Why I Took My Tween Son to See RBG (And You Should Take Yours)

Last night my nine year old son and I went to see RBG, the documentary about the life and career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Hot damn, was it fantastic — we both loved it.  As a mom, I loved looking over at my son during the film, his face lit by the screen in the dark theater, and see how completely engaged he was in this doc about the life and times of the second woman to sit on the Supreme Court.

rbg-movie-poster

I didn’t quite know what to expect, but knew when I saw the trailer being pushed on Mother’s Day that I wanted to go see it and I wanted to go see it with my boy.  Was it about women’s rights?  One woman’s impact on the Supreme Court?  A love story?   Yes, to all of those.

Primarily, I wanted to have my son understand that many of the rights women take for granted now did not exist in the days when his mama was a youngster.  I wanted him to understand that history is closer than one might expect and often influenced in immeasurable ways by one courageous individual.

As the film opened with shots of Washington, D.C. monuments and iconic buildings, my boy took my arm and started hopping in his seat.  Last month we were there together seeing those same sights while on the Hill to advocate for better resources for childhood cancer.  You can read a Chicago Tribune account of that trip here.  The shots of RBG on the steps of the Supreme Court had a relevance for him they might not have had before the trip.  I could see his excitement and the connections he was making in real time.  It was a proud mama moment for me.

My boy ascending the steps of the Supreme Court, April 2018.
My boy ascending the steps of the Supreme Court, April 2018.

The film is cut exquisitely, making it interesting for adults, while accessible for kids, too.  There are interviews with Ginsburg’s childhood friends, her two grown children, former colleagues, the president who appointed her to SCOTUS, and young activists who were inspired enough by her to coin the now popular moniker and aptly named tumblr site, The Notorious RBG.  There’s a soundtrack that is vibrant and bold and engaging and uplifting.  It’s all just so damn good.

Being a white woman raising two young white sons, the weight of helping them evolve into good citizens who are aware of their privilege in American culture rests heavy with me.  I take the task very seriously, even more so because of our current political climate.  RBG is just another tool I now have, as their mother, to help them understand their role, their place, their responsibilities, and relevant history.

Ginsburg’s story is an inspiring one, with universal themes.  After seeing it, there are a few that stand out that will promote great discussion with my boy, and yours, too.  In no particular order:

  • The film provides a window into the love story between Ruth and her husband, Marty.  The couple met in college, on the heels of the death of Ruth’s mother.  “He was the first boy I ever knew who cared that I had a brain,” says Ruth in the movie.  My boys are being raised in a home where both Mom and Dad cook, clean, and provide child care.  For them, this is typical, but there was a time, detailed in the movie, when this was revolutionary.  It’s important to let our sons know that equality does not stop at the front door of our homes.
  • Audio clips and old photo stills are used to explain a time when the justices of the Supreme Court simply did not comprehend the reality of gender discrimination, including Justice Thurgood Marshall, who helped the Courts see the inherent wrongs of racial discrimination.  I learned that Ruth patterned her strategy of using the courts to address gender discrimination by following the playbook Marshall had used almost two and three decades earlier to overturn systemic racial discrimination in American institutions.  These are important connections for a kid to make!
  • We learn that it was President Carter, in the 1970s, who determined that the vast majority of federal judges looked a lot like him — white and male.  He pledged to appoint more women and more African Americans to the bench.  Ruth was one of those appointees.  This is a great example of a white man using corrective action to achieve equity.  Ruth was no less deserving than those white men sitting on the bench (and probably a hell of a lot more deserving than some), but it took a President to address the bias that existed that prevented women and African Americans from being represented.

Honestly, I could go on and on with themes and discussion points that make this movie so relevant for little boys to see, but school pick-up time is right around the corner, and I gots to go.  That kid isn’t going to get himself home, know what I mean?  My point is, don’t let the idea that a documentary about a Supreme Court Justice would hold no interest for your son.  This is a sharp, engaging, relevant movie for our young sons (and daughters) to see.  Take them.  Talk about what you see.  Cheer RBG on and enjoy showing your boy that some women are made of steel and lace.

__________

If you like what I wrote above, read my previous post, “Ten Things I Am Doing to Raise Feminist Sons.”

Why I Took My Eight Year Old Son to See ‘Hidden Figures’

He didn’t want to go.  He lobbied hard for a second viewing of Fantastic Beasts or Rogue One.  But, no, I was resolute, we would be seeing Hidden Figures.  Together.  Without complaint.  I can be a stern mom when I need to be.  In the end, as I had hoped for, he liked it quite a bit, was engaged with the story lines about math and space travel and pre-Civil Rights America, and had the opportunity to empathize with the realities of racism in a way he hadn’t before.  It was a good decision.

Hidden Figures is the story of three African American women who worked for NASA during the early 1960s space race with Russia. Three women are featured — Katherine Johnson, a mathematician, Mary Jackson, a mathematician and aspiring engineer, and Dorothy Vaughn, a programmer. They are all badasses of the highest order.

We went to a 10:00 a.m. showing and the theater was packed, mostly with older adults.  I didn’t see a single other child there, which is a shame, as I think the movie is a fantastic way to introduce children (young tweens and up would appreciate this film) to the difficult and challenging aspects of America’s history with racism and sexism and discrimination.

hidden-figures

As a parent, I know I will have been successful if I raise empathic children. In our current divided country, something that has contributed to our division is our lack of empathy.  We generalize, we demean, we devalue that which is different from us.  Our children see that and suffer as a result.

In our home, we talk about things like racism and sexism on a regular basis. As we were driving to the theater, I explained to my eight year old son why I thought it was important for him to see this movie.  I talked about racism and discrimination, but he was not having it.  From his POV, he was being dragged into an ‘educational moment’ at the tail end of his winter break.  Vacations were not for learning, he tried to convince me, they were for fun.  Plus, he argued, he already knew all about racism.

Pffft.  Ain’t that something?  An eight year old white boy who knows all about racism.  Precocious as he may be, my son still has a lot to learn about race and gender and class in America.  Hell, as his mom, I still have a lot to learn, too.  My hope was that Hidden Figures, through storytelling, would provide an exercise in empathy for my son, allowing him to see how discrimination played out in our not so distant past.  It delivered.

An example that really seemed to hit home for my boy was with Taraji P. Henson’s character, Katherine Johnson.  After being assigned as a “computer” for the team charged to formulate the math necessary for a safe launch and landing for the first astronauts, Katherine learned in her first moments on the job that there was no restroom for her to use, as they were still segregated in 1961 Virginia.  Any time she needed to go, she really needed to go — across the sprawling campus to the single restroom dedicated to women of color.  We saw Katherine run with armfuls of binders, in rain and shine, computing all the way, just to be able to pee. That is something an eight year old can relate to.

I’m simplifying it, of course, but I don’t want to underestimate the power of seeing a young child realize for the first time some of the mechanics of racism and discrimination.  In 1961, while he was almost 50 years away from being born himself, all of my son’s grandparents and even a beloved aunt were around.  The concepts of racism and sexism and discrimination suddenly didn’t seem so far away for him anymore.

After the movie, we talked easily and freely about the experiences of the three main characters.  We talked about justice and right and wrong and the connection between history and current events.  We talked about black and white and men and women and hard work and hope.  Never underestimate what children are capable of.

Something my husband and I work for is to raise white boys who will grow into white men capable of both understanding their privilege and helping change a culture and system that benefits people on the basis of their gender and color and class.  Hidden Figures is a must see for families with (not too) young children.  The storytelling pulls you in, educates and entertains, all while providing opportunities to learn and empathize.

Take your kids now.  They need it.

Lego Movie Review: Fun for the Kids, Smart for the Parents

Everything is AWESOME!!

I won some mom points this weekend and took Mary Tyler Son and our neighbor to the Lego Movie.  As other movie reviews suggested, it really was awesome.  The five and six year olds like it and so did all the moms and dads in the audience.  Best, was that I think all those folks liked it for different reasons, which is the sign of a great family movie.

Everything is cool when we’re part of a team!!  

I noticed that this appeared to be kind of an “event” film, too.  Large groups of friends and family were there together, parents were snapping photos of their kids in front of the ending credits, and unlike lots of movies, folks seemed to hang out and chat when it was over, much to the dismay of the ushers wanting to clean up the remnants of soda and popcorn.

Trying to convince Mary Tyler Son to be Emmet for Halloween so I can be Wild Style, Mary Tyler Dad can be Lord Business, and Mary Tyler Baby can be Bat Man.  Pffffft.  He'll never go for it.  But it would be AWESOME!
Trying to convince Mary Tyler Son to be Emmet for Halloween so I can be Wild Style, Mary Tyler Dad can be Lord Business, and Mary Tyler Baby can be Bat Man. Pffffft. He’ll never go for it. But it would be AWESOME!

Everything is better when we stick together . . .

When I asked my resident crack market research team (MTS and neighbor) what they liked best, it was the expected blaster shots and overall high energy of the film.  They loved the effects and the action.  When I took a look at some other parent reviews, there was lots mentioned about the clever humor that might skate past the kiddos, but their parents got the laughs.

We’re the same, I’m like you, you’re like me — we’re all working in harmony.

What I haven’t heard mention of is the fantabulous subversive message behind the Lego Movie.  All wrapped in a pretty package of brightly colored bricks and friends working together to accomplish a shared goal is the very clear message that BIG BUSINESS is dangerous and scary and wants us to be little more than cogs in its economic wheels.  In the film, the mini figs are little more than puppets that buy as they are told, eat as they are told, work as they are told, listen to what they are told, and watch what they are told — all provided courtesy of Octan, chaired by President Business.

Everything is awesome when we’re living our dream.

The movie’s theme — an instant ear worm — is infectious and happy, but the message behind the song is hilarious, too.  Sure, everything is awesome, from twigs to Nobel prizes to a piece of string to clogs (clogs really are awesome, by the way), but Lord Business a/k/a President Business also wants his little mini figs to just be happy, no matter what.  Lose your job?  No worries — that’s more time to work in the community!  Step in a great big pile of mud?  No worries — you always wanted brown shoes!

Everything you see or think or say is awesome!

Happy mini figs are mini figs that don’t question or doubt or revolt or have needs.  If you worship at the corporate conglomerate alter and your name is Lord Business, that really is awesome.

See?  Big Business really is scary.
See? Big Business really is scary.

Pfffft.  I don’t want to spread too much Marxist-Socialist-Fandango-Voodoo here, because truth is, I loved the movie.  Partly for it’s distrust of corporate homogenity, yes, but also for it’s sheer joy and message to kids, which was way more obvious than the big business is scary subtext.

Use your imagination, kiddos, have fun, break out of your molds, know that there are lots of different worlds out there and its great to explore and mix it up in all of them.  You are “the Special,” but so is your neighbor and your mom or dad and your little sister, too, and not necessarily all at the same time.  Believe! in yourself, just like the little cat in the poster tells you to — you will not be disappointed.

Oh!  And I am totally making tacos this Tuesday night.  Ha!