The moment I hear Barbara Walters say my name on national TV, I realize I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear her say my name on national TV. She prefaces it with novelist and explains that I’ve written an op-ed piece for the New York Times, and for a few perfect seconds, I actually feel like the accomplished women she’s describing to her colleagues on The View. It’s a remarkably giddy sensation.
And then thud—Joy Behar speaks: “She needs to mind her own business.”
The she in question is me, and the business is how we raise little boys. In a parenting blog for the Times, I’d put forth the idea that we shouldn’t teach little boys gender-based etiquette such as letting ladies go first. I said we should teach them to be kind to all people, to respect all people, to extend courtesy to all people. The issue had arisen in our house because my 4-year-old son had been told by his preschool teacher that a gentleman lets girls go first. I didn’t agree with the philosophy and instead thought that such behavior taught boys to treat girls differently and instilled in girls a sense of entitlement for the wrong things. So assuming it was my business, I wrote about it.
The crash from high to low I felt while watching The View pretty much sums up my entire experience with the fallout from the blog post: The Wall Street Journal includes it in its Best of the Web Today roundup (giddy). It chastises me for using my son’s name (thud). The Today show invites me to come on to talk about it (giddy). Hoda misses my point entirely (thud). Many of the some three hundred comments the essay ultimately garnered were mean and nasty and said awful things about the man my son would one day be.
Of course, this is what happens when you voice an opinion online, and I expected dissent.
What I didn’t expect was for the outcry to be over something I never actually said—for people to read that I want to raise my son to treat men and women equally and take that to mean I intend to raise a callous brute who will mistreat women. I didn’t expect people to willfully misunderstand my point in order to support their own agendas. And even if I had been clever enough to anticipate all that, I would never have expected the dissent to be expressed with such vitriol. That an article that calls for common courtesy for everyone incited so much discourtesy, especially from men insisting that women deserve a special kind of respect, is sublime, if not appalling, irony.