On Amusement and Misogyny

Over the winter break from school and preschool, we took the kids to an amusement park an hour and half away from our house. Our daughter loves to ride the rides. She’s fearless and wants to ride every roller coaster that she can. She’s not quite tall enough for the roller coasters that boast speeds of 60 or 70 miles per hour and turn you upside down. Their names evoke wild cats and/or natural disasters. As she impatiently waits to grow another inch and a half, I get queasy just thinking about them. She’s so close to being able to do something but not there yet, which frustrates her. There’s a lesson here that many adults I know haven’t quite mastered.

I’m her partner for roller coasters, side winders, flyers, raging rapids, and any other ride that catches her fancy. She screams in exhilaration as I wonder at what age these amusements no longer seem fun. For me, amusement parks offer up creative ways to die. While I hold onto bar across our laps tightly, I also trying to touch her hand to assure me she’s still there. As we are tossed side-to-side, I hope that it is actually not possible for us to be thrown out. When we confront gravity, she finds joy. I find terror. Mostly, I try to figure how I became an older, more easily frightened version of myself.

I used to love amusement parks too. Hardly any ride scared me. Defying gravity was perfect. Roller coasters were simply the best. I loved the feeling of hanging upside down. I couldn’t wait to be strapped into a cart on a rickety track.

As my kid and I joined the line for yet another roller coaster, we found ourselves behind four boys, who each looked to be 10 or 11. They were telling each other jokes followed by raucous and loud laughter. I attempted to ignore them while I asked my kid what she wanted to ride next. Her brother fell asleep, and Chris was holding him while she and I tried to ride as many rides as possible.

She listed the rides in order of her preference. The boys got louder and louder. They were telling each other “your mama” jokes.

“Your mama’s so fat…”
“Your mama’s so dumb…”
“Your mama’s so stupid…”
“Your mama…”
“Your mama…”
“Your mama…”

I never realized how gendered “your mama” jokes were until that instant. Not just gendered, but misogynistic and mean. As I a kid, I told my share of these jokes without ever wondering why there weren’t companion jokes about fathers. I didn’t really like “your mama” jokes then because they were cruel and my mom was none of the things those jokes tried to claim she was. As a mother myself, I still don’t like them now. For a minute, I considered interrupting the boys to ask how their mothers would feel about these jokes. The minute after that I resisted the urge to blurt out: “Who raised you?” A few more minutes passed by. Another mom caught my eye and tilted her head toward the boys. I sighed. She rolled her eyes.

“Those boys aren’t funny,” my kid tells me in a not-so-quiet voice.

“No, they aren’t.”

“I’m going to ignore them now.”

“I think we should.”

As the line inched forward, she and I did our best to ignore them. We told each other knock-knock jokes. We planned our next rides. We talked about what her brother might want to do when he woke up from his nap. We huddled close together and created our own space untainted by the mean jokes that seemed to linger in the air.

One of the boys loudly noted, “You wanna know why this ride is so slow? There are girls in charge of it.” He was wrong: there was a teenage girl and a teenage boy running the ride. This girl was older than him by at least six if not seven or eight years. What the hell, I thought. I glanced in his direction as the other boys nodded their heads in agreement. I looked back at my kid and shook my head vigorously. “That isn’t true at all,” I said angrily. “I know,” she replied with a furrowed brow.

Finally, the boys had their turn at the roller coaster, and then, it was ours. My kid raced to the front car of the roller coaster and I climbed in beside her. “Put your hands in the air,” she commanded, and so I did. There were dips, sharp turns, and gut-clenching drops. The ride was over before she was ready. We climbed out of the car windblown and grinning.

“What’s next?,” she practically yells.

“Whichever ride you want.”

She had already forgotten the boys, their jokes, and their casual misogyny. The excitement about what was left to do proved to be too much. I wished I forget so easily. For days after, I played their comments in my head trying to figure out if ignoring them was truly the best option. Part of me wished I had intervened and told the boys to stop telling these jokes, but I wondered what the outcome would have been. Frankly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with their parents. I could have been loud and explained that these jokes were inappropriate and mean in the hopes that these children would overhear, which seemed passive aggressive at best. What kind of lesson did I actually teach my daughter? I’m not sure.

What bothers me now weeks later is that I parroted the advice that I often receive about misogynist trolls online. Boys, after all, grow up to be men. Just ignore them and they’ll go away. Don’t engage. Don’t feed the trolls. Delete those messages from dudes who emailed to tell you how stupid, wrong, stupid, or inept you are. Never read the comments on the essays you write  because men in the comments section never say nice things about your essays or you as a person. Try to forget that commenter who threatened to kill you when you wrote about abortion. Try to forget the man who wrote you a letter explaining that your first book is all wrong and you should come by his house to discuss the errors. Block the men on Twitter that show up to say that you’re feminist that doesn’t know shit or you’re a misandrist or a bitch. Ignore, ignore, ignore. Block, delete, take a break. Misogyny remains.

I’m bothered by my inaction at this amusement park and on social media. I feel like a coward as I wonder if this new essay or the next will bring about hate mail, threats or doxxing. I still write, but I write with fear as background noise. I need to protect myself (and my kid) from the casual misogyny that pervades our world, but this also makes me angry. I worry about the repercussions of tweets, online writing, speaking, and having a presence on the internet. This is tiring.

More importantly, I’m frustrated that I often make the choice to ignore because it seems easier. And safer. Situations won’t escalate if we ignore them, right? Not really. There will still be “your mama” jokes, sexist comments, threats, and trolling. Ignoring only makes the situation temporarily better for me, but doesn’t address the commonness of misogyny for all women. It doesn’t make the world better for my daughter.

I’m still not sure what I’m going to do, but I need to do better than this.

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