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Feminism

In a sexist world, commenting on gender differences you notice is NOT HELPING

28 July, 2016

There’s something strange in the neighbourhood. It’s a resurgence in the belief that boys and girls are innately different. It has crept into modern parenting lore and it is driving me round the bend.

In the last few months I have had at least 8 different conversations with parents along the lines of “Ooh! You are so lucky to have little girls and not rambunctious boys!” – one of these conversations moments after we’d ducked away from a small tribe of girls covered from head to toe in mud intent on slinging it at everyone around them.

How has this happened? In 2016? With all the science and things?

I wonder if it hitched a ride on the tails of “natural parenting.” Perhaps the commitment to allowing children to bloom into whomever they are and the desire for mamas to be in touch with their own ancient feminine powers got all jumbled up together and out popped “Boys and girls are innately different!”

I’ve heard so many variants on it, many from parents with children of both genders. And it is tricky to have that conversation with a mama who swears she never believed in gender stereotypes until she saw proof in her own children.

When I do address it, it’s all rolled eyes and knowing chuckles. Like I’ve a bee in my bonnet and I am denying something blatantly obvious.

This is what I want to say to all the mamas out there who say this shit.

SOME FACTS:

(Taken from Pink Brain, Blue Brain, a huge book by Lise Eliot but worth the read if you are interested in this stuff. That link hooks you up with a summary.)

  • The actual differences in the brains of boys and girls are minor. MINOR.
  • We treat boys and girls differently the second they are born. YES- EVEN YOU DO THIS. In gender-disguising experiments we describe boys and girls cries differently, and we judge babies crawling abilities differently. (Unconsciously underestimating girls’ physical scope.) We all do. It’s just disturbing residue of a sexist world.
  • Gender stereotypes are intrinsically woven through our entire society. You have not bought up your differently gendered children exactly the same, despite your best efforts. They have picked up from strangers, teachers, books, movies, shops, everywhere, the fact that boys behave a certain way and girls another. Not only this, but there are certain rewards for sticking to that or disincentives for stepping out of it.
  • Throughout childhood the minor differences observed in play grow distinct distinct because of all the things they have picked up.
  • However, this is not always the case. So you still very much have boys and girls not performing according to these norms. (I think unschooled children can be a good example of this.)
  • In places where gendered roles and experiences are not highly valued the differences in adults are MINUTE. I often think of a bit in Ten Years of Slavery where it mentions as an aside how one of the most efficient group of loggers was a group of women. It stuck out for me because we go on and on about the physical differences between male and female, and there you have this female logging team being renowned for their strength and tenacity. (Kind of a sad example, but a good one as there are not too many examples of societies with records where gender hasn’t been a highly prescriptive thing.)In a misogynistic world, observations about children's gender differences are not helpful

So, if you have noticed gender differences in your children, PLEASE KEEP THEM TO YOURSELF. Here’s why:

  • Commenting on gender differences perpetuates gender differences. Every time you say “boys are boisterous and girls aren’t” boys learn to be more boisterous and girls learn it isn’t really a desirable trait. Your words actually add more strength to the little boxes that boys and girls are slowly pushed into.
  • Commenting on gender differences makes the boys and girls who don’t fit those stereotypes feel stink. It makes them feel abnormal and it asks them to squeeze into a shape they are not feeling.
  • Commenting on gender differences from your experience and treating it as fact is not a good way to live. Saying “I was against gender stereotypes until I had one of each and then WOW the differences I observed, you just can’t deny it boys and girls are SO different!!!” is like saying “I ate some custard and it gave me the runs so WOW don’t eat custard if you want solid stools!”
  • Commenting on gender differences sets up our children for exclusionary play. If you are so convinced that boys and girls are innately different then your children will pick up on that and will be far, far more likely to want gendered playdates and experiences and the exclusive, gender based discrimination women have to put up with their whole life is begun prematurely.
  • Some of the most traditional form of gender commentating is actually totally toxic – the “boys will be boys” line of thought could well be contributing to rape culture. More on that.
  • Commenting on gender differences without recognising the misogynistic, sexist, patriarchal society your children are raised within is akin to watching someone put red dye in your washing machine and then, when all your clothes come out red, saying that all fabric is innately red.

Sure, you are allowed to comment on your child being rough and tumble – just don’t bring gender into it. Create room for your child’s boisterousness but don’t, with your hapless words, deny him room for other parts of his personality to develop. Notice how different children are and say “Isn’t each child (as opposed to boys/ girls) so different and unique?!” Celebrate your child’s strength and sense of adventure but recognise it as part of who he is, not a gift of his gender. Do not limit the scope of another child’s play or experience by skewed observations you have made in your home.

Phew! There was my bee! It’s out of my bonnet now…

Feminism

International Women’s Day 2016 Blog Link Up

7 March, 2016

It is International Women’s Day today And this is the main page for the International Women’s Day Blog Link UP! Scroll down for to read the awesome collection of blogs.

My parents are over from England at the moment so we have fetched up at a beach for a few days, leaving my husband at home to get on with sorting stuff out. (Basics like, er, hot water…)

On the way up we stopped in at the library to pick up some reads and my eyes glanced the title “Women can’t park, men can’t pack” and my chest spluttered with a sort of ironic/mad laugh. Seconds earlier, just before popping into the library, I had spotted my rucksack in the boot, and sub consciously registered that my husband had repacked it. (There shouldn’t really be a “re” in there because what I had done was grab all our stuff and then shoved fistfuls of it into deep dark corners of the bag, and then realized it wasn’t going to fit in enough to do the zip up, so instead I had just pushed it up against the car window and piled other holiday flotsam around it to stop our clothes spilling out.) And there it was now, my ruck sack, all zipped up, our stuff all sorted.

He packs like a boss. And does dishes like a boss. And laundry too. He is a domestic goddess.

I, on the other hand, am the actual opposite of a domestic goddess… which, I guess, ah, makes me a domestic devil.

Or perhaps mortal. Perhaps we can go with domestic mortal.

(Although Domestic Tasmanian Devil is probably the thing that sums me up best… five minutes before people come, rampaging around the house throwing things behind sofas and into baskets and pushing toys under the bed and draping beautiful throws over The Piles. Followed around by two even wilder baby Tasmanian devils doing their own Special Thing.)

I may be a domestic Tasmanian devil but I park like a boss. I am renowned in our local town for it. The people on the street, when I’m lining up for a parallel park, often pause as they walk along, just to observe my skill. As I swiftly (but with matchless ease and care) maneuver into a seriously tight spot I hear their murmurs “She’s done it again! Cracking job.”

There are so many ways in which almost all the men and women I know blow gender stereotypes out of the water. But yet people keep on keeping on with their ideas about certain things coming naturally to women or innate in men.

Stereotypes like this are so, SO much to do with keeping women in their place and we need to dismantle them! Even if it involves taking a stupid stereotyping book up to the librarian who is already grumpy with you because you let the overdue fines rack up! (I’m totally doing them a favour right, letting books go overdue and paying them money? Hellooo)

They start when our children are tiny! Just yesterday in the swimming pool a mum of two boys said to my mum who was sitting with my two girls “I’ve told my boys that they have to watch out around your girls, I’ve told them girls aren’t boisterous like boys!!” I overheard my mum saying something back about Ramona and Juno being able to stick up for themselves which was great (and did also make me feel like she was egging them on a bit, verging on  I’ll put a tenner on Juno being able to knock your wee fella out)

If a whole society believes that one gender is brilliant at doing gentle things in the home and another gender is best  at doing all the boisterous “out and about” things then everything will continue to be set up to support that.

Workplaces will continue to not let men cut down their hours so they can share in childcare.
Governments will maintain forty year old parental leave policies.
Homes will continue to have a gendered division of labour.

What a load of crap.

We need to come up with a few succinct phrases we can spill when someone pops up with a stereotype like this.

“Oh ha, yeah ha ha (BEGIN WITH A BENIGN CHUCKLE ALWAYS) actually most scientific evidence suggests the differences between the male and female brains are negligible”

“Hehehehe the thing with stereotypes like that is that they perpetuate the patriarchy and therefore contribute to things like women getting paid less than men in 90% of sectors, rape and even human trafficking”

“Hahaa there’s absolutely no way on earth you have bought your child up gender neutrally and seen innate gender difference emerge! As soon as a child is born they are labeled one or the other and treated as such in every minute of everyday SO DON’T TELL ME IT CAN’T BE DENIED THAT BOYS JUST SIMPLY LOVE WHEELS WHEN MY LITTLE GIRL IS WHEELING A TRUCK AROUND OUR FEET AS WE SPEAK COS IT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE YOU ARE WANTING TO LIMIT MY DAUGHTER AND HER ACCESS TO THINGS AND SHE’S ONLY TWO!!!!”

I totally suck at those information filled yet snappy retorts.

So yeah, there I was in the library, feeling firey, ready to rage, but when I opened it, I saw it actually wasn’t a Venus vs Mars book, but a look at stereotypes and why we are so ready to believe and perpetuate them. Ah. Saved.

I’ll be ready to go the very next time though. Me (also known as Tasmanian Devil Parallel Park Rockstar in some circles) and my two fierce girls.

~

Iwd 2016 blog Link up

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY BLOG LINK UP
Today is International Women’s Day and over 30 awesome writers joined up as part of a blog link up. The theme for International Women’s Day 2016 was Pledge for Parity and there were contributions from so many areas. I began pulling these together by saying “this brilliant post” and “this fascinating” but I discovered quickly that I would soon get monotonous in my use of adjectives! So please just trust that each one of these contributions is BRILLIANT! Hehe.

I really enjoyed the posts that described influential women, either relatives or well known women. These are always an inspiration to read. There was this powerful story of a mother and daughter, Becky looked at Rosa Parks, Federica described her Grandmother’s life, as did Slummy Single Mummy, Ali garnered opinion on a few heroines, also, some of Baba Fi’s heroines are fictional but STILL INSPIRING okay!

There were quite a few contributions about empowering our children. This epic post from Sacraparental included 38 MUST HAVE phrases for a feminist household, also Rainy Day Mum and Emma and 3 discuss practical ways to raise both boys and girls in an empowered way, the way that IWD is experienced differently as a mama to a little girl compared to a little boy, and you’ll definitely appreciate the post Parity, Penises and Parenting!

There were some great ones on steretypes, Lorna, mum to three girls here, and Madeline on raising a boy that doesn’t fit society’s expectations, and the challenge of gender neutral clothing.

There were fascinating insights on some of the global issues facing womankind – maternal health and the way that poverty is sexist, the nuances of the gennder pay gap in NZ, a showcase of some awesome woman-empowering clothing.

I loved this scathing look at the visual expectations of women, which also reminded me of Lissa’s poem about needing to simply just be US.

We followed one woman through IWD as it happened, a look at how quickly the “Crazy Lady Card” is pulled out, and got some insight into the sexism throughout the STEM industry.

And some of my faves were on the topic of parity beginning at home- Owl and the Accordian, Seeds and Stitches, Mel Wiggins, and Jenny from the Block. Along these lines too was a really intriguing look at an exhibition of the lists we make!

THANK YOU so much to all those of you who joined in.

 

Feminism

Here’s why I think hairy armpits are beautiful

19 January, 2015

Hairy legs and hairy armpits are beautiful

I made a new friend recently, Del, a diminutive midwife. I have enjoyed quiet conversations over cups of tea (while my children decorate the bathroom walls with crayons), I’ve wondered at her unassuming, almost -but-not-quite-timidity and I’ve absorbed her mindful aura. Then, last week, she yawned and stretched and a shock of black hair gaped at me from her hairy armpits.

ZOMG! Unshaven underarms alert!

It was then that I realised that I LOVE HAIRY WOMEN!

Hairy Armpit Bride

I haven’t shaved regularly for about 15 years – I was even a hairy bride nine years ago.

But it has always been a political and cultural statement, begun very determinedly as a result of doing Women’s Studies at Uni and feeling like pulling out a razor was being beholden to an oppressive patriarchal society. I was gobsmacked that for years I had been so willing to do something every single day to my body purely to fit some image of what a women’s body should look like. For me there isn’t much else of this in my life- I sometimes wear make up, often don’t, sometimes wear nice clothes, mostly look like I’ve rolled through the local retro shop’s bargain bin. There is very little else that I think is so thoroughly embedded in our idea of womanhood as smooth, non- hairiness.

One of my lecturers told the story about how Gillette pretty much CREATED the concept of smooth legged women in order to have a female market for their products and I went home and boshed my razors in the bin, unwilling to have my body commodified.

I stopped shaving immediately and thenceforth, quavering only every so often on steaming hot summer days in London when I felt I didn’t have the internal reserves to sit on the tube having other commuters gawk at my wiry leg hairs.

Some days I didn’t want my body to be a statement.

I haven’t always had such an easy relationship with my body hair. In fact, when I was ten I shaved both my eyebrows off in an attempt to be more beautiful, and moved more properly onto my leg hair once they grew back.

Hairy armpits are beautiful

Hairy armpits are beautiful!

Now, however, I realise my statement has become a part of who I am and what I love about my body- and, turns out, other people’s bodies!

I LOVE MY BODY HAIR. Hairy pits and hairy legs ARE a shrugging off of a sad, unnecessary expectation of women’s bodies but they are also SEXY.

Yup.

When I saw tiny Del’s ferocious pelts as she stretched I was struck by how much this made me feel like she was deeply in touch with her womanhood, that she was brave and even wild.

It is kind of superficial, and possibly could be almost an objectification, but I felt like her body hair signified a certain boldness and a brazen self-acceptance.

I’ve been ruminating about this all quite openly with my husband over the last few days. He made a confession.

When he was a teenager he had a young female maths teacher who didn’t shave. Every time she reached up to make a mark with her chalk all the students used to grimace, repelled by her hairiness, a symbol of her unwomanliness.

How sad is that? She would totally be my friend, these days.

Now Tim tells me that he feels the opposite, that all of my body, including my hair, is alluring.

He married me hairy, and loved me hairy, partly because I was prepared to stand out from the shiny skinned crowd. But now he has come to appreciate body hair, and the way it oozes sensual pheromones, in itself. Hairy armpits are beautiful

Hairy armpits are natural – just not that normal

Don’t stop shaving because I tell you to. That would possibly put me on a par with the teenage boys who talk disgustedly about their female classmates as “having a bush” if they don’t shave. I’m not interested in being another voice telling women what to do with their own bodies. Do what you want with your body, it is yours, in all its awe-inspiring glory.

But do consider that we somewhat perpetuate the normality of bare vulvas, underarms, and legs by shaving them ourselves. We can make what is natural (hairiness) normal, by doing it. (I enjoyed this recent post by a mother and why she has quit her razor due to what she thinks it does to her daughter’s perception of body image.)

But then take that slightly “feminist social obligation” idea a liberating step further and consider the fact that hairiness can come to be loved, both by you, and your partner.

There is a radical self-acceptance in casting aside your razor.

And I reckon there is nothing more wondrous or beautiful than a woman who revels in every natural inch of her body.

I am fortunate to be surrounded right now by glowing women who haven’t touched a razor in years, and being embraced by this crowd seems to almost have retrained my mind about smoothness being normal. I don’t feel shy about my body hair, or like I am making a statement, when in a more mainstream place. I stand tall, basking in the liberated contentment I feel within my body temple. I am miles, MILES, apart from my eating disordered, self conscious teenage self.

Body Hair
I did laugh my socks off at this cartoon but it doesn’t QUITE back up my point that hairy women are sexy!!!

Spread the word, folks. Body hair is making a comeback and it is beautiful.

Feminism, Parenting

Such a typical boy!

20 June, 2014

I have the child that people use to make a point about how boys and girls are just *so* different, even as babies. “I hate to stereotype but my child is SUCH a typical boy! Completely different to my daughters!”

ME TOO! Look:

My child is unstoppable, a thundering, prowling, into- everything child.

My child is a clambering climber, and has always attempted to mount every piece of furniture in a room, even before crawling.

My child is so, so brave- falling down without a peep and getting straight back up to tackle the challenge again. Two bruises gracing the forehead just now.

My child loves to throw. Balls, ornaments, shoes, knickers, everything must be tested against gravity. Often thrown with force at my head.

My child is immensely strong- an item grabbed will never, ever be recovered from those intense, grasping fists.

My child is physically aggressive. I was given a small black eye when my kid was only 9 months old. My elder daughter cowers before her fisticuffs loving young sibling.

My child loves anything with wheels- zooming toy cars and trains about as if on some kind of advert for toy cars and trains.

My child is passionate about construction- building up towers and knocking them down (and throwing the blocks at people’s heads.)

My child even hides for a poo, and you KNOW boys always hide when they’ve got to do their business.

But you know what? My child is a girl.

Juno is so, so different to her older sister, Ramona. She exhibits so many of the behaviours and character traits associated with boys. Instead of proving the rule, she disproves it.

You know what? Children are different! They show different personalities not because of their gender but because they are different people!

It’s a funny thing, but people communicate with Juno in a much more masculinised way. Ramona was always Sweetie or Honey where as Juno is nearly always called Buddy, Lil Fella, even Brute by one particularly nice stranger. It’s almost as if people can’t reconcile this quite physical disposition with a little girl.

How about, instead of ring fencing certain behaviours go specific genders, we give freedom and space for our children to become whomever they are? Where instead of a subtle rejection of our son’s love of dolls, we welcome it as entirely natural. Where instead of being shocked at our daughter’s physicality, we give her ways to express it fully. Where we let research debunk gender myths, rather than allow anecdotes to perpetuate them .

We will eventually create a world where all character traits belong to all children, where they can follow their passions with gusto, and where not one child feels oppressed by someone else’s inaccurate expectations.

Bring that on.

20140618-115543-42943795.jpg

Have you ever addressed “typical boy/ girl” remarks? How has that gone? Any tips?

PS- This book, How Gender Myths are hurting our relationships, our children and our jobs, looks FASCINATING! And I really enjoyed this blog post from a mother of farting, naked girls!

Feminism

DIY Peg Wonderwoman (because children need more female superheros)

16 June, 2014

I was putting together some materials into a jar for a little friend’s fifth birthday- it was to be a DIY Peg Doll. “Perhaps I’ll make it a DIY Peg Fairy Doll, or a DIY Peg Ballerina” I contemplated… followed immediately by “WHAT KIND OF FEMINIST AM I?!”

She shall be a SUPERHERO, my better self decreed. Because, yes, those pointy pins do naturally evoke pirouetting ballerinas and flying fairies, but they are also, clearly, the strong, mighty legs of a Wonderwoman – and I bet most five year old girls have quite enough fairies and princesses in their lives.DIY Superhero Peg Doll

I put in some fabrics and buttons and bottle tops and also a glow stick to snap (her magical sword, obviously.) I also drew up an Instruction sheet and folded that in and presented it in a nice little jar.DIY Superhero Peg Doll

Do I genuinely believe fairies and ballerinas and princesses are against equal rights for women? No. I like ’em. Ramona spends most of each day as the “Pirate Princess” and I happily don a crown alongside her. I *do* think boys and girls will benefit however from a wider range of female characters in their lives. I *do* think that many toys are very limiting and offer only stereotyped versions of a female.

I welcome Legos decision to creative a female scientist. And I was happy to transform my peg into Wonderwoman, because if we want our girls to set their sights on being the head of CERN or Rescuing the World wearing Pants and a Cape these figures need to EXIST to them when they are small. They need to be able to touch and feel and play with them.

Behold! Peggy the Wonderwoman is here to save the day!

(She will begin by taking on that sexist Murdoch alongside the No More Page 3 campaign. Hehehe.)

Feminism

Of course that glue stick isn’t just for girls! Oh, wait. Sorry, it seems it is….

4 April, 2014

There is a creative fella out there who has designed some wonderful posters using sentences that he has found himself saying to his children.

I love them. My favourite is “Stop riding that penguin, we’re leaving!”

At least once a day I finish a sentence and find my eyebrows furrowing in wonderment at what I just uttered.

“Oh! You did a poo in daddy’s shoe?!”

“You are really worried that the evil witch that lives in the drawer might lick you, huh?”

And lately, far, far too many sentences along these lines “Ah, see, I am not sure that that fork/ clothes peg / dog IS just for girls/ boys. I like to think ANYONE could use it?!”

If I wasn’t bothered by it it would be funny. Ramona is forming strict ideas about what is for boys and what is for girls along quite arbitrary lines and without being wholly sure about different genders to begin with. Ramona was wearing her daddy’s hiking boots and when Juno tried to grab the laces Ramona announced that she mustn’t because “You are a boy! And these boots are for girls!” (Juno isn’t and they aren’t.)

These conversations are okay, of course. Ramona is simply processing the idea of gender its meaning and the language we use around it all. I don’t have (many) worries about her forever believing that forks are only ever to be used by womankind.

However, I can’t say I don’t care. My response to her when she says these things doesn’t reflect my normal response when she says something that isn’t factually correct – normally I just repeat what she has said back to her “Ah, you think x x x x?” because I think constantly correcting children must be a pain in the ass for them. But I can’t help myself when it comes to this boy/ girl stuff… I tend to say something like “Ah, you feel these are just for boys, eh? I wonder if it could be for everyone?”

And when she came to me with a Marvel comic and told me it was just for boys I had a CONNIPTION. She loves Spiderman and it pained me that somehow she had decided it wasn’t for her. I went through the comic and showed her every female superhero in there. (There were none. I had to pick them out as arbitrarily as Ramona decides who is a boy or girl.)Gender ISSUESIs it a boy or a girl? *sigh*

I shouldn’t worry. I am fairly certain that Ramona is going to grow up eventually knowing that colours belong to all people and that no one product/ idea/ career belongs to one gender.

I don’t really know many adults that hold fast to the idea that pink is just for girls and that if you like pink you must be a bit girly.

But there must be some.

Because apparently the new pink Pritt Stick is “just for girls.”  Clearly the people sitting around the board room believe that not all children are allowed to love all colours and that there are some products that 50% of children can’t have.

Or that they can have but only after admitting that there is something wrong or weird about it.

And this is what winds me up. I mean *really* winds me up.

By scrawling “Just for girls” on anything pink/ to do with baking/ to do with dolls / certain items of clothing companies are saying that the boys that like pink/ baking/ dolls/ skirts are strange. This is CRUEL. It gives pre-schoolers the impression that they don’t fit. It makes the playground a bully arena. It gives other kids ammo to start firing at anyone who is a little different. It sets them up for life to repress their real desires in order to suit society’s idea of them.

Pink Pritt Stick?The non-discriminating kind of stick

Pritt Stick don’t actually believe that pink is just for girls. I don’t imagine the Pritt Stick boardroom to be  filled with women in pink tutus on one side and men in blue suits on the other side gleefully discussing the merits of a “Just for Girls” glue to help girls feel so much more in touch with their feminine side.

Oh no. I am pretty confident that they are all too aware that this is a false distinction (and it is false – the majority of boys and girls under two choose colours with pinker tones as their favourite colour – then they get older and half of them realise they aren’t allowed) but these marketing folk are pushing it out as a way of further commercialising childhood.

Because if they can convince parents and children that boys and girls can’t share products than we will have to keep buying more, a pink glue stick for the daughters and a blue for the sons. Each new child will need a whole new set of clothes, a whole new set of toys and, clearly, a whole new set of craft supplies.

(Craft supplies, for goodness sake!)

And it is just another deadlock on the door that traps us into consumerism and another bar in the cage of society’s oppressive gender limitations.

Pink Pritt Stick? *harumph* We are not buying it!

PS- I sent them an email about their stupid glue and you can too, if you like, using this contact form.