Diabolical Lies

Response to a misogynistic footballer commencement speech.

Last week, a dude whose lifetime achievement is kicking shit deigned himself qualified to pronounce what the lifetime achievements of a little over half the human population should be.¹  

And that (projecting much?) college is of little relevance to fulfilling their / our divine or innate life missions.

Interestingly, this is not dissimilar to what I grew up hearing. 

Fortunately, I’ve always been something of a subversive black sheep. The idea of “accepting your lane and staying in it” never took. Thank goodness.

When I was little I was told, “If you want to go to college, you’d better start saving.” It wasn’t a priority handed to me, just an ideal I held for myself. If that’s something you’d like to do, go for it, I guess. Or don’t.

So at nine years old, I took the bus downtown and marched into the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce to open my first savings account, dutifully depositing my paper route money week by week. And then my babysitting money once I turned eleven. And at 14, finally “real” income with tax withholdings and everything, from my greasy employment at Burger King, where they overlooked my naivety in applying for a “waitressing job”. (I’d never eaten at any restaurant in my life; what did I know of food service job titles?) Little by little, I saved what I could to reach my dream of going to university and changing my life.

Girls were supposed to get married, have babies, and cook and garden and sew. I never learned to cook, I have a thoroughly black thumb, and my sewing skill is largely limited to mending. College was an optional diversion or a place to meet potential husbands, but since you never knew when the world might end with the Second Coming of Christ, it really didn’t make sense to put a lot of stock in education.

But I wanted more than the poverty of my high school dropout dad or the miserable martyrdom of my dropout mom. If you told me to go left, I’d always go right.

Sometimes being a black sheep saves you.

So even when my refusal to follow the way set out for me left me a homeless teen, I dragged my school books with me from place to place and begged rides to school from schoolmates in the vicinity of the places I slept as I fought to complete my high school experience. I’m stubborn as hell and I was not going to let go of my plan.

The acceptance letters and scholarship offers landed at my parents house, and my little brother smuggled them to me at school, finding me at my locker between classes and silently passing me the envelopes, a sad look in his eyes that cut to my heart.

A “diabolical lie” that college might be important. That a degree that could support me could be of value. Huh. So who was lying to me? No one pressed me to go.

There didn’t seem to be a shortage of guys interested in impregnating me. I suppose my life could have “started” much earlier. Who knew I was wasting my efforts trying to get away?

It’s funny, though: I always felt excruciatingly alive. If my life hadn’t even started, why did I sometimes imagine ending it?

But I didn’t act on those melancholy thoughts. I didn’t give up. I didn’t accept the inundation of messages that my value would be implanted by some dude between my legs, or that good girls waited passively for guys to take care of them.

And neither should you.

This isn’t an anti-man rant, mind you. Nor anti-child or even anti-nuclear family. It’s simply anti-prescription. Our foremothers (collectively; not mine, personally) fought for women’s liberation. And freedom, it seems to me, is about choice. The freedom to choose a traditional or a radical life. To marry or partner with someone or not. To birth one or more children or to remain childfree. To share your gifts with the wider world or focus them closer to home. All of these choices are valid. None are superior. Because individuals are different, so too should our goals and lifestyles be.

My son is one of the greatest joys of my life, but my life did not begin when I gave birth; only his did. My life will not end when he graduates and moves out (though I’m sure my heart will break). My childless friends and my single friends are no less alive than me, nor their contributions to the world of lesser value.

The only diabolical lie is that there are limitations.

And if there’s one lesson I, the author of Gaslighting, have to leave with you, it is this:

We don’t listen to liars.

  1. If you somehow managed to miss it, you can read the entirety of Harrison Butker’s speech to a 2024 graduating class here: https://www.today.com/news/harrison-butker-speech-transcript-full-rcna153074

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