — I expect some error bars on that percentage) people that dare to speak up when they see things going wrong, and don’t just look the other way. And this is where we come in… people that raise their voices, parents who focus on a healthy balance between brain and heart, and who are not shy to see a psychologist with their kids when it’s needed. Emotional intelligence has the potential to change the world.
Hippies and suchlike
I’m not a hippie or suchlike. I am not a preacher, not a naive person who thinks we can turn back time and trade carrots for beans again. I like watching Netflix, I enjoy taking pictures on a computer the size of my hand. During the day I am a senior director in a micro-electronics company (and I don’t say this to brag — impostor syndrome: check).
But I lost my sister.
We/I can’t get her back. I can talk to her — which I often do — but she doesn’t talk back. Nevertheless, when I ask her something, she’s right most of the time.
Losing someone hurts. It is a never-ending journey on the curves drawn by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. In the end, you come to accept, but the hurt is still there. Trying to extend her life by understanding, embracing, and sharing her philosophy seems to help. Trying to raise my kids in a way they will never feel lonely while being with their parents helps. Being conscious about the feelings of my kids, as well as the feelings of any other human being — including my own — brings me a bit closer to my sister.
She was beautifully vulnerably naive. She saw a world that would make me feel better. A slower pace, time for each other. Time to sit down and watch a shy butterfly land on a flower in the late afternoon. A world that by itself is mindfulness therapy. But the people didn’t get her. Neighbors laughed at her ideas. I didn’t get her. I told her she needed to find a job, focusing on our pregnancy, not realizing how weak she had become. The old me sometimes thought things would be easier if she would just fit in.
On that day the same neighbors that mocked her, came by to say how beautiful her ideas were.
On that day, I found a bed full of tissues with dried tears. A table with at least fifty personalized application letters she wrote, together with as many rejections. She tried to fit into a world that wasn’t worthy of her, till the very last moment.
Sorry for not understanding you. For not seeing your attempts. For not being there to back you up when it was needed. Sorry for being black or white, when you needed gray.
Thanks for changing my life, for letting me see things in a completely different way, for letting me raise my kids in a way that would have made you happy, and would have saved you. Thanks for letting me be me. Thanks for having been you till the very last moment.
Thank you for changing my world!