Browsing Tag

gender

Parenting

Let’s talk about sex, baby

3 September, 2014

I was sitting in the bath this week discussing gender reassignment surgery with my almost four year old daughter, Ramona.

Crikey. What brought us to this point?

Is it this scourge of liberal parenting sweeping the nations that will eventually turn our young children into monstrous delinquents funding their crack habit by servicing the fetishes of immigrants (who stole their future jobs?)

Or just a sort of general sense that we should be open and truthful in conversation with our children, whatever the topic be?

(It could also be the young child’s attention to detail – the distinction between hormone replacement therapy and surgery isn’t on my “Topics To Cover Before Fourth Birthday” list but it is where you kind of end up when your older kids asks whether her female friend might become a boy one day…)

Sex Positive Parenting
When I first heard the term “Sex Positive Parenting” I had been tagged in a tweet directing me to become part of a Sex Positive blogging collective. They had read my blog and thought I’d be a good contributor. I was like “WaHAAT?” ME? I’m, like, a total prude! I was well confused. I come from a long heritage of Christian ministers and I am very much still on the side of the spectrum that thinks sex is best when accompanied with love and commitment. I absolutely love Caitlin Moran and her work, but her mission to help young girls have more sex is something I just can not get on board with.

But, actually, I think now it is possible to be on both ends of the sex-commitment spectrum and still be Sex Positive, because at its heart it is about being truthful – and non-manipulative. And this resonates massively with all my parenting. I have strong ideals about loads of things but the very last thing I am willing to do is manipulate things so that my daughters follow in my footsteps.

My role is to open doors, have truthful conversations and present sex with all its potential goodness and potential badness.
“…that’s what sex-positive parenting really is. Not telling my kids lies about sex to keep them from behaviours I don’t think are healthy. It’s telling them the truth, the whole truth, and letting it sink in so they can make their own good choices.”

Read more in this great intro by Becoming Super Mommy. (But not at the library because you will get a scary WARNING! RESTRICTED CONTENT! window pop up and you will peer around hoping no one has seen you trying to access nudity and adult sex stuff whilst sitting at a desk next to an elderly man innocently perusing the new Jamie Oliver recipe book *shameface*)

Empowering children against child sexual abuse
I have begun doing some work with the local Child Abuse Prevention Services and it has been incredible to see how much respectful parenting is part of the solution. As part of their work they show parents how to interact with their children in a way that acknowledges their rights, even from birth, because this is one of the building blocks for creating a world free from child abuse. (Which New Zealand has a crazily big problem with, by the way.)

Did you know that being upfront about the anatomical terms for genitalia is also part of this too? They say “Using the proper name for genitals (penis/ vulva/ vagina) from as young as possible gives a clear message to your child that it is ok to talk to you about anything concerning their body, even their private parts. Current thought is that children who use the correct names for their body parts are less likely to be targeted by sexual abusers (because they assume that you have open telling environment with your child) and are more likely to be believed if they tell about abuse (because they use specific language and can describe what has happened.)”
Using anatomical terms for genitalia with children

Head over to their new Facebook page to keep in touch with other ways we can empower our kids and change the culture of child abuse.

Shame and Pleasure
I was struck by the section in Robin Grille’s “Parenting for a peaceful world’ that covers the developmental stage a child goes through at around six where they are discovering the sexual element within themselves. Every child goes through it – an obsession with their genitals amongst other things- and how we respond to it will impact them for the rest of their lives.
“Shaming or moralistic responses to the child’s burgeoning sexual exploration can produce an uptight temperament or result in rebellious, sexual acting out later in life… Both direct injunctions against his sexuality and unspoken parental embarrassment or discomfort are experiences by the child as a heart-breaking rejection of his expanding self… Thus begins the separation of sex from love, genitals from the heart. The need for love and for pleasure is sublimated , and substituted by a need to over achieve, to prove the worth he feels he has lost. Hence he re-diverts his energies towards competitiveness and a high accomplishment drive.”

Reading this made me consider my own sort of Beavis and Butthead attitude (huhhuhuhuhuh) towards things of a sexual nature. Blimey- I don’t want my own inability to say the word “anus” without a smothered giggle to pass on embarrassment and shame as they grow into their sexual selves.

Being shown what a child is experiencing and learning through the genital-obsession stage will really help me respond without shame and only with understanding when the girls hit that specific developmental period.

Nurturing Openness
Which just brings me back to the bath and discussing how some boys are born with penises but inside know they are girls, and vice versa. It was a fairly long conversation covering Ruby Roses’s recent video and Fa’afafine, the third gender present in Samoan culture (and our own culture to some extent- there being such a strong Samoan diaspora community here in NZ…)and then it ended abruptly, Ramona’s attention captured by Juno’s abduction of the blue rubber duck.

I was left feeling ever so slightly discombobulated (how much is too much?!) but in hindsight, glad to be setting off on this path as I mean to continue. Because I want our children to know we can talk about anything and I want them to know they will get the truth from me.

I read an account last week of a guy taking his newly teenaged lad camping to have The Talk. It seemed like a nice idea, father and son chatting about how babies are made.

As I read the article I realised that I was probably not going to have The Talk with my daughters, because we have already had it- the first when Ramona was two and discovered I was pregnant and we have micro versions of The Talk almost weekly at the moment. These conversations are both specific and surreal in the way only children can make them. (“Where is the rooster’s penis?”)

Ramona hasn’t quite cracked the physiology of it but we will get there eventually and it will just be another bit added to all the other information she has on hand. A gradual accumulation of info that fits in with all her other knowledge about how the world works- rather than a sex education class.

So, despite my own innate prudishness I want to avoid shame having any foothold at all in our home, and I want my girls to come to see sex in all its potential wholeness. I want to halt embarrassment and allow the tangle of love, pleasure and sexual self to develop unheeded.

*does the Running Man in neon shell suit whilst rapping* Let’s talk about sex, baby… (and toddler… and six year old… and teenager… ) Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be…

Share you thoughts, my friends! Have you had The Talk yet?

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!

Activism, Feminism

Some post for Weetabix – it’s pretty, pink and Barbie-based

21 March, 2013

Dear Weetabix

You *may* get some intriguing post tomorrow. It is a creative response to your most recent, most uncreative latest advert. Yep, the one in which the superhero lad plots to save the day while the young girl busies herself prettifying her pink bedroom and re-arranging her dolls.

Yes, THAT one, with the gender stereotypes that belong to the era of your inception, 1932. Welcome, friends, to 2013 – here you will find that most parents HATE these limiting roles.

Here, not all little girls are doll-obsessed, and some of them want to grow up to change the world too. Pink is a colour that belongs to all children, and not every little boy wants to climb and fight.

When I see adverts like yours I despair. How is it possible this kind of repressed perspective is still out there? Let alone boldly stalking amongst us promoting Flakey Morsels of the Dawn to young children.

When I feel this gutted about the state of the world I have to act. I firstly tweeted, then I sent you an email. But all afternoon I have been feeling the need to do something more, to really try and make you see how sickening this stereotyping is.

So I popped a little something in the post for you.

Sexist Weetabix post

I am not sure how my protest- post will go down. For the ten minutes I spent writing the letter and packaging her up I thought it was a bit funny and clever, that postpeople along the way might think “Oooh, what sexist antics have Weetabix been up to?” I hoped it might just grab your attention and prompt a response from you.

And then, I have to admit, as soon as I saw her feet disappear into the mouth of the letterbox I suddenly wondered if you might think it sent by a Barbie-maiming psycho- that it might even contain Anthrax. (It doesn’t, promise.)

Barbie Mail Protest

I’m not a Barbie-maiming psycho, just an irate mum who is utterly sick and tired of having her young daughter put in these boxes by big companies. With the huge amounts of money you throw into marketing, you are EXTREMELY influential in how our children define themselves.

I may do all I can to help Ramona celebrate all colours, to find joy in millions of kinds of toys, but if she is bombarded every day by images that tell her girls should like one thing and boys another, my own nurturing counts for little.

We are massive fans of Weetabix in this household (only in non-porridge season, OBVIOUSLY!) but until this ad is placed on the Shameful Shelf of Relics where it belongs we will not be buying your slightly-tasteless-but-still-somehow-delectable breakfast.

Barbie Mail Weetabix Gender Protest

I look forward to your response.

Yours Sincerely,

Lucy, and Ramona, and also every cereal-munching child in the world who deserves better.

PS- If any readers want to contact Weetabix and share their own disappointment you can do that here.

PPS I’d hate for you to miss a post… enter your email to get them pinged into your inbox. I won’t be spamalot, promise!


Feminism, Parenting

Gender Schmender – how the world denies our daughters

26 April, 2012

When I was a little girl, five or so, I had a desperate desire to be called Eric. You can’t be Eric, the world said, with incredulity! Fine! I replied! I would be Girl Eric! (No one mentioned there was such a name as Erica.) And for quite some time I corrected people if they dare say Lucy; “It’s Girl Eric, actually.”

And then there is my little one. Ramona really does love a plane. When we are out and about if she sees one fly past it really gives her fits of giggles, she’ll point and squeal and fall about in stitches. What is going through her little mind? Is it total glee in simply spotting something so random in the sky? Does she think it’s kind of like a duck? (She is obsessed with ducks.)  Is she taking joy in the scientific conundrum of human defeating gravity? Ramona also passes many a happy minute chugging her little trains along, crashing her cars together, exploring the carpet with her little tractors.

That’s how we roll, Ramona and I. PAH! Boy things?! Boy names?! Whatever!  We don’t care about your gender constructs!

Of course, I could use these as an ideal example of how girls just simply aren’t hardwired to do and be the things that we always associate with girls. See! Look at Ramona! She loves planes and trains and automobiles as much as any little lad! 

But I’m not going to, as it is this kind of personal anecdote, albeit from the opposite angle, that perpetuates myths around the differences between boys and girls

. I have been slowly working my way through  the epic book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot. To put it simply boys and girls are born with slight differences, but it is very much how we treat them that determines their choices and “gendered” personalities eventually – often by the age of two. Robust research like this should be enough for us! But it isn’t. It is as if we want there to be a great divide between our boys and girls.

The truth is this divide isn’t actually there originally  – but the chasm between their future prospects IS.

It is curious having a little 17 month female who acts more “male” then her male chums. Ramona is the toughie- leading the climbing expeditions, throwing herself fearlessly down slides while they look on, trembling. She is so hardcore she has even BROKEN HER LEG! HA!  I am working hard to make sure that her gender doesn’t define her at any point- trying to show an equal interest in her micro machine play as her cabbage patch kid tea parties.

It is particuarly curious knowing that were she to wake up tomorrow age 20,  she would not only be defined by her gender but she would be absolutely limited by it.

A report released last week showed exactly how stark the pay inequality is between men and women in London, and just yesterday as I flicked through Stylist on the tube (Oh! The LUXURY of browsing a mag whilst on public transport as opposed to convincing a toddler not to suck every surface/pick chewing gum off the seat/ run out of the doors!!) I came upon some rubbish info about the English female Footy team – despite their MASSIVE success, they are NINTH in the world (male team is 7th) yet get around 1% of the pay of their male counterparts and occupy only 5% of the media coverage.

Playing football proffesionally wouldn’t really be an option for Ramona, tomorrow. (For lot’s of other reasons too, of course, namely that her Kiwi dad would go nuts.)

We have had quite a few tradesmen in lately, doing jobs on the house, and I say men because they are ALL men. I am sure something so subtle as this provides limitations on our daughter’s futures too. And just to cement it, as if the message isn’t coming in loud and clear, old Lego go and release a new package for girls where they can chose from such  wonderful hobbies as baking and visiting beauty parlours – and all featuring many shades of pink. (The especially sad thing is how far they have retreated from their excellent gender neutral stance of the Eighties.)

Gosh, it all gets me pretty ragey actually. To look at my little daughter and know that her chances of realising any career ambition, or getting access to more physical lines of work,  are slimmer than her little male counterparts.

To look at myself, and know I missed out on simply being Eric.

What can I do?

I can email Lego about their ridiculous new line.

I can try and employ more female tradespeople.

I can reflect on my own language and play with Ramona – encouraging those areas that are naturally not quite  as strong in her female brain.

I can take more direct action, like that time I did vandalism.

Do I reject all  pink/ princesses/ and beauty?

How do you do it? Do you take some hardline approaches because the default is to exacerbate the differences? Part of me wonders if this is what needs to happen. I would love to hear from you.  

Parenting

Vandalism for my daughter’s sake

15 September, 2011

I was sitting on the train today and scoped out the poster above my head for a leading political rag. The cartoon depicted a husband reading a business paper and the wife in the doorway heaving in a load of shopping. My blood boiled, I grabbed a pen and in full view of the packed carriage scrawled “for the everyday male chauvinist” under the title. A second later I wished I had written “The 1950’s called; they want their sexist sterotypes back” but I didn’t have any Tippex on me.

It has been a while since I have taken any direct action in the name of gender equality. The last time was at the Salvation Army Headquarters in New Zealand when I took down the framed photo of William Booth above the plaque “Founder of the Salvation Army” and replaced it with Catherine and William- for she is the oft overlooked brains behind the outfit. That was really quite tame and courteous and about 6 years ago.

But since becoming a mother I have seen the world with fresh eyes, and Ramona is growing up in place with more limitations and adverse expectations due to gender then I was, that is for sure.

It’s in the quite superficial things – when I was a kid, everyone wore brown and orange, nowadays you have to work really hard to find colours other than pink and blue and shapes other than butterflies and tractors (and flipping heck, Ramona would look brilliant in a little brown and orange number.)  But also in the wider story -when my mother was bringing me up she had a consciousness about gender inequality, it was a fight being fought. Now we say we are “post feminist” and to oppose porn or point out subtle sexist messaging is to be too prim or politically correct. And then there is the not so subtle messaging – one of the UK’s biggest menswear shops, Topman, bringing out some completely misogynous  tee shirts– and the chorus of “Why all the fuss? We are post-feminist!” greeting the initial furor (Even the comments on that incredible Guardian piece reveal this – mostly arguing about whether the slogans were funny or not. WHAT THE HELL?)

I don’t know if it was the Topman t-shirts story knocking around my head or the fact that I am reading Female Chauvinist Pigs that moved my anger at that poster into action but I know that I vandalised it for Ramona’s sake.  (Ramona made me do it!) I don’t want Ramona to grow up thinking that women shop and men read buisness newspapers; I want Ramona to have a host of female role models in politics or the engineering industry,  to be able to walk around without feeling that her body is a commodity, to get paid as much as her male counterparts. It is great that the Topman story went big but there are a million everyday things that don’t even get addressed at all that make all those things much less likely to become a reality in her lifetime.

So this is me now –  never without a big black marker pen (and a bottle of Tippex for those moments when the wit arrives too late) to start addressing those little things. Any other mothers out there want to unleash your inner vandal?