Reading Glennon Doyle’s latest book, Untamed, is a like attending a protest. A protest where we might chant, Rip ‘em up, rip ‘em up! Rip up the memos!
Not sure what the memos are? Read Doyle’s book to find out and more importantly, to begin freeing yourself from their crafty grip.
Memo, according to Dictionary.com, is short for memorandum which means “a short note designating something to be remembered, especially something to be done or acted upon in the future; reminder.”
“For a long while I contorted myself to live according to a set of old memos I’d been issued about how to become a successful woman and build a strong family, career, and faith. I thought those memos were universal Truth, so I abandoned myself to honor them without even unearthing and examining them. When I finally pulled them out of my subconscious and looked hard at them: I learned that these memos had never been Truth at all- just my particular culture’s arbitrary expectations”(74).
Yes, I’m on a Glennon Doyle high. My copy of Untamed is going in the mail when I’m finished because it’s refreshingly liberating and should be circulated.
The book is structured into digestible, revelatory sections. One tumbles into the next, as if moving from room to room throwing open the windows, welcoming in some much-needed fresh air.
Here are two sections in Untamed I found especially powerful; complex issues that come with a myriad of memos.
One section happens to be entitled memos. The particular expectation Doyle is referring to here is the one new mothers receive.
Doyle believes that one of the more recent mother memos is: “Never let anything difficult ever happen to your child”(154).
Doyle’s style is to illuminate the absurdities until her reader chuckles, while slam-dunking her valid and poignant points. It’s clever and it works.
According to Doyle, here’s some of the mother memo that’s been circulating for a while:
“If other kids don’t want to play with her, call those kids’ parents, find out why, and insist they fix it. In public, walk in front of your child and shield her from any unhappy faces that might make her sad, and any happy faces that might make her feel left out. When she gets into trouble at school, call the teacher and explain loudly that your child does not make mistakes. Insist that the teacher apologize for her mistake. Do not ever, ever let a drop of rain fall upon your child’s head. Raise this human without ever allowing her to feel a single uncomfortable human emotion. Give her a life without allowing life to happen to her. In short: Your life is over, and your new existence is about ensuring that her life never begins. Godspeed”(154).
Okay, I’m laughing, but I’m not.
Doyle, a mother of three, speaks first-hand about this parenting memo she had bought into but has since ripped up.
“Our memo has led us to steal from our children the one thing that will allow them to become strong people: struggle.
“Our terrible memo is also why we stay busy with the trivial while the world our children will inherit crumbles. We obsess over our children’s snacks while they rehearse their own deaths in active-shooter drills at school. We agonize over their college prep while the earth melts around them. I cannot imagine that there has ever been a more overparented and underprotected generation”(155).
Wow and yes.
My children are in their twenties and I think about the times I maybe rushed in to rescue too quickly and didn’t allow the space and time to honor the challenges as important in building resiliency muscles. Even with my children the ages they are now, I’m revamping my mother memo as we move forward and our relationship continues to develop.
Another section of Untamed that forced me to slow down, read it through twice, and nod in eventual understanding is the one titled racists.
Why am I making myself write about this section when there are so many others that would be easier to write about? This is the hardest section because I believed the memo that I’m a progressive white woman and therefore I am good. I believe in justice for all. Discrimination of any kind is unfair and makes me very angry.
Doyle called me out on this and my I’m not racist memo is crumpling beneath the truth.
Doyle explains, “I was adamant and righteous. But I’d forgotten that sick systems are made up of sick people. People like me. In order to get healthy, everybody has to stay in the room and turn themselves inside out”(206).
After thinking about this, I want to turn myself inside out. What am I really made of, I ask? Could I be inadvertently racist and part of the problem?
“We are not going to get the racism out of us until we start thinking about racism like we think about misogyny. Until we consider racism as not just a personal moral failing but as the air we’ve been breathing. How many images of black bodies being thrown to the ground have I ingested? How many photographs of jails filled with black bodies have I seen? How many racist jokes have I swallowed? We have been deluged by stories and images meant to convince us that black men are dangerous, black women are dispensable, and black bodies are worth less than white bodies. These messages are in the air and we’ve just been breathing. We must decide that admitting to being poisoned by racism is not a moral failing – but denying we have poison in us certainly is,”(217) says Doyle.
The way Doyle explains this has helped me understand this critical issue in a new way. I see that I can say I’m not a racist and there I am, not racist with all these others like me who say they’re not racist. We’re a big blob, doing no good at all. We’re denying something that exists, the racism in us, and we become a stumbling block to change. We are performing, not transforming.
“Detoxing from my eating disorder meant seeing the web of patriarchy that trained me to believe that I was not allowed to be hungry or take up space on the earth. And detoxing from racism is requiring me to open my eyes to the elaborate web of white supremacy that exists to convince me that I am better than people of color”(218).
She continues, “The fact that the programmed poison of racism was pumped into us may not be our fault, but getting it out is sure as hell our responsibility”(220).
“Every white person who shows up and tells the truth -because it’s her duty as a member of our human family – is going to have her racism called out…She will have to accept that one of the privileges she’s letting burn is her emotional comfort. She will need to remind herself that being called a racist is actually not the worst thing. The worst thing is privately hiding her racism to stay safe, liked, and comfortable while others suffer and die. There are worse things than being criticized- like being a coward”(219).
Since moving to Florida, I have participated in several protests, one of them about removing monuments with Confederate flags and emblems from our public plaza. Take ‘em down, we chanted, while spectators moved close to our faces shouting back. We were advised to keep our gaze forward, to not engage with anyone, just keep marching. I was scared. I was terribly uncomfortable.
After the protest and a lot of hard work on the parts of others, it looked like the monuments were not going to be removed from the public plaza. So another Take ’em down protest was organized. I didn’t go because it was so uncomfortable the first time. Although I still felt strongly the monuments should go, I didn’t want to subject myself to the tension and hostility again. Because ulitmately, I don’t have to.
I have white privilege. I can walk into the public plaza anytime without being reminded of the way my ancestors were treated. I can walk into public spaces without feeling intimidated by Confederate flags and symbolism. I don’t have to deal with the hostility of racism on a daily basis.
White privilege allows me to pick and choose. And that day I chose to be a coward. I have called myself out.
Doyle quotes Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
I will do better.
Glennon Doyle is no coward; she has stepped out of her comfort zone. She has moved from performing to transforming. I am inspired.
“I went from certain and defensive to curious, wide-eyed, and awed; from closed fists to open arms; from the shallow to the deep end. For me, living in faith means allowing to burn all that separates me from the Knowing so that one day I can say: I and the Mother are one”(76).
The Knowing. The deep-down knowing. Ripping up the memos so we can move closer.
In addition to other work, Doyle is founder and president of the non-profit organization “’Together Rising’ which has raised “over $20 million for women, families, and children in crisis.”
I’ll listen to a woman who is working at the spot where the rubber meets the road, with plans to continue.
Glennon Doyle wrote big selling books before this one, but I’m not going back to read those because she is not who she was then. I want to hear what she has to say now and what she says as she keeps blazing a trail.
“The goal is to surrender, constantly, who I just was in order to become who this next moment calls me to be. I will not hold on to a single existing idea, opinion, identity, story, or relationship that keeps me from emerging new…again and again and then again. Until the final death and rebirth. Right up until then”(77).
Join the protest. Step forward, because those doors holding us back, “they’re not even locked”(325).
Glennon Doyle is a ‘goddamn cheetah’ and a Nasty Woman Writer!
© Maria Dintino 2020