I remember the anticipatory relief I felt on the eve of November 8, 2016, that normalcy would return the following day. Not political normalcy, alas, but at least a return to our previous norms of politesse. I thought I would once again be able to turn on the news in front of my then 12-year-old daughter without cringing the way one does when something awkward comes on. Like when you're watching something with your parents, or your kids, and there's a sexy scene, and you just wish you weren't watching it with your parent or your kid. In particular, I thought we would be putting the word “pussy” back into that guarded place where I didn't have to deal with it being a part of my tween daughter's daily lexicon.
But PussyGate didn't go away, and lately, language is often the leading story in the news. Michelle Wolf cursed out mainstream media, and the media fought back. Roseanne got fired over her use of hate speech, racist language. Then Samantha Bee called Ivanka Trump a “cunt,” and MSM and social media went batshit crazy. At least it's refreshing to hear so many women's voices, and yet that is part of the problem: who can say what and get away with it. Why do we suddenly care so much about what women say and call it inappropriate when men can excuse themselves by claiming ‘locker room talk?’
Now I frequently speak as though I was raised by sailors instead of a Mennonite librarian, but not around my kids. I realize that my kid in junior high has, no doubt, heard all the words, but there were still norms and expectations.
Remember George Carlin's “Seven Words You Can't Say on Television?” The words the US censors decided must be bleeped if they should be spoken on air were: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits. That was 1972 (!), and yes, times have changed, but not so much that it was a reasonable expectation in 2016 that I wouldn't be confronted by words like these, unbleeped, on the news.
There is a myriad of ways in which this normalization of vulgarity is problematic, and here's one we should be talking about more: it adds to the complexity of parenting in this era of media saturation. All parents will face that funny moment when their little one uses their first four letter word. They will explain what words are appropriate, at what age and in what situations they are acceptable. We have been adjusting to the new parental duty of policing our kids' screen time and having conversations about social media, telling our daughters they should never, ever share compromising photos of their bodies, while preparing them for the inevitability of dick pics.
I have had all these talks with my daughter, but I was not expecting to have to have the cunt vs. pussy talk with a 12-year-old adolescent girl. I haven't even had that talk with my own mother yet.
Generations of parents have lamented that 'kids today' are growing up too fast. We know media has a huge, negative impact on girls' self-perceptions of body image. As a mom, I've been consciously fighting that battle since my daughter was born, just as I have been doing my best to instil values of caring and compassion, respect for self and others, and basic manners. These tasks have become increasingly difficult. We have politicians and public figures acting like children while the kids from Parkland speak truth to power with dignity. Blurred lines all over the place.
The funny thing is, after talking with my daughter and her friends, it seems they are handling this better than the hypocritical pundits and trolls crying, “She crossed the line!” vs. “Free speech!” in hours and hours of debate, thousands upon thousands of tweets, likes and shares, as mock outrage drowns out more critical issues, like how to combat propaganda and fake news.
So on to the next parenting battle: how to tackle the same problems with my younger sons. Keep in mind they have no memory of life before PussyGate. This is their normal.