What Kerouac’s mom taught me about feminism.

I’ve been working my way through Jack Kerouac’s brilliant On the Road. I adore it. I could read it forever, and with every new sentence, I want to write something, anything. I’m inspired. Mixed in between the random dialogue and cross-country road trips are moments of pure genius. They seem even more amazing because they are so effortless and raw, as if Kerouac didn’t even know he was doing it, but they came about naturally.

One sentence that I find myself coming back to repeatedly is this:

My mother once said the world would never know peace until men fell at their women’s feet and asked for forgiveness.

I’ve been thinking about this since I read it four days ago. I’m not quite sure why. Something about it grabs hold of me and asks me to listen. There is power in it. Conviction. Honesty.

Men and women. Women and men. So much conflict between two beings that were created to be partners, lovers, and friends. Women kind of screwed it up from the beginning, considering we ate the apple first and all that. Men, well, you were punished for letting us eat it, and I’m sure you’ve never really forgiven us. Then you were put in charge of us. And we sort of resented you for it.

Satan’s ultimate victory was in pitting men and women against each other. We still feel that tension, even in our modern, progressive, forward-thinking, open-minded, everyone is equal society. We just can’t let that fight go. We allow patriarchy and feminism to battle against each other, and no one ever wins.

I have a love-hate relationship with feminism. Love because, well, I’m a woman after all and I like having rights. Hate because it tends towards extremes and divisions, which make me uncomfortable. Feminism in it’s truest sense is about choice; about women being able to choose their lifestyle, career, and future for themselves. But that’s the feminism we read in gender studies historiographies; the ideal. In our society, feminism has become the banner under which we lay our protestations and grievances at the feet of patriarchy, demanding they be heard, recognized, and solved. Feminism can turn into everything men have done wrong, even if they didn’t do it on purpose. Feminism can become showing female superiority.

One of my favorite lines from the play The History Boys is given by the female history teacher and goes:

Can you, for a moment, imagine how depressing it is to teach five centuries of masculine ineptitude? History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket.

Women were relegated to standing behind men, to watching without being able to do anything.(There are of course key exceptions.) Century after century, men started wars. Men massacred whole races of people. Men created the nuclear bomb. Men were educated while women were not. Men were able to dabble in various arts and sciences while the women stayed at home. Men saw women as a bearer of children, the keeper of the home, a way to gain money through marriage. Men used women for sex and pleasure, even if the woman said no. Men voted on behalf of women, dictated to women, condescended to them.

So when Kerouac’s mother says men everywhere owe their women an apology, I get it. Women have had a pretty hard time of it. We want that apology. We want men to get on their knees and finally ask us for something, maybe even beg. We want that recognition from men that men messed up.

But ladies, we need to be willing to accept the apology. We need to be willing, finally, to forgive. We need to be able to go down on our knees with our men, take his face between our hands, and say. “I forgive you. I finally forgive you.” And we need to mean it. We need to be able to let it all go. We need to stop punishing the men in our lives, in our time, for the sins of their fathers. We need to stop holding a grudge and take his hand in ours, walking into a new future. We need to choose that other path. Because as much as we hated being pushed behind men, it isn’t fair to shove men aside with disgust for things they haven’t done.

{Granted, some men will continue to treat women poorly. They will never open their eyes to the fact that God didn’t create women as something less, but merely different. They will remain in ignorance, because they choose to. We will always fight against that.}

Feminism should not be at the expense of men. It should not be to spite men, or even in spite of them. Nor should it be about creating lines of distinction between men and women Feminism, if it is truly about choice, should be about choosing to put the past behind us and move on. It should be about uniting for a future of equality and peace between the sexes.

Because that’s what men and women are: equals. God didn’t make one better or worse. God saw that man was lonely and created Him the perfect partner. But He did create us both differently, for distinct and unique purposes.Purposes that blend together into one life. We aren’t meant to be separate, at odds, fighting each other for an elusive something. We were created to work together.

Maybe once we finally realize that, then we can have peace and Mrs. Kerouac can rest in her grave. Maybe once we forgive each other, we can live our lives with passion and conviction, for the glory of God.

Thank you for reading! Feel free to let me know what you think. And maybe follow me on Twitter?

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