It's impossible to predict the landmines of inappropriateness that will explode out from any tv show or movie from my childhood, which spanned from the 1980's to the 1990's. In an attempt to share a piece of my childhood, I'll play shows and movies from my childhood for my kids; I'm hoping they can understand me a little better by watching. Every time I do this, there's inevitably a moment when I realize, always a little too late, that the show or movie is going to normalize homophobia, rape, misogyny, or any other number of things we can all agree are fucked up. I feel the fragile walls of progressive parenting crumble around me fifteen minutes into watching my favorite childhood shows and movies.
In the Little Rascals' movie, it happens when the boys talk about how girls are the worst and say things like "you throw like a girl." In Full House, it's when Uncle Joey makes a gay joke at Uncle Jesse's expense to emphasize their fiercely hetero-identities.
For I don't know what reason, I thought The Sandlot was safe. Halfway through the film, I realized exactly how wrong I was. First, I watched as the red-headed kid, Ham, made seductive faces at a group of girls laying out in their bikinis by the pool. My alarms started going off as soon as Ham did a cannonball that soaked all the girls and forced them to the edge of the pool to scream at him. He sat back and smiled as he stared at their boobs.
"Shit, shit, shit," I thought, as I looked for the remote. I suddenly remembered the scene that was about to take place.
After Ham was done looking at the pissed-off girls' boobs, he joined his friends on the other side of the pool. They then proceeded to objectify and violate another girl at the pool who dared to wear a bathing suit in their presence: the 16-year-old lifeguard, Wendy. The smallest kid, Squints, decided he'd had enough of watching her from a distance; he shook as he became overwhelmed by desire watching her put on lotion. He quickly devised a plan to exploit this teenage girl's heroic inclinations for his sexual pleasure. He planned to jump into the pool, drown, get mouth to mouth from Wendy, and then kiss her without her consent. Don't worry, though, when Squints and Wendy grow up, they get married; much like most white, male predators, he suffered no consequences.
As Squints climbed the ladder to the diving board where he would jump off to drown, I found the remote and fast forwarded through the scene.
"NNNOOOOOO," Jude screamed shrilly. "Put it back. I want to see that scene."
"You can't do that," Darla cried. "We don't want to miss that part."
"I don't want you to see that scene," Greg said. "That boy does something very disrespectful to that girl."
"Put it back on!" Darla demanded.
"No," I said. "Your dad and I don't condone what the boy does in that scene. He tricks that girl into kissing him, and that is something we never do. We always ask before we hug, touch, or kiss anyone. We always need to give and get permission, and that boy didn't get permission."
To my surprise, Darla understood and nodded her head. She agreed that was a terrible scene and what that boy did was wrong. I was relieved this had turn into a teaching moment.
Discussions of consent have been a focal point of a lot of our conversations with both our kids lately, especially as Greg and I watched the horror of the Kavanaugh confirmation. It felt very familiar.
I was only nine when Anita Hill testified during the Senate hearing for Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court nomination. Back then, she was just a face that flashed across the screen on 20/20. What I did know, since I heard my older sisters call Clarence Thomas a son of a bitch, was that I was on her side. I just didn't know what her side was.
It would be years before I could comprehend the significance of Anita Hill's testimony. In the meantime, I existed as a girl in a society that undervalued women. I lived in a world where men assumed our bodies were there for their pleasure only and approached us as if we owed them something. From an early age, I understood this objectification and struggled under the weight of it. By eleven, I was getting catcalls, my prepubescent body assigned sexuality that just wasn't there. That was just the beginning of years of repeated instances where I was made to feel small and insignificant under the predatory gaze of old, aggressive, and churlish men.
In my 20's, I was drugged at a bar by a large, baldheaded man who hovered close to me the entire night. Out the corner of my eye, I saw him stare at me, but I ignored him thinking he was just a gross creep. When it came time to go, a few feet from my friends and on my way to the subway, I quickly changed my plan and hopped into a cab. As I sat in the back seat, I wondered why the world was spinning after just two drinks. I got to my apartment, crawled up the stairs to my apartment, and, the next thing I remembered, woke up half on my bed with my shoes and jacket still on the following morning. I still get in a panic thinking about what could've happened if I had stayed the course and gone to the train.
While I'm never in bars anymore, the world continues to feel unsafe. I walk to the car with my keys between my knuckles in case someone comes up to attack me. I'm continually looking over my shoulder because I never know where a predator might decide to attack. And this isn't even covering the aggression I've endured by male "friends" in my younger life.
I made it through the hard times, when all I wanted was for the world to love me, and all they gave me was derision and objectification, by surrounding myself with women who lifted me. In high school, we would blast Bikini Kill and sing the lyrics to White Boy at the top of our lungs. We felt empowered when we'd yell, "I'm so sorry if I'm alienating some of you/Your whole fucking culture alienates me." Those friends were an island of safety among all the teenage boys who'd degrade us and repeatedly send us the message that we were insignificant, and disgusting (unless they wanted something from us, but then they'd quickly go back to bullying us when they got what they wanted). And a lot of this was coming from boys who thought of themselves as progressive.
As an adult, I've found friends who can see clearly how this country mistreats women, and who want to try and help the next generation rise above the false limitations placed on women. While I've been stuck in a near constant state of panic since the Kavanaugh hearings, I, also, know that I can try to make this world a more equitable place through my kids.
I know that it takes working with both of my kids to make this world safer and respectful, and that starts with discussions of consent and respect. Both of my kids know they need to ask to touch someone else, and that people need to ask their permission if they want a hug. My kids aren't forced to hug or kiss anyone. If I allowed others to violate my kids' personal space, they would just learn that the other person's comfort level is more important than theirs, and it would negate all the boundary-setting lessons we've worked on. The same applies to TV shows and movies that promote predatorial, homophobic, or misogynistic behaviors, which is why I might have to forever say goodbye to some of my favorite things from my childhood such as Weird Science. (I had a lot of older brothers and sisters who let me watch hyper-sexual or inappropriate content. This is why I saw The Wall when I was six, which is a whole other story).