Brannan: Alright, we are back, and in a sort of continuation of the last time we talked. We’re going to spend a little bit of time (not the whole time today, but just a little bit) acknowledging the shortcomings and the pitfalls of being unchecked with those celebratory pings of success, especially when you’re a creator and have some control over the product that you’re making.
Ash: Okay! Just in case listeners didn’t catch last week’s episode: last week we talked about Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, the real activist Matilda Jocelyn Gage who inspired Baum’s character Glinda the Good Witch, what white activism can learn from its past mistakes, and how creative success can sometimes cause us to live in a positive echo chamber where we stop considering our own blind spots.
People pat you on the back and say, “Oh, you’re doing such a good job. You’re so enlightened.” And then you stop self-examining or you’re picking the low hanging fruit and you’re not reaching very far…
B: [Agreement] You’re not reaching. You’re not pushing yourself.
So in the last episode, we talked primarily about Frank Baum and the Wizard of Oz, and how he got some things right. But that [success] kind of diluted, and then it got diluted further, as he went down a path that was not as strong as it could have been. And in many ways was problematic.
And then that also drew to mind Joss Whedon, which a big old sacred can of worms.
B: It really is.
A: And we’re just gonna open it.
Cringing So Much
B: So we knew that we were going to talk about Willow from Buffy [the Vampire Slayer], and we’re going to do that later. That’s going to be the primary focus in just a minute, because with that witch-type persona and that character, there’s a lot that we can learn from, and a lot that we can pull from it for our girls.
But as we watched an episode [Restless] last night to brush up on we were going to talk about, we uh, found ourselves cringing. Some stuff came up.
A: Yeah, some serious stuff came up. We were like, “Oh, that hurts. It keeps happening; WHY?!”
B: Um, and this is not new with Joss Whedon. Apparently there were some problems with his Wonder Woman script recently.
B: And um, you know, there are some cringe-y moments that happen. It’s so hard for me to think about Dollhouse, but if we unpack and look at Dollhouse, but I’m sure there are issues.
A: Yeah, I’m sure there are.
B: Like, it seems like every time we go back and watch something beloved, we’re like, “oh, but why?”
A: “That was problematic!” And that doesn’t mean that you can’t necessarily enjoy it or you weren’t somehow empowered or bettered by a piece of art. But it’s also okay to go back and go, “Ohhhhhh maaaaaaaan.”
Because I love Buffy. I’m a huge Buffy fan, and I love Willow, too, like, with all my heart. There’s a couple of things that I don’t love. But I love Willow. Firstly, because I’m a queer woman. I’m bisexual, and that was the first gay kiss or the first, I guess female/female kiss, especially in the context of media that was geared toward children. And in a beloved show that was big pop culture.
So that was a big moment. That was a win.
And I think that’s where he got a lot of the pats on the back and the bum. And everyone was like, “Yeah, go you, you’re doing the things!” I think that sometimes when people see someone advocating for something and you feel like they’re making headway, you hate to discourage them.
Because you want to see more of that, right? Like some people are just like genuinely happy. Like at the time, the first time I saw it when Buffy was just out, I…I was not out to myself in any way, shape or form. I was in a very fundamentalist household.
So, at that time, I was just kind of like, “Oh, that’s a thing that can happen. That’s very interesting.” [laughter] “Let’s just watch it again and see what we think of that.” [laughter] Right? Like trying to process what was going on.
If I could imagine myself understanding that about myself at the time, um, I probably would have been like, “Yeah, that’s a total win. That’s a win for lesbians everywhere”
It’s easy to write that way, emotionally, and feel like you’ve arrived.
And now you’re the authority and you can say whatever you want to creatively as your own commentary! Forgetting that, you know, if you’re, if you’re a cis white male, you have a cis white male perspective.
B: And when you feel like you’re on (or when you are on) the groundbreaking level of something, among his peers, at least he was doing something very different. First of all, you can expect that now you’ve arrived. It’s really easy to feel like you’ve arrived. But then the rest of us who were watching the progress happen, (which is what progressiveness is meant to be, right? A progress happening) we expect it to continue to progress. You’re going to keep getting better.
A: It’s not “arrivedness”, right? [laugh]
B: There’s no, you can’t have it both ways.
You can’t have arrived and also be progressive because “progressive” never stops.
You’re supposed to be always going and always evolving and always changing. And we haven’t seen a lot of growth.
A: No, not recently. Not a lot of recent grads. I heard some things about the Wonder Woman script, which I think is accessible online, like anyone can read that draft. And I understand that it was a draft, but at the same time, oh. [sigh] I’m really glad that he wasn’t the person who wrote the script ultimately, because he wasn’t the person to do it. He wasn’t the person to write it.
B: And that goes back to what we were talking about in the last episode; there’s a time and a place for all of us to speak up and do things and be powerful and lead in certain ways. And then there’s also lots more times and places for us to hand the mic over and the script over. So that was really good that they pulled that from him.
Um, but there, there’s some…we just talked a little bit [before the podcast] about Dr Horrible…
A: ….which I have feeling that that was kind of like a…
B: it was a happy, fun times thing. So it showed up, if you haven’t seen it, it’s on youtube. It’s kind of a cult classic at this point. My oldest daughter called it Docky Huppahbul.
A: [laugh] That’s adorable.
B: We were young enough that she watched it. She was young enough she would like literally come up and be like, “mommy Docky Huppahbul before bed!”
A: And Felicia Day. Come on.
B: It’s fantastic. Um, and then we just recently watched it, and my boys were like horrified and embarrassed at the whole “the hammer is my penis” moment…
A: Ahhhhhhh! [laughter] Like in some ways it’s funny; it’s like a self parody, and that’s what makes it funny.
B: Totally self-parody, totally self aware, but the whole moral of it is the Nice Guy trope, where the nice guy doesn’t get the girl, the nice guy never gets the girl, the guy who’s faking niceness gets the girl. Um, which is, I don’t think Doctor Horrible isn’t necessarily problematic.
A: Mmmmm, no….
B: But we start to see underlying belief systems and the way people create things, and it’s a little telling.
B: Um, so that’s what happened. Yeah. As we were watching Willow last night, which the episode was it….
A: We cannot keep the name of this episode. We’ve looked at the name of this episode up like, I don’t know how many times now. It’s the one [“Oh No, we’re going to turn that off right now.” (my daughter was calling and vibrating my cell phone)] It’s the one where they all fall asleep and they meet the First Slayer.
B: ….in like season four. Yeah. So, um, I wasn’t a big Buffy fan [when it aired]. I was a little bit too young, and definitely witches were “not allowed” on television for me. So I had to brush up on it and watch the episodes.
A: [gibbers unhelpfully while obsessing over finding the specific episode title]
B: So I really, I love the actress for her? The actress for Willow. [Alyson Hannigan]
A: Restless! [finally finding the episode name]
B: There we go. I really enjoyed [Alyson], and we were going to talk about [Willow’s] arc. So we sat down to watch this episode, and there were a lot of fantastic things that came from it that we’re going to get to in a minute…
The premise of it is: they all fall asleep, with the little troop of people and their, like, guidance person, Giles…
A: The Scooby Gang.
B: Scooby Gang! They all fall asleep, and so you get to see each person’s dream that they are dreaming, and in [each one] this creature—for most of what we see, it’s just a creature that’s after them—in their dream. And they’re of course reacting to whatever happens when the creature “gets” them. They’re reacting to it in their sleep.
A: It’s a funny episode.
B: It is cute. There’s cheese…
A: …dream logic is well-captured.
A: His dreams are so bizarre.
B: And so we see all of the things that they fear start to show up, or the things that they’re fantasizing about starting to show up. And the fear brought up some really great points about Willow. But before we could finish the episode, man, we see the dream of Xander.
A: Oh Xander.
B: And he had already actually made a comment about, um, Willow and her girlfriend and how he fantasizes about them. He was pretty open.
A: And I feel like, yeah. He says…..oh God, the joke is so gross. I almost don’t wanna repeat it but I’m going to.
B: Do it.
A: Watch me do it. He was like, “do you ever…” He walks up, asking somebody— he asks Buffy’s current boyfriend, I think—like, “do you ever fantasize about them doing spells together? Sometimes I think about them doing spells together, and then I go do a little spell on my own.”
So obviously that was like a direct “I’ll be in my bunk” moment. [Firefly reference]
B: Which is another one [reference].
A: And I feel like he’s trying to be self aware, but also, like, considering that lesbian girls are watching this…
B: But that’s a good point. “I’ll be in my bunk” [masturbating] was also Whedon, and showed up in Firely, where you have your really empowered, sexually aware, escort type-person in Inara [when she took a female client], and you have to have that dig from Jayne where he’s talking about objectifying [their orientation].
A: I hate Jayne. I hate his character. [apologetically] Sorry Jayne-lovers!
B: We’re not coming after your hats.
A: I’m not comin’ after your hats! You keep your hats. They’re totally cool. I love them, and also I just want to punch him.
B: And I don’t know, maybe that’s intended a little bit, but again…
A: Yeah, I’m sure it is.
B: That’s a good marker of there not being growth.
A: Yeah, he’s supposed to be an aggravating character…
B: …but the writer is aggravating, when you keep returning to it. So that one moment happened in that episode and we were like, yeah, that was kind of tasteless.
A: Yeaaaaah, we get it, but…
B: But then we see Xander’s dream…
A: Considering that Buffy’s audience was—I mean, I don’t know, I could be wrong, but if I had to guess—I would say that the audience for Buffy at the time was probably targeted at girls. Right? And I know it was supposed to be funny, and I did laugh.
The dumb thing is, I did laugh. I was like, “oh groan”. [Post recording note: I suspect this is because I’ve been conditioned to laugh about that sort of thing as a way of diffusing the awkwardness when someone says something uncomfortable or inappropriate. Panic laughter. Something to think about.]
It’s like when your dad tells a dad joke, but at the same time I’m kind of like, but did we need to hear that?
I don’t think we needed to hear that.
B: Which is kind of how we respond to stuff like that. Like…yeah, we got it, we expect it.
A: The lens of female/female sex must be like… we have to see it through the male gaze even though there’s not a guy involved. Ew.
[post edit note: I used “female” and “male” as identifiers here because those are lazy cultural shorthand, but by that, I mean all women and cis men, honestly. I’m working on streamlining my terminology more appropriately.]
B: So first he sexualizes Buffy’s mom, and you get like, some awkward fantasy moment there, where the mom’s enticing him.
A: Which is so weird.
B: So that would have been enough to convey like, “Har Har. He’s a teen boy. Brains are weird.”
A: We get it. [Teens] are hypersexual.
B: Hormones are weird.
A: But also why? Why is it that—I mean, okay, why are none of the girls having dreams like this? Because hello, I’m a sexual being. I have all kinds of really interesting thoughts, especially as a teenager, that just galloped in my mind all the time. Right? But we’re going to go the “Huh-huh-huh” teen boy sexuality route, and make the assumption that girls want to…they’re fantasizing about sitting around painting things on each other’s backs.
B: A super emotionally connected moment…
A: Like we see more of the girls’ sexuality through the male gaze than we do through their own perspective and experience.
Exactly. Maybe he thought he was being respectful about. So then he goes from there to immediately though his girlfriend is present. His girlfriend, his girlfriend is present. His girlfriend gives him permission to not only, there’s a painfully prolonged scene of…
So they’re in an ice cream truck. Inexplicably. He’s driving the ice cream truck, and then Willow and her girlfriend, Tara, show up to the back of the truck in like bustiers, in leather. And I have nothing against a good leather bustier. I’m all for it. I’m all for the vampy look, I think it’s fun. Nothing wrong with that.
But the point is: Why though?
B: It’s outside of their characters. It’s not how they behave and dress. It’s not something that they would have chosen or would have done.
A: And also their hands are all over each other in a way that we never get to see an intimate moment. Not that we need to, but what I’m seeing is it’s not their experience of their sexuality. We see more of their sexuality through his eyes.
B: With the come hither look at him…weird, prolonged.
A: “Do you wanna come play with us?” It’s just a shot of his face with his jaw dropped for like an uncomfortably long amount of time. Oh my God. I wish we had started counting…I started to get uncomfortable. It was uncomfortable.
B: It was painful. And then they invite him and the girlfriend gives him permission and the rest of his dream. Um, although there are other things, like some elements of he’s afraid he’s never going to get out of his parents’ basement. There are elements of the way that his dad shames him and the way that his dad treats him. There are other things that matter in his life, but the primary focus is how he’s trying to chase down and find these girls because he has this window to be—they’re going to be performing for him basically, and he’s going to get to be part of that.
So it wasn’t—there’s a really clear line between empowered sexuality, an Inara, and it just being performative for the male gaze. And they literally had a painfully uncomfortable stretch of time of the male gaze.
A: And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with. Obviously, we all have sex dreams. Everybody has sex dreams. We’re not saying “he shouldn’t have that sex dream.” What we’re saying is Joss Whedon shouldn’t have focused on that in his dream.
He could have written about literally anything, it could have been anything. And yeah, we get it. Boys you have about sex, but guess what? (*whispers* So do girls.)
B: Yeah. It just could have been handled a whole lot better.
A: And it wasn’t necessary.
Gawd, Make it Stop
B: So we got through that. We’re like, okay, let’s keep watching and let’s see…we’ll just watch it, whatever. And then there’s the first slayer.
A: I think we both groaned audibly. We were just like, oh boy.
B: They had started by saying there was this primal creature that was chasing them. They kind of, they kind of animalized her. You don’t really know if that’s a human person or not. They, um, kind of took away gender markers, which is not a problem except that it was way too…it was in a way to like dehumanize. It was really, there was not any respect given to this person.
A: They literally had the character of Tara—I love Tara—but they have Tara come up and literally speak for her. Like she didn’t have language herself, so Tara had to speak for her. Yeah.
B: The whole time. It’s this creature looking thing, um, this, they show up, you start to see….she stands up and she is moving her and she’d just, they made her look….like a mess.
A: Yes they did. I think the idea was she was supposed to be like an earlier version of humanity. She was like, where are, we would all have originated from. She was portrayed by a black actress. But the way that they had her portray it was she was, it made it seem like this, this, this blonde current woman was so far evolved by the, beyond the base desires—”kill, angry,” like almost animalistic desires of this First Slayer. And I thought that’s unfortunate.
B: It was terrible.
A: That is really unfortunate.
B: They called her creature. They called her primal.
A: She wasn’t like, there was no moment of you being like, connected to her in any way.
B: Buffy didn’t even look at her. So she, Buffy, was the first one who said she, which was when I realized, oh, this is supposed to be a person, right. Then this first slayer starts to come around and it’s just, you know, painted and wrapped up in like shards of fabric and just kind of this weird fantasy of, of like…
A: Okay, if we’re going to borrow from the Whedonverse, she was looking and acting like Reaver. [post-edit note for the uninitiated: Reavers are the scariest, worst villains in the ‘verse, devoid of all humanity and do nothing but torture and kill. Ugh.]
B: Yes, she was like Reaver. But then they started talking about first slayer and it took me as I didn’t even register with slayer was because I’m not a Buffy person, I’m like, I don’t even know what that means. Is that supposed to be human? Because they weren’t treating her like a human. And so Buffy says “let her speak”, but is still not making eye contact with this person in front of her. [Buffy’s] looking past her to the white lady in the beautiful flowing dress who is being her voice, and she’s saying she can’t speak.
A: She is almost being treated like an animalistic demon. And for people who are unfamiliar with the Buffyverse, in every generation is born a Slayer. So it’s kind of like this thing, once one slayer dies, another Slayer is awoken and their job is to slay vampires for that generation. So this, the First Slayer would be like a prehistoric slayer.
That’s where they’re going with this. Right? And instead of feeling in any way connected to this person and honored by her presence or wanting to explore her origin and being like, wow, this is part of me. She rejects her, and she kind of shows her up and is like, “No, I have evolved past you.”
She at one point tells her to buy some shampoo or something.
B: Yeah. So that was the last moment is, Buffy defeats her. And there was, there was just really no development for me as an outsider to realize that this was an enemy. Um, and I had the same question, like if she was the first slayer, wouldn’t we be honored? That’s what, that’s what I thought. Like why does she need to defeat this person?
And then she sits down. And so the character of the First Slayer had some really…they look like white lady dreads. Honestly, her hair was locked, but like fuzzy and big and intentionally made to look very, very messy. [post-edit note: B here—and I did the white lady dreads thing. Ugh. Growing and learning…]
A: And this is not a commentary on dreads.
B: No, this was how that they intentionally portrayed her to be this messy, not feminine, not human. They called her primal, and she was this odd fantasy from a certain perspective.
A: There’s an insinuation that Slayers came from demons in the first place. So there’s like this strong insinuation that she is somehow like a demonic presence almost. She’s almost like a malevolent entity.
B: And then Buffy has to comment about her going to her hairdresser getting shampoo or something like that, which is just..really, really problematic.
A: And given the fact that there are, there’s a Slayer who’s from the Caribbean? Maybe. I can’t remember her name. There are black Slayers present in the series, and they are just great characters. Ugh, so I can, I can only assume that this is a misguided attempt to come up with some kind of creatively or origin story in the questions that I wanted were not answered.
It would’ve been a cool thing to explore. I wanted to know, but I just came away cringing.
B: It was rough. I think it was a case of when you have assumptions that have rewarded you in the past and had pinged as successful in the past, you just move forward with those assumptions. I think he was using those assumptions as shorthand and unfortunately, it told us a lot about his growth as a writer, or lack thereof.
A: Yeah. I don’t know what was going through his head.
B: It was rough. So kind of like we had to spend some time with Baum and there were some important lessons on Glinda, I think we have to acknowledge the shortcomings, like massive problems that show up even in these spaces that are celebrated as being powerful and good. Right? Because there was a lot of good in that episode too.
A: Yeah, there was a lot of good in the episode too. And also I can’t even imagine… Oh God, I know how I feel as a queer woman watching what happened to turn Willow’s characters and the fact that they were not given a lot of space to like have their…I don’t know.
I know how I feel about that.
I can only imagine how it would feel to be non-caucasian and watching that episode. Like what would that feel like if you were like a 12 year old girl, right? And maybe I’m being presumptuous because I don’t know. I’ll ask someone, maybe.
B: Let us know if you, if you’re a Buffy person.
A: But…it feels like it would be really kind of crappy.
B: Yeah, I just feel like there should have been a lot more honor given to that person. It was just the contrast of the…
A: It felt like a demonizing of female anger to me. That’s what it felt like.
B: A demonizing of female anger and especially black female anger. She was standing in between these two white ladies and flowy dresses, stripped of all femininity stripped of all identity, literally stripped of her voice and her voice given to a white woman. And that was kind of disaster.
Willow Confronts Her Own Growth
B: So identity is actually, ironically, now we’re going to talk about what we got out of it that was good as white ladies. [laughing, cringing]
Identity was actually the really powerful point in Willow’s dream. Right. So I’ll talk about what I got out of it and then I’ll let you because I know this is your world. I didn’t grow up with it.
Willow has very obviously come into her own. I had watched a couple of other episodes, and she’s the girl that people want her to do their homework, and she doesn’t really want to say no and has trouble with that.
A: Like the famous episode where her big act of rebellion was to eat the banana not at lunchtime. “Gosh darn it, I’ll eat this banana whenever I want to eat this banana!”
Yeah, you get ’em, Willow. Tell ’em.
B: So in her nightmare, she shows up for drama class on the first day of school and everybody is already ready to do a play that she’s starring in, that all of her friends and family are there for and, “Willow, stop stepping on other people’s cues!”
So she’s trying to perform for all of her friends and family and they keep telling her, “Oh good, you’re already in your costume!”
“I’m not in a costume! I’m just in my clothes!”
And then the other thing that they keep telling her is, “Everybody already knows…they’re onto you.”
B: And the big reveal at the end of her dream is they tear at her clothes that she was wearing….she’s standing there in white tights and like a jumper. Kind of like a little girl jumper, giving a book report on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
A: Which is actually, I think the exact same outfit that she’s wearing in the first Buffy episode.
B: So holy cow, imposter syndrome, right?
A: Because she, she has worked so hard to make like a new identity for herself. She’s kind of slowly coming into her own. She’s coming into her own power. She’s always been good with words, and she’s always been good with understanding things and computers. She’s your typical like successful nerd. And the world gave her a lot of positive feedback for that. Good job. Good job. You’re performing by our metrics well. Up until that point, she was part of a really conservative household, which I can relate to, and that worked well for her to a point.
And then she started kind of looking under the hood of her own life. In the episode Dopplegangland, there’s like a doppelganger of her that shows up in an alternate universe that shows her as if she were a vampire. And we discover that she has like a lesbian tendencies and then she kind of has a badass side and she has a side that’s super assertive and not taking crap from people.
And then someone tells her that a vampire version of a person actually reflects parts of your character that you had while you’re alive. And she was like, well, that’s interesting.
So that puts her on the path of exploring herself and exploring the fact that she would like to become a witch and she would like to have this personal power for herself. And also she starts exploring relationships. I think we’re left to believe that she’s bisexual because she did have a boyfriend, but then she’s in this relationship with Tara.
So she’s in college, and she’s worked very hard to cultivate this sense of branching out in self, right? So she’s cut her hair short and she’s wearing different clothes and she’s kind of taking on new interests outside of performing and academics by other people’s metrics.
So for her to confront herself all the way back to, I guess, junior year of high school or maybe sophomore year of high school is really difficult. I can relate.
It is only now that—I guess I’m 35 now—that I do not feel the need to strongly distance myself from everything that reminds me of my teenage years. That’s a new thing for me.
It’s taken a long time for me to feel like my personal growth is my own and someone’s not going to drag me back to that girl and say, “We know you’re faking it. You’re just pretending to be someone who’s strong. You’re pretending to be someone who has a complex identity.”
My own personal damage being a bisexual woman is, I’m a bisexual woman, but I’ve been married for like 16 or 17 years to a man, and we have four daughters together. And that’s still part of my identity, but part still worries that the queer police are gonna roll up and be like, “You’re an imposter, you don’t belong.”
I feel that way about a lot of things. I have shed a lot of religious identity, right? But there are still people in my life who would very much like me to be like, “This is not who you are. We’re going to drag you back to who you are. These thoughts are not your thoughts. You don’t get to have your own thoughts.” And to drag me back to be that girl. And it’s just now that I’ve started to be like, no, I’m pretty confident in who I am.
Even if somebody came and said that, I don’t think I would feel particularly threatened, I would just be like, oh, that’s what you believe.
The fear is that the growth that we have made is not actual growth.
B: That it’s not real, that it’s a performance. And while it is good to check in with yourself on authenticity and it’s good to check in with yourself on those things, you also have to come into some confidence with them. Especially if we spend the first part of our lives when we are developing and when we are in those formative years having to perform in other ways and having to stuff who we are and not free and safe to learn and explore like the explorer with all of those ideas and things to try, or the truth teller being limited in speaking truth to power, or the authoritarian without the ability to lead in some way or the ability to make future plans.
When you’re limited in those ways, then you’re not growing in the way that your brain and your body need to grow. And then when you come into that later…[sigh, gathering bearings]
There’s some growth, um, advice that tells you to look back to your interests in childhood. And if you’ve been limited as a child in some way, those things don’t ping as true. And that can create some cognitive dissonance. What’s real?
Our Kids Have Their Own Story Arc
A: Absolutely. I think the problem with the whole story with Willow, is she’s afraid that her current self—which is her true self, she’s tapped into that. She’s tapped into that reservoir of this is me, this is who I want to create, this is what I want to do with my life. She’s finally reclaimed that for myself with a lot of pain. Their came rejection from her mother. Like at some point her mother actually got like coerced by these demon children to burn her daughter, the witch at the stake. So there’s some familial rejection going on. So she did a lot of work.
People don’t do these things just for funsies. There’s a lot of work and sometimes sacrifice and things that you have to choose to leave behind involved. But somehow, at the end of the day, she was afraid that her real self is that person back there.
And I think that’s what happens when you rob your children. Genetically, we want to duplicate ourselves. That’s just a drive that all of us have. When people say, men and women, when they say their biological time clock is ticking…it’s “I have the genetic urge to make a xerox copy of myself.” Because the idea of me disappearing from the universe is just horrible for our mitochondria. We have a tough time with that.
I was listening to another podcast in which Antonia Dodge talked about the fact that our ego also wants to reproduce itself. Humans have evolved to be so complex that not only do we have complex DNA and complex bodies—we’re not just like cicadas that are seeking to reproduce ourselves, we’re going to reproduce our ideas too. Our dogma, our cherished beliefs. We want to hand these down to her children and make them little carbon copies of ourselves so that our ideas can live on too. Because that’s now part of our ego also, because we’re complex as people.
But when we do that and we try to force this on to our children, we say, “Oh, well I’m going to use this formula and no child of mine is ever to…” Or “my kids will always…”
As soon as we decide who our child is, we rob them of their sense of identity.
We gaslight them for like 18 years. You can gaslight your children into believing, this is the real you. I’m telling you who the real you is. And really, the persona, the act, the thing that’s fake is the thing that we forced them to be. It gives you a complex. It can take awhile to get your sea legs after you walk out of having to be performative and perform a role for other people for 18 years to step outside of that.
It can be really jarring, and it can make you think, “Oh no, I’m betraying myself. I’m leaving myself behind. I don’t know who I am anymore.” It’s a delayed adolescence sometimes.
B: And it can take as many years as your adolescence while you’re also trying to adult. And that is so limiting—the things that you could have been doing. It’s a lot of hard work, and sometimes you don’t really get out of that and loop in it for a very long time. Especially if you have the added layers of trying to raise your own children while you’re doing this.
A: If that has been your life experience, you might feel like deferring that to later, after your kids are grown, is a good choice. Because you’re taking good care of your children, you’re putting their needs in front of yours. But what they need you to do is be an example of going through the hard stuff and struggling with who you are. And struggling with, “This is really painful. I’m having imposter syndrome right now. I don’t know if I’m really up to this.”
They need to hear you go through that. Not so that they can comfort you and play therapist for you. Not to that end, but to the end of seeing you unpack things, and saying, [deep breath] “I can do this. I can handle this. I can get through this.”
Because they will draw from that memory of you having done that and they will say, okay, well that’s how we do. Because they know. They know when you’re playing a part, they know when you’re deferring parts of yourself until later. They know when you’re not being real, especially if you have a kid who happens to be intuitive or sensitive, they can tell when you’re not taking good care of yourself, and they will pick up on that and copy that. Which sucks.
Verbal Processing and Modeling Growth
B: We’ve both gone through, and you’re still in the middle of it, physical transitions from one home to another. My family did it a few years ago—we downsized from a house that the kids loved because there was lots and lots of space in it to a much smaller house. We decided it was the better choice for our family. And we decided as we went through that process to be really open with them about it. Because the point was to free up more income as we talked about it in an earlier episode, to dropped to one income as my husband came home. And so that was the better choice for our family.
But what we didn’t want to happen was for our kids, and especially the youngest one, to make it to older life and remember dad being there all the time and us traveling because we homeschool and I work remotely and there was more freedom that opened up and things that feel almost luxurious when you’re in the middle of a two-income household and always working all the time.
I didn’t want them to remember that alone. I wanted them to remember what went into it and the decision-making process and the emotional process and the hard work. They were all involved in talking about it before we made the decision. Not that they got to make the decision, but we talked to them about it coming.
We gave them the courtesy of some awareness.
We were all involved in preparing the house to sell.
A: Scaled to their understanding and maturity level. I mean you didn’t tell them “Mom’s worried we’re not going to be able to handle blah blah, blah.” Like enough information.
B: Enough information. This decision is better for our family. Here’s the benefit on the other side. Here’s the work that’s going to go into it. And then we did, at the end of the day, when everything was settled and we got through the hardest part of it, which was getting the house ready to sell with four children…
A: This is my life. As my husband is literally texting me pictures of where he’s patching up the drywall.
B: As you’re telling me the things that you’re fixing, I’m like, oh yeah, have you done the porch yet? Because I know your porch is trashed. We had very similar things because children ruin spaces. [laughs]
A: They do, kids are rough on houses, it’s true.
B: So, we went through all of that really hard work, and when we got to the end of that, we let them each pick out a toy or something. Because we had some reward, we knew what it meant to have the house listed or to have it sold, whatever. And they needed some kind of tangible thing.
A: They needed that dopamine hit.
B: They did, yeah. We let them all pick out a toy and it felt final to them. Then there was still a lot of transition that happened where they weren’t sure about it and weren’t feeling great about it. And I’m like, yeah, us too. Change is really hard. So transparency in the process of things and modeling the process of change is something that your truth teller that your intuitive kid—they’re going to need that.
Your ego wants to grow and protect before the rest of you wants to catch up to it. And you have to learn how to break free of that.
A: I’ve had to learn how to let go of this idea—it’s very easy to idealize the person that I would like for my children to remember. Like, “When I’m dead and gone, I want my children to remember me as a woman who always (fill in the blank),” whatever it is for you.
I’ve had to let go of a lot of that in favor of teaching them. Opening myself up and letting them see a little bit of a messy process. And that doesn’t mean that I’ve given myself permission to just fall apart all the time. I still have to say, “Hey, I got this. I’m stable,” but judiciously. I’ve let them be like, this is the goal I’m going through right now. I’m feeling really insecure about this. I don’t know if I can swing it.
I’m not going after them asking for reassurance, but I’m just letting them know I’m feeling really insecure about this, so I’m going to do something right now that’s encouraging for me, that soothes my body so that I can calm down and get a good night’s sleep and try again tomorrow.
I’m processing my plan out in front of them all the time so that they can hear me handling my problems.
If I do that out loud around them and say, “I am so mad right now, I could spit nails. I think part of it is because my blood sugar, so I’m going to go in the kitchen right now, make a snack, and then go for a long block until I don’t feel like breaking anything anymore, and then they come back and not think about it. Let me subconscious work on it for awhile.”
And that seems like a lot of words to say and maybe sometimes it seems like they’re tuning me out, but when I choose to do that, instead of just telling them what to do all the time, I hear them walking around the house doing self talk for themselves.
I hear them saying, “Oh, I am so mad right now. I’m going to go scream in a pillow.” When you hear a kid say that, that’s actually them saying I’m identifying my feelings and I’m making a safe plan for how to handle my own feelings. That’s success.
When you hear a kid doing that, that’s success. That means you’re doing something right.
No Such Thing as Good
B: I think we’ve generationally had this idea that as adults and as parents, we’re supposed to be this one-dimensional parent prototype.
A: The good mom, the other mother from Coraline, before she goes creepy and psychotic.
B: That idea, that one-dimensional person who is only a mom and nothing else. And that’s not true. Your children benefit from you being a whole human, and if you’re identifying with some of these things and some of these growth points we’ve talked about for our kids and if you need to do that work yourself, that’s awesome. If you’re that softer, nurturer type, develop in that.
But whoever you are, displaying to your kids that you are a whole person who has interests and feelings and needs and who has needs self-care and is growing and is learning and is admitting to mistakes and is changing and is transforming—that will help the process of transformation, as they grow up, feel safer and more real to them than if they’ve never seen it modeled to them. [post-edit note: holy run-on sentence, Batman!]
A: You know, almost every single blind spot that I can think of myself… Okay, here’s the thing that I have a hard time with. I have a really hard time with feeling passionate about something and being very earnestly passionate, and also being wrong about it.
It doesn’t happen terribly often because I’m getting…better about putting the passion on the back burner and examining before I bring that kind of fire to a conversation. But occasionally, I still find myself arriving at a place and then I’m met with new information, and I have to spin on a dime. It’s hard for me to not double down and feel angry and feel the need to punish someone because I’m not lovable if I’ve doubled down and then I’ve made a fool of myself and I’m wrong.
That’s hard for me. And I think part of the reason it’s hard for me is there are a lot of things that the adults in my life did really well growing up, but one of the things that I didn’t learn how to do through observation was to step back and say, “Wow, I was really wrong about that!” And then not feel like that was the greatest trauma that had ever happened in my life.
I don’t lose all credibility just because I’m wrong about something.
And if somebody had walked me through that process, I’m trying make it a big deal in my head right now. “Wow. I was so mad about that. And how wrong was I? Let’s walk that back and let’s learn something new today, kids!” Take kind of like a Miss Frizzle attitude—get messy, make mistakes!
And I feel that that was something that was robbed from me, because I’m actually good at that, as it turns out. I just didn’t know that it was a safe thing to try. It wasn’t ever couched to me as something that was safe to even attempt. As it turns out, I’m pretty good at it. It’s a fun place to be, to be like, “Wow, I failed. That’s great. I learned something new.”
That takes constantly doing your own work and letting go of this idea of how you would like to be perceived and how you would like to be remembered. We have no control over that, ultimately. Sometimes we think we’re building this image and then 48 years down the road, that is not what the other person who remembers.
B: Especially for us not-very-body-aware people.
A: Exactly. So you might as well just kiss that goodbye anyway. It’s not going to turn out the way you think it’s going to anyway, so you might as well just let it go, you know?
B: Yeah, and that is performative. That is just trying to put on a face that you think you should be and it’s much better to just try and be authentic in those qualities. And the things you actually want to be and work on them.
A: If I could put a plug in, Brene Brown’s work on family and shame is a great place to start there.
B: Yeah, because we, I think that’s why we struggle with being the adultier adult now, is because we did not ever think of it as a continuum where you’re always growing.
A: We didn’t ever see anybody express their insecurity.
B: We didn’t see anyone in the process of growth. You just assumed that either someone was born that way. Maybe they just came out the adultier adult, which I have a child who might actually have. Yeah, but, like, you just think you wake up one day, and you get a letter.
A: “Oh, hi, you’re an adult now and you know stuff and you can go to bed and not worry about it, because you’ve arrived.”
A: The only place you’ve ever arrived in is a coffin. That’s true. [post edit from Ash: Clearly, I needed a little muffin or something at this point. Hello darkness, my old friend…]
B: Yeah. It’s a continuum. So there are things that we can all learn from each other. We have to admit that we’re all in growth spaces, which is how we can cope with being wrong and being called out and showing up in a space you’re not supposed to be in, in a way you’re not supposed to, without getting defensive. Because we’re all problematic and we’re all growing and we’re all learning, and we have to own up to that or our problems are going to continue. Whedon and Baum style.
A: And then you start throwing other people under the bus because your ego can’t take the hit. Somebody calls you out, your ego can’t take the hit and you shove somebody else in front of the train. It was their fault. It’s not my fault, their fault. Or you shove your child—I’ve definitely experienced the urge to do that before, to gaslight your own children. That’s a terrible thing to do, to make them feel crazy because they disagree with you because you did actually make a mistake.
B: There are so many pitfalls that come with being inauthentic. I’m coming at this as the authenticity lover for sure, and like seeing that side of it and you’re coming at it from the explorer side and being like, no, we have to be able to get our fingers into things and try things. And your kids are coming at that from the same types of places. So understanding that can help you kind of get a lens on the struggle that they’re having, and can at least help you have some words to start the conversation.
Are you maybe feeling this way because of this? This is how I would feel. Does that ping with you at all? Does that make sense? Or are you feeling differently? And being open to listening to their perspectives—they totally have them.
We shouldn’t rob them of perspective just because they’re little.
[a great resource for practicing this is How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk, heavy emphasis on the listening. There’s a teen version, too. For more useful resources, check out our Parenting Resource section]
(There’s a good chance that we butchered some of that.)
A: Absolutely. Because we’re still learning. We’re still learning how to hone our perspective in and slice that up in a way that’s actually clean. We’re just kind of learning how to wield this. It’s true. Everybody’s work in progress.
B: So we’d love to hear from you on all of it. Of course. Absolutely, and we will be back next time with more things.
A: We will have more witches for you…[sly] witches n’ bitches. [laughs]