He Sits at the Booth in Hooters

I founded Girls on the Run to provide girls with the tools to intentionally seek people, activities and circumstances that celebrate who they are rather than how they look.My son Hank was only 11 months-old when I piloted Girls on the Run.  I’m constantly amazed by his incredible sense of empathy for girls and women. I knew he would “get it” eventually, but the fact that he “gets it” now, at the age of 15, has me quite amazed. I’ve thought a lot lately about how Girls on the Run plays out in my son’s life. He is a fabulous 15 year-old `who has grown up in the culture that Girls on the Run is creating, where all spirits thrive and no one is judged on pre-conceived or stereotypical ideals. 

I recall, as I write to you now, when a couple of years ago, he called me into his room. Tears were rolling down his cheeks. “Read this,” he said.

The book is entitled, “Voices of Sudan” and on page 42, the chapter is entitled “Sudanese Women”.

I settled in next to Hank, put my arm around his shoulder, the book was positioned on his lap and I read the following. “With so many men being slaughtered Sudanese women are often left behind to protect and provide for the children. Caring for their families keeps women close to their villages, making them easy targets for the Janjaweed. Thousands of women have been raped and sexually abused. Once abducted, the women’s legs are broken to keep them from escaping, and their breasts are cut off to keep them from feeding their babies. In refugee camps the women are frequently attacked as they go to the river to collect water or to the bush to collect firewood. The social effects of this abuse cause even more pain. The children and their mothers have to bear the community’s sense of shame. Husbands abandon their wives after they have been raped, and women are branded as “unworthy of marriage.”

We sat in the stillness of our own thoughts, as we read together.

“Their babies…their babies die,” he said…this more of a statement rather than question.

“Yes, their babies die,” I said with despair. 

Hank’s willingness to be held by me is not as welcomed as it used to be. But right then, the two of us, sat there. My arm around his strong, muscular body, the book gently rested across both our laps and the silence that comes with feeling powerless…and somehow oddly I felt empowered with him there next to me…my young man-son.

I lost myself for a minute…and then I noticed my tears. Hank’s radio was on and an advertisement announcing job openings at the local Hooters restaurants was on.

I reached over and with my whole body fully embraced Hank. 

And on this day, in that moment, my son realized how important it was, to just…let me.

Yes, even Hank gets it. Manipulating men to pay money for overpriced wings at Hooters to get a glance at a woman in revealing attire is assuming these men have the intelligence of a dog and the awareness of a rock. Hooters and every other establishment, system, advertising strategy and institution that caters to this shallow and one-dimensional view of men is, in my mind, just the flip side of the objectification of women. 

I expect more from my son Hank (and the men in my life) because he IS more. So are the men who sit in the booths at Hooters. Maybe they just don’t see how they are being manipulated by a culture and an establishment that only wants their money.  Maybe they don’t see how their buy-in to the macho view of men is limiting not only their view of the world but their ability to feel…I mean really feel something real, honest and authentic.

I’m coming to realize that my role as an empowered woman, on a mission to shed myself of the filters that limit my view,  is to have a compassionate understanding of how those very same filters limit the potential of both genders…and that the best way I can help others liberate themselves from the constraints of their “gender view” is to push my expectations of them to higher ground…as I have done with Hank and most importantly of myself.  I must first remove the filter from my own eyes so that I no longer judge…either me on this side of it, or you on the other side.  The filters go both ways.

What filters have you used to justify behavior or define those of the opposite gender?  Have you every tried to see someone not first as a “man or woman” but as a person, spirit, soul?  What might happen if you first viewed someone from that perspective?