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Sunscreen Enables the Patriarchy

Recognizing Gender Imbalances

My brothers were rarely asked to wash the dishes, or cook dinner, or tend to the garden. I thought about this as I pulled up weeds in the flower bed next to Momma, my pink gloves covered in dirt. Whining, I asked her what the point was. Her answer was redundant; I’d heard variations of it my whole life. Hun, sometimes you have to do things you don’t wanna do. Or, It’s not about the flowers, it’s about the work. It wasn’t the work I minded, though. It was the bias of it. The fact that my brothers were down at my dad’s shop, washing cars. I eyed the unhealthy flowers that sagged despondently, as if reflecting my attitude about taming the wild plants around them.

Wondering why my brothers never dawned pink gloves, but rather complained about the grime under their fingernails, I pushed myself to my feet and looked up at the sky. Turning away from Momma, who was kneeling in the dirt and mumbling something about forgetting sunscreen, I admired that familiar, dazzling star that shone through scant fluffs of white.

The sun was bright. I mean, of course the sun was bright. The sun is always bright. Even when it’s concealed by the clouds, hidden from pedestrian eyes, it’s rays bring a certain extremity of light, a glare, that makes you squint.

That’s kind of what He was like. Everywhere He went, no matter the density of clouds in the sky, He was bright, always beaming. You needed sunglasses to look at that pearly white smile. His aura was dazzling, illuminating the earth around him. As it should. His life was a privilege. He had a certain quality about Him that always got Him what He wanted. That was how it worked, after all. He was like the sun, and that meant the world revolved around him. Throughout Autumn, Winter, and Spring, we all stand on our tiptoes, peering through the falling leaves, the snow, the rain, solely to catch glimpses of the sun. The saying tells us to stay near people who feel like sunshine, people like Him.

What people so often forget, though, is that too much exposure to the sun will result in a nasty burn. A burn that turns the skin a feverish red. If it’s agitated enough, it might even blister up. A couple days later? It peels. Then years from now, once you’ve completely forgotten about that bad case of sun poisoning, tiny brown freckles pop up. Each little dot serves as a constant reminder of the past. Of the burn.

We learn from our mistakes, sure. I almost always pack the sunscreen in the pool bag, and Momma usually sprays us down before heading to the beach. We all try to protect ourselves, but no matter how often faces glow red, or skin is shed, the lesson never seems to resonate. We keep getting burned; burned by the sun. Every now and then, we all get burned. Some more than others. They tell me, This will never change, so you should get used to it. Pop says, If ya don’t wanna get burned, stay in the shade, out of the sun’s way. Yet I can’t help but think that there must be a reason for this, something not as easily dismissed as what they tell us. That we’re burned due to our own human blunders.

But the sun was bright, and I stood, bathed in it. The soft, warm sun. Not because I had been fooled by His persuasive malevolent charisma. No, I was aware of the consequences; I’d been burned more than once. I knew that if I kept persisting, kept staring into the light, despite how often I was reprimanded, the sun’s true nature would be revealed. Not soft, but cruel, blistering, and unrelenting. Yet, I refused to wear sunscreen. I hadn’t forgotten it. I refused it.

I will not protect myself from the reality of the universe any longer. I won’t rearrange my life to fit into the boundaries set by the shadows. It’s time to ask the questions we block out with dark shades, and cool with Aloe Vera. The questions that chase each other around my head, bringing restlessness to my heart and churning to my stomach.

I question why the world revolves around Him. I implore God to explain why the world can’t revolve around Her. Around us. There was a time, after all, when people would have bet their paycheck that the Earth was the focal point of the universe.

The reason we keep getting burned is not because human beings are susceptible to making mistakes. That's an answer they give you to make you second guess yourself. To silence you before others hear. The real answer isn't nearly as philosophical. It’s not complicated. It's obvious, as glaringly obvious as the sun, if you choose to see it. Unfortunately the solution, while being just as clear, is slow coming.

Too much sun and the flowers will shrivel up and die before reaching their full potential. My Momma taught me that. But if the sun is soft enough, balanced with the rain, if the rays are fair and just, then the grass will grow greener and the trees taller and stronger, their roots healthy and thriving.

I roll up my sleeves, baring my freckles with pride, and stare spitefully into the sun. Momma would tell me, “You’ll go blind if you keep looking.” Joke’s on her. It’s the people who avert their eyes that can’t see. I return to my knees and bury my pink gloves into the earth, because my Momma shouldn’t do it alone. We were stronger together. The answer was not to neglect the weeds, but remove them. I don’t have a hundred solutions, or even five, but at least I’m finally looking. From now on, I would be mindful of my Momma’s flowers, which she nurtures as if they have a fighting chance. I believe they do have a chance. A chance to not only survive, but grow.

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