Film Feministe: 4 Upsetting Films I Adored

"How YOU doin'?"

How you doin’?

(This review is part of my writer’s-hustle to garner support for our Unschooling conference scholarship)

I’m no stranger to films that have squirm-inducing scenes, questionable motives, and bleak morals. One of my favorite films, or it was a few years ago anyway, is David Lynch’s Blue Velvet which has amongst other elements a completely objectionable and unnecessarily-protracted rape scene.

That said, I’m a bit selective and capricious when it comes to this kind of thing. I’m never sure what it is that might make me switch off a viewing for what seems cruelly exploitive (as I did recently for the first collection of “Trial and Retribution”), or what I might sit through for the sake of the larger story arc (as I recently did for the film The Long Good Friday).

The following films are intense; some are gory, some involve scenes of torture, some are at the very least highly upsetting. For some they may be triggering. Please do not say I didn’t warn you. Spoilers.

Shame (2011)
I keep thinking I’ll make a list of media that, in my opinion, present the experience of addiction in sublime, convincing, and authentic ways. Shame is one of these, although to my knowledge the term “addiction” is never mentioned. The film centers around an adult brother and sister pair, Brandon and Sissy. Brandon has a good job, a good apartment, and is a good-looking guy. He presents himself as reserved and sophisticated while hiding expensive and dysfunctional relationships with human beings and pornography; his sister Sissy, in contrast, is a free-spirit, an active alcoholic, cannot hold a job, and is prone to codependency and publicly unhealthy relationships.

There are intense sexual manifestations in both brother and sister’s problems. As the movie unfolded I was at first tensed up for, let’s face it, some kind of twisted/noir/sexy/”damaged” incest romp. Shame instead renders, in a poetically wretched way, the roots of addiction: deep emotional pain, obsession, compulsion, and a profound disconnect from other human beings. Addiction and pain manifest itself in different ways and it would seem those responsible for the film know this: Brandon snorts coke, maintains a tight profile at work, and holds a taut repressive anger he only occasionally gives vent to with his sister.  Sissy is sloppy, emotional, willing to be publicly messy, and also more willing to try to talk about what’s bothering her.

Over the course of the film we witness Brandon coming to his bottom – but whether it is his last, the film does not tell us. It doesn’t really matter, not to me anyway. I have not experienced sex addiction and compulsion, but I do know addiction. For anyone else interested in the subject, I’d direct them to view this graphic, and deeply sad, piece of film.

Descent (2007)
Rosario Dawson is thoroughly convincing as Maya, a bright, beautiful college student whose life is abruptly changed after her experiences with a fellow student named Jared. Although initially reluctant to engage with her new would-be suitor, she gradually begins to take a chance, believing that romance might be possible. After all Jared is charming, ardent, and persistent. On a date she talks about her feelings. Alone with him she begins to accept his ardor. But once he is in the position to do so, Jared acts on an intense hatred for Maya (or rather, what she represents to him) based on his own sense of inadequacies, his own internalized racism, misogyny, and entitlement. Maya, shattered after the horrific experience, is lost for a time being until she makes a few new friends.

Unlike so very, very many films centering on a rape – and a resultant revenge – Maya’s experience is not portrayed as exploitive; that is to say, shown as “sexy” in any way – and Maya is not reduced to a caricature of a victim, either. Even better, Jared is not reduced to a caricature; it is clear he doesn’t think he’s a rapist, which is something many films miss while they center on stranger-assaults in alleyways.

In my opinion this film is less about rape and a revenge than it is about power and sadism, misogyny and racism as played out in the personal level. Maya, almost by chance, meets an even more successful sadist than Jared, a man named Adrien. Adrien is intelligent and powerful; he also gives voice to the experiences Maya is struggling with in regards to race and power. Maya gets her power back and makes a plan.

I can’t say enough about the nuance of this film; however not all is subtle. The final scene, which is extremely hard to watch, is best described by the NYT review: “its Grand Guignol particulars resist euphemism”. I ain’t gonna lie, it’s not a happy ending. I suppose to some viewers it might be more terrifying than to others; most women, especially women of color, already know what it’s like to live with the constant threat of, if not the reality of, sexual assault.

The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

Young, preternaturally-beautiful housewife in a sexually-tepid marriage with an older, rich husband meets a young, dashing man and has an affair (Rachel Weisz, Simon Russell Beale, and Tom Hiddleston, resp). We’ve seen it before; it often goes to predictable places. I can tell you this film did not go anywhere I predicted, and for that I’m grateful. In watching it I thought it might be sourced in a play, and as it turns out I was right. Having no familiarity with the original work, I will give you my impressions of the film on its own merits.

The affair and the marriage are showcased in a series of vignettes that are at first a bit confusing. We expect to see the film linger over the forbidden courtship and consummation; largely the film skips this because, we all know lust and infatuation. Early on it is apparent Weisz’s Hester is more deeply in love with Hiddleston’s Freddie than he is with her; however he is not a womanizer nor particularly coldhearted, he is merely a human being. As Hester falls deeper into obsession and depression, he struggles his best to satisfy her, but he is only human (and an alcoholic, besides). In addition, Hester’s position as a British 50s-era separated housewife is a vulnerable one, and the film presents those difficulties in a nuanced, snowflake-delicate rendering of oppressive mores. Weisz is stunning in every way in her role.

I’ve been on both sides – as if there really are “sides” – of obsessive love. That’s probably why this film was so painful for me. The pleading and the promises not to “make a scene”, the cruelties, the suicidal ideation, the self harm. A dense knowledge the other party does not share one’s experience and there is no choice that seems liveable (hence the movie’s title). However, the film provides a few counterparts to Hester’s obsession; first by her mother-in-law who, while not a sympathetic character, cautions Hester that “a guarded enthusiasm” is a wiser choice than unrestrained passion. But my favorite moment in the film was towards the end, when Hester’s landlady Mrs. Elton speaks about the true nature of love.

The film closes on a vision of a blitz-ravaged portion of Hester’s flat’s neighborhood. The scene could be interpreted as sad, ominious, or devastating. I interpreted it as a bittersweet realization of possibility and renewal.

Audition(1999)

Of all the films reviewed here, this is the one I’d like least to discuss in any detail, because it is my belief the themes reveal themselves only gradually in what we originally might think is merely a horror film or twisted drama. So: go watch Audition, if you’re in the mood for a torture scene or two. I’ll wait.

Briefly, the plot: the film introduces us to widower Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi)). He is a fairly well-to-do man in a position of power at his job, and has a good relationship with his live-in teenage son. At his son’s urging, he entertains the idea of dating again. His friend Yasuhisa Yoshikawa, a film producer, talks Aoyama into devising a mock casting audition in which young women audition for the “part” of Aoyama’s new wife. Aoyama gets more excited about this process and quickly becomes fascinated with young Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina). He takes her on a series of dates and continues to interview her, finding her more suitable for his purposes and quickly, despite red flags about her past, setting his sights on her.

But who is auditioning who? In final analysis, both Aoyama and Asami audition one another and both are convinced they’re getting something that they’re not. This film is probably experienced by some as a Fatal Attraction type of fable, but there is more to it than that. What is Aoyama really trying to hire, to obtain, to buy? Asami, as it turns out, is not who Aoyama wants to insist she is. Yet instead of the common trope of woman-as-(psychotic)-deceiver, the film demonstrates Asami has been telling Aoyama about her past; he has chosen not to see it, instead searching for the compliant, obedient, young, problem-free wife, an accessory for his bottomless vanity.

The film has a notorious reputation of being SO horrible and having SUCH an awful torture scene at the end; if you’ve seen the film you know the sequences I’m talking about. Many male film critics have called out this torture scene as being particularly barbaric or even making the film the worst horror they’ve seen. However, in comparison with the Saw Part 15 HOLY SHIT PEOPLE GET TORN APART IN EVEN MORE RIDICULOUS AND ELABORATE FASHION gore-porn saturating even our Cineplex mainstream market, the torture scene in Audition is very brief. Only a few shots show the subject being tortured; most show the perpetrator’s perspective of the torture. And notably, the torturer is female, the one being tortured is male.

And that, my friends, is why so many, especially men, are upset by the film. We want to believe Aoyama is “the good guy” – especially given the film opens on him as he is newly-widowed. But watch how he speaks about women with his friend, watch the degrading interview process, watch his memory of conversation with Asami versus what she was telling him. Aoyama is not the Good Guy, and his treatment of women and the role of wife is what really should be making us squeamish. Aoyama’s treatment of women and girls and Asami herself mirrors horrific experiences in Asami’s past. It is the reversal of the typically black-and-white concepts of “villian” and “victim”, the willingness to show complexity in these roles, and the very personal portrayal of both individuals, that makes some people uncomfortable.

At a horror level, the film delivered wonderful surprises that no amount of Hostel Caro-syrup and HUGE MUSIC SCORE can complete with. A body discovered: along with three extra fingers, an extra ear, and an extra tongue. The phone ringing, ringing, ringing – and then suddenly movement from a sack on the floor. Audition doesn’t overplay these creepy surprises but delivers them in a most satisfactory manner.

I welcome feedback; email me your responses if you’d like them published them here. kelly AT hogaboom DOT org.

breastfeeding: not just ladybusiness

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mamiscl/4968830387/This piece is featured in Squat! Birth Journal‘s Spring Issue. I encourage an exploration and/or support of this lovely zine (available in paper or digital form); certainly a great gift for an expecting family-to-be! It’s a wonderful publication.

Over my twitterstream my friend Wendy links to a piece of, once again, sex discrimination against a woman feeding her child1). We’ve all heard it before. A woman is feeding her baby in a shop or a library or wherever, when an employee approaches and tells the woman she must leave, often invoking (their fallacious understanding of) the law and – at least in North America – usually in violation of protected rights. And certainly counter to common sense, compassion, and an understanding of public health.

It’s too bad more people don’t seem to see it that way.

Breastfeeding discussion is continually ignored and/or marginalized by the mainstream, made into a fringe issue although it concerns us all – our progress toward an egalitarian society, our support of families, our stewardship of the environment, and our county’s medical costs and spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. Even movements self-identified as pro-woman often pick and choose which reproductive rights they support and advocate for, ignoring the societal edifices concerning birth, babies, and fulltime care of children – which necessarily ignores the women involved. If you Google “breastfeeding and feminism” you will see communities concerning the former subject discussing the latter, but rarely the reciprocal; mainstream pro-feminist discussions in general do not concern themselves with breastfeeding even though something like eighty percent of USian women do become parents at some point.

Keeping breastfeeding peripheral to social justice discussion contributes to extremely low breastfeeding rates in the so-called developed world (which are lower still in marginalized groups such as black mothers, teen mothers, and native or indigenous mothers, etc.). After all, anyone remedially-versed in the experiences of infant care and feeding understand that support, or lack thereof, is a major if not the major factor in aggregate breastfeeding success rates.

While some without children, or some with older children, or some men believe they can continue to ignore the health and well-being implications of poor breastfeeding rates and the compounded lack of choice afforded to already-stressed marginalized populations, such a luxury is not experienced for the child nor the child’s carer. These peoples’ daily realities are put under additional stressors. Thus when an individual receives repeated shaming messages or policing language and repressive strategies against her, she is most likely to experience discouragement, uncertainty, and isolation; she is at a very real disadvantage. Or as the author of “A tired hungry baby” writes:

I knew the law. I knew my rights. But I was still upset. And not the angry, self-important, righteous kind of upset. The teary, scared, “they”‘re going to kick me out of the store”, “I”‘m here with my kids” type of upset. It was clear I was about to be thrown out, and I was pretty sure that if I was going to be forced to justify feeding my baby, I was going to cry. And I felt truly alone.

This experience and this sentiment could have been written by so many of my friends – and many of these are “educated” women with class, hetero-, cis-, and racial privilege. Which puts the question: at what point does our mainstream dithering about “public decency” get real, and admit the costs we are requiring so many others to pay? “Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” seems incredibly trite and inhumane when considering our socioeconomically-classist culture, to put it frankly, requires black, brown, poor and working-class mamas and families pay multifaceted costs – and by heaping on body-shaming and gender-policing we’re just making it harder. “Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” tweeted by a white Portland hipster without children is such a disheartening and ignorant response when I consider, for instance, the lived reality of a child up all night screaming from a painful ear infection (and the work/sleep missed by carers and the stress for all involved). To get a little 101, ear infections, which account for thirty million trips to the doctor each year and are experienced by an estimated 75% of babies, is a risk decimated by a factor of at least two for a breastfed child2. And that’s just one real-life health issue and one potential pragmatism for parents, and it makes me irritated enough to knock that Stumptown out of said urbanite’s hand.

“Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” hurts real-life families, real-life people.

“Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” is something that should have been eliminated from our public discourse a long, long time ago.

This is why it is key that those who are not at this moment stuffing a nipple into a baby’s face – including men, including formula-feeders, and including those without children – support breastfeeding and stand up for families’ rights and for mothers to young children. When the mainstream frames breastfeeding an issue that the individual mothers should be fighting, all on their own, it throws the game (especially considering the corporate power and cultural reach held by formula producers: phdinparenting.com has some great information on this). Concomitantly, framing infant feeding as solely individualistic and “choice”-based is also at heart of those who shame individual formula feeding families (moms) for “not trying/caring hard enough”, too (sadly, there are many of these voices, although for the purposes of this piece I should note bottle feeding mothers are generally not asked to leave public spaces based only on their method of feeding).

So while there are many breastfeeding mothers who stand up to pressure and have a generally positive feeding career, the vast majority of breastfeeding mothers have been pressured to stop feeding and most have been shamed explicitly or implicitly while others stand silently by or dismiss the topic as a “women’s issue” (because, you know, those aren’t important).

This means often, as in the above-cited author’s case, at the point an episode of discrimination is most acute and immediate, she is likely extremely disadvantaged in her response. Consider also that mothers who breastfeed:

* are expending 300 – 500 extra calories a day per breastfeeding child (yes, some women are breastfeeding more than one child), and those are just the calories required to produce milk, not those needed to care for, comfort and nurture, clean for, etc. anyone else in the family.

* are often severely sleep-deprived (personally, I cannot overstate this effect on my life when I had infants).

* are usually dealing with hormonal and physical changes while they:

* are also under endemic body-policing and -shaming pressures including scrutiny of their weight, the state of their skin or hair, and their changed or changing body shape.

* are often under cultural policing as well; this is levied at mothers of color, those without class privilege, those outside the heteronormative spectrum, those with multiple children, etc.

* are usually constantly segregated and policed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways by virtue of having children, by our adultist and child-unfriendly cultural norms.

* are often under-supported by their family, friends, neighbors – and, too-often, their partners (even well-intentioned ones), if they have one.

* are in the throes of what many would identify as one of the most life-changing experiences they’ve had - the twentyfour-seven care and responsibility for another human being, and an incredibly vulnerable one at that.

It is my position that any restriction of breastfeeding should be taken as sex discrimination - whether legally promoted or de facto by policy, societal attitudes, etc. As such, I haven’t yet heard a compelling argument to support it. A disdain for a function of women’s bodies doesn’t seem meritorious enough to warrant prescriptive measures.

It’s time for others to adopt that standard as well.

Because in North America, fighting for the unrecognized humanity of these women, babies, and families, often seems a never-ending job against a seemingly bottomless pit of ignorance and oppression. Today, as I finish this piece, a blogreader sends me an article from The Root, in which a woman nursing in the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. was hounded twice by security and told she must enter the bathroom and sit on the toilet to feed her child3.

So, yeah. “Gross, I shouldn’t have to see that!” needs to go.

* Photo credit: 3º Lugar – 2º Concurso Fotogra¡fico Regional “Fotografiando la Lactancia”. Released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

quick hit: feminist readers: have you leveled-up?

Neighborhood Kids

Sorry y'all, but your parents should have thought about that before they had you.

People of Color, People with Disabilities, LGBTQAI People, plenty of marginalized persons have movements behind them, and yet in social justice circles people feel free to openly say “I hate children” without repercussions. Children are routinely beaten in the name of “good order and discipline” (and parents are blamed for not doing so in the name of “not being attentive parents”) and no one pays attention. We expect children to be silent unless spoken to, and we often walk around and talk around them as if they aren”‘t even there. And possibly more importantly, like our little friend, they notice when we don”‘t notice them. They notice when we fail to take them into consideration. They notice when they don”‘t matter. They notice when the world, when those who are meant to love them, don”‘t fucking see them or hear them. – from “Children Take Up Space (and Notice When We Don’t Notice)” by Ouyang Dan

Young people are scary because they are a social group whose rights we are reluctant to recognize. They are human beings with personalities, attitudes, opinions and needs. Just like misogyny arises out of a fear of women exercising their human rights; hatred of children arises from our wish to subordinate children. – from “We Hate Children” by Feminist Avatar in Scotland

Today, after reading an incredibly awesome piece of rad fem by a stellar author, I put forth a genuine and heartfelt question: Why do so many (not all) feminists exhibit vitriol and/or a non-inclusive attitude for children and their carers? Specifically, with regard to carers, I find there is a huge void where sensitivity, inclusivity, and a valuing of nurture-work and mothers is needed – even more specifically, mothers usually excluded and/or belittled are those non-white, non-middle- or upper-class, child- and home-oriented, disabled, neurologically atypical, gay, queer, or trans.

Two from the commentariat weighed in. The upshot of their responses: it’s “ridiculous” to say feminists hate mothers*, and anyway feminists have no real power so they’re just angry (and hey, understandably so, from my perspective) but their words only “sting” and have no real-life repercussions.

My charges of child-hate sentiment in the feminist sphere and resultant oppressions went unacknowledged and unaddressed.

One comment contained the following, which really has me chewing over it. See, I’ve heard this sort of thing before. Lots:

“Many radical feminists question why women wish to become mothers, because the planet is overpopulated and children are men”‘s all-time favorite weapon of choice to use against women. Not to mention that having a child ensures that you”‘re either raising another potential victim or another potential perpetrator.”

Here’s the thing: I’m dashing this off while being tugged at by my kids, mother, partner, and cats. Here I’m deciding to write to my readers – not the Haters, not the developed rad fems or those who want to discuss or ‘splain theory whilst ignoring lived realities of mothers/carers and children, and frankly, not those who hold anti-child views (sadly many of them don’t even know who they are). But if you find yourself generally wondering if you have any anti-child lingering sentiments (hint: yes you do), please read on and more importantly, read the links supplied.

I’ve written before, briefly (F-word example), of the unwillingness of some feminist discussion to acknowledge deeply-entrenched adultist tenets. These worldviews simmer under the surface but make themselves known in commentstreams of any article daring to defend children and their carers, especially one supporting their rights to be out in public at their levels of need (hey listen… I simply couldn’t bring myself to link to multiple vitriolic examples of breastfeeding hate, which are endemic in the US). One of the reasons I don’t self-identify as a feminist (although I absolutely support many feminist goals, and read and support many self-identified feminist activists) is because of the many ways feminist discussion has let down so many groups and continues to do so: today’s mainstream feminist discussion is often rife with demonstrations of racism, ableism, psychophobia, transphobia, adultism, and classism.

When discussing children the conversation – in mainstream and social justice spheres alike – is usually two-dimensional and frankly, played out: it seems we divide children into two classes: children parents can afford to feed – so parents have a duty to raise them “well-behaved” (regardless of the costs and pro-oppression indoctrination) and forcefully educated according to the institutional system – versus poor families with children. The solution in the latter case is – you shouldn’t have had them in the first place. In these often class-stratified discussions, pregnancy is often only discussed in terms of abortion rights (which are absolutely under attack) but not birth rights or holistic child-stewardship and nurture practices (including, shocker, the right to raise children without by-rote institutionalism). Like many in the self-identified right-wing, prominant progressives concern themselves with the care and quality of life – the life of babies or mothers (or non-babies and the right not to be a mother, which I unreservedly support) – concern which ends abruptly if a child emerges from the womb. I’m thinking of a progressive behemoth site with thousands of readers that describes itself as staunchly feminist; on this site a single author has posted merely two articles – out of thousands, scores of which concern abortion – that discuss birth culture and attendant realities in America (more dismal than you might imagine; yet it is still only considered fringe to advocate for revolution therein). There is – wait for it – one article discussing breastfeeding. One. In my opinion a feminist schema worth its salt would hold breastfeeding as a reproductive right and would, y’know, tackle birth reform. I won’t hold my breath.

The abovementioned rad fem comment seems to place a lot of value in asking WHY a woman would reproduce given how shitty things are. First of all, I commend objections to the multifaceted and ubiquitous narratives that a woman’s sole function is to reproduce. And things are pretty bad – and not only that, many people don’t even know it nor concern themselves. However, the reality is in having these same 101 social justice queries ad infinitum without deeper explorations of mother-and-child life we are letting down the women who do breed (something at present count, around 80% of women) as well as their children and (if they have them) partners.

Most women who feel and exercise what they believe is free choose to have children, even the “educated” (or seemly or middle class or whatever) ones, likely had little idea just how hollow the promises of “equality” (socially or within heterosexual partnerships) really are today. In my opinon this is largely due to misogynistic and kyriarchal mindsets – and in no small part also fallout from a child-segregationist culture. Many first-time parents have had little to no experiences caring for or being around well-nurtured children nor exposed at length to healthy child environs; almost every adult has moved from the position of child-as-oppressed to adult-in-privilege, and often will enact the damaging scripts they were forced into for so many years. The concepts of happy, celebrated, and idyllic motherhood are promised but ill-supported once baby arrives (although many mothers and fathers and carers manage to find genuine enjoyment and meaning from parenting). Our culture still functions to make many women choose between the family life she’d like and meaningful or respected paid work and financial support (and note: routinely criticizing and belittling traditional “women’s work” skews our ability to find meaning therein), even while we criticize these women for ever making sacrifices of one for the benefit of the other. We sentimentalize family life and mothering, but we also continue to frame parenting as huge drain that is less meaningful than Statusy Career or material acquisition, which of course erases the millions for who Statusy Career is not an option, a current reality, and/or a life-calling. More to the point, the needs of children are routinely, routinely ignored and the child class is raised while often being relegated to – still! – being seen, or not, and not heard – and often ill-protected (child abuse – verbal, physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual – another endemic and tragic occurrence that our school systems and supposedly progressive American ideals have not done nearly enough to halt or stem).  On the subject of child-raising anyone with an opinion weighs in and often gets a clown-horn for the front pages, while those who continue to successfully advocate and care for babies and children largely outside oppressive schema are relegated to the fringe or downright vilified.

I think I can understand a lot of feminist anger regarding children and motherhood, although I wish those vocalizing anger would consider their words carefully. Many women without children are tired of the oft-fed line that one’s life is not fulfilled unless one reproduces and that without kids a life is empty or sad or even “selfish”. And I agree, this seems like a lot of bullshit. But that is precisely my point – the promises and Hallmark-sentiments surrounding “motherhood” are deeply problematic and when many women step into this role – for reasons and in quantities that are no one’s business to be prescriptive about – the reality is quite shocking.

As for the arguments against marriage, motherhood, etc. due to these institutions functioning as patriarchal tools – yes, I get it (although find me an institution that never does function thusly). But here’s my thing – once the child is on the premises Planet Earth is it really appropriate and helpful to discuss how they shouldn’t have been born in the first place – or espouse a glum scenario that the child is destined to be either “victim” or “perpetrator” (that is they are a cipher and academic subject – not a whole, multi-faceted human being with a heart, mind, integrity, and a future full of mistakes and triumphs)? In asking for feminist responses to mother and child, to be told another version of “women shouldn’t become mothers/children should think about that before existing” is not addressing living mothers and children; it’s requesting we just have fewer mothers and children. Very, very tolerant, supportive, helpful, and on point (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

Where is the acknowledgment that if the world is ever going to experience positive change – either episodically or by the whole – it is precisely the raising of children outside oppressive regimes and mindsets that will make this happen?

While discussing the wretched state of Child, where is the attendant activist discussion and pragmatic approaches to treat the living and breathing children, here and now, who need adult advocacy and increased agency?

Bizarrely, sometimes social justice conversation indulges in the make-believe that each person (or nuclear/bio-family) is an island. Self-sufficient and all that. This framing ignores the fact our lives began with others caring for  us – however many mistakes our carers may have made, the vast majority of us received an incredible amount of work and nurture – and most of us will have a period of vulnerability bookending the end of our lives, too (those with disabilities or extenuating circumstances may not have the luxury of the normative but false “self sufficiency” narrative often promoted). It’s incredible to me how many grownups pretend they are separate, apart, do not rely on others, never did, never shall.

Author Naomi Aldort, who I’ve referenced here, wrote a book called Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. I’ve found it to be absolutely true that in the vocation of caring for other human beings my spiritual, emotional, and intellectual life has benefitted. My reality – mine – is that until I had children my activist mentality was almost non-existant and my passions were self-focussed; I rarely thought about how many others needed help, how many others had fewer privileges and resources and abilities than I. I am a flawed human being and continue to do my work, including self-improvement while trying to increase my stewardship for other people, for animals, for the planet. I am not perfect, but I will probably never support a worldview that doesn’t make it an active discussion point: helping those who need help and compassion, whatever population or class they belong to. Using such populations merely as theoretical entities (not human beings) might be necessary to get the ball rolling sometimes – but runs the risk of being a very underdeveloped and condescending strategy.

Some reading:

“On Hating Kids” at Feministe

“On childhate and feminism” at the Noble Savage

“My Child Takes Up Space” at Womanist-Musings

“The Ethics of Representing Childhood in Western Culture” by Naomi Aldort

And finally, “Children Take Up Space (and Notice When We Don’t Notice)” at Random Babble (quoted above), from which I offer this summation:

“[W]e as feminists, womanists, and social justice activists (and I”‘ll let you know where I fall on that scale when I figure it out) really fail hard at seeing children as what they truly are; a marginalized class of people who need their rights fought for and protected.”

Absolutement.

*(Um. Really.)

quick hit: how to meet ‘girls’ IE, respect the c*ck

On FB today my partner Ralph shared a wee video from an author and self-styled relationship guru named Greg D. – the proprietor of a website, DVD, etc. with a tagline cited as “Pure Attraction – The Art of Christian Social Dynamics”. I’ll let you watch for yourself.

Although Ralph’s resultant commentstream was full of people expressing revulsion for this man and his condescending yet cringeworthy and inept “tactics” to make himself seem approachable and relaxed and, mostly, to meet his goal: getting closer to a woman – I mean “a girl” – for his own purposes of relationship, I would imagine many people in our social sphere are likely to mock this as a symptom of Christian dysfunction instead of examining, you know, men and masculine culture in totality. It’s easy (and occasionally fun, to some) for many of my peers to make fun of this man because of his stated goals of helping Christian men and his unabashed identity within a Christian church (or other targets, like his appearance), but of course there are so many secular approaches to “dating strategies” for men that involve condescencion, “openers”, inauthentic performance, predation, stereotyping of women (much of it misogynistic or even trigger-warning worthy), and a bevy of extremely problematic approaches to women – including, as in this video, a complete insensitivity to women’s lived realities. To wit, a stunning ignorance that the supposedly refreshing and straightforward, “You’re adorable/beautiful/sexy/hot” and/or big brother/little sister approach upon a first-time meet is not universally experienced as complimentary, welcomed, charming, and/or desired, however a woman may respond in the moment she’s confronted by it. See, many people call-out these dating gurus and “How To Meet / Bed Ladies” as being inept and dehumanizing but kind of silly and harmless and ha-ha, no one actually uses these (oops, some people do!, p.s. did you know when you kill women specifically because they’re women we don’t call it a “hate crime”, whee!); conveniently these same people simultaneously ignore the misogynistic root of most approaches and their disturbing prevalence in mainstream magazines, media, etc. that make money hand over fist and adorn the landscape of public life (oh hai Maxim!).

Departing from the mainstream media and back to the personal, in watching this video tonight with our small dinner-guest group I felt deflated. Partly it was my mood, but partly it was mentally living out my history and memories. At some point I grimly identified aloud having had all these approaches levied at my person (including, verbatim, “You’re adorable,” etc., the video opener that bothered me most), and this took me on a mental trip through the many nuances of incredible Assery I’ve experienced, like the much-older coworker who told me over our first lunch in the breakroom that he hoped we could be “fuck buddies” – a particular record-scratching moment that immediately precipitated a soul-cocktail of simultaneous tedium and mild despondency - the persistant fellow at the meetup who upon my rejection threatened to hit me, the fellow that staggered up to my friends and I (ah… StaggerPuss has happened to me so, so many times) and asked if there was truth in the whole, bears-can-smell-menstruation myth (answer: Fuck. Unbelievably. Off. also: no. Also: Fuck Off, have I mentioned? Also: Steve Carell is hilarious).

At my brief omission at being on the receiving end of “openers”, our male friend (who, like my partner, is able to participate in discussion of human rights issues for women without suddenly having his Man Card revoked) said, “I’m sorry you’ve experienced that.” Even then my kneejerk response is that whole, “I’m nothing special” bit I always feel like pointing out: I believe a lot of women have experienced a lot worse or more frequent than I have and of course, some women who’ve experienced what I’m naming might tell you these behaviors don’t bother them (and some women are often labeled as “undesireables” in a myriad of ways and they get a whole bevy of other Assery I’m not even touching on here). But the desire to quickly deflect attention from my protestations of mistreatment, or my knee-jerk impulse to say, “Oh it’s not that bad”, is precisely what I’ve been Feminized to do – my whole life.

My friend can’t apologize for things he didn’t do to me, personally, although (I think?) I appreciate his sentiment. See, what is more important to me is we quit the bullshit that sex is some kind of predatory evo-psych reality and the oppositional sexist dictum that women categorically withhold sex and physical affection (which is shitty and manipulative of them to do) and men cheerfully and/or aggressively should pursue these goals (which is only their right, after all). Men need to decide for themselves if women are people as opposed to male-fable plot-points or sexual receptacles or ego-fodder. Me personally, just tonight anyway, I’m a bit tired of trying to convince people of the former, even if I know it deep down in my guts to be the truth and the lived reality we should aspire to.

When any writer objects to some of the predatory, problematic, rape-apologist, patriarchal, oppositionally sexist (P.S., read this book) and/or patriarchal axioms of a man’s actions or a masculine institution (traditions and behaviors that often include and/or support the practices of racism, homophobia, ableism, ageism, transphobia, and classism, to name a few), inevitably someone steps in with their “What About The Mens?” wail. You know, Hey these guys are just trying to start a conversation and they get nervous too! AND/OR not every guy who tries to talk to a lady is a would-be rapist and you are totally saying that about all guys right now! AND/OR what’s a guy to do these days, one time I opened a door for a lady and she got all upset about it!

And yeah, I get it. I understand men are human and exhibit frailty and clumsiness and they want love (yay!) and of course, I am partnered with a man whom I love and respect and I cook for him and and sometime mend his clothes and I even let him touch my goodies and everything!  I understand and believe patriarchy really, really does hurt men too (and please do read that previous “WATM” link). That doesn’t excuse the repeated derail into making conversations about women’s experiences ALL about men and their rights to sex/hurt feelings, etc. But I get that men are hurting too.

Because, on a less social justice bent, I think often of the many men and women who suffer social anxieties; the many men and women are lonely and want connection. It is also true that many people are afraid of loneliness and vulnerability and, sadly, those of us who can help will often shy away from such people. I think of the twelve year old girl visiting the other day who routinely worries about “creeps” following her and I tell her, Well most men aren’t dangerous creeps. And I know it sucks to be called or considered a Creep when you’re not. But it also sucks for so many men to put themselves in the Not Creep category and lift nary a finger or think nary a thought about the fact that while they’re all busy being the Not Me & Not My Problem they’re making sure things stay exactly the same way for everyone else.

I hope there are a few fellows who read here and understand that seriously, I am not going to personally mock them for making clumsy pickup attempts or having really crappy or ill-formed ideas about ladies because heck, lots of ladies have the same. It isn’t really a man-vs.-woman thing at all (but many want you to believe it is) since so many women have internalized misogynistic and sexist worldviews. But men benefit from male privilege and don’t always see the hurt their sisters have had (and continue to have) wreaked upon them. It hurts these totally-decent men when they realize they’ve been authors and conspirators. And yeah, I know that’s a hard realization to have. I do.

But if they let their injured ego stand in the way of a commitment to doing better, it’s a huge shame. For all of us – including people these men deeply care about, no matter if their gurus and “dating” self-styled experts demonstrate a bottomless void where Awareness, Wisdom, and Compassion should be in evidence.

And now, in closing, I give you the world of fiction – which is, sadly, not all that fictional – and a wonderful scene performed by Tom Cruise from the film Magnolia:

part 2 (.Tenderness.)

Nels, Pensive

Few insights gained in the last twenty years are so securely established as the realization that what we do to children when they are small – good things and bad things – will later form part of their behavioral repertoire. Battered children will batter others, punished children will act punitively, children lied to will become liars themselves, protected children will learn to be protective, and respected children will learn to respect others weaker than themselves.

- from Isa Helfield’s paper “Poisonous Pedagogy”, International Conference on Women and Literacy, January, 20011

***

About three weeks ago I wrote about the limitations of the Good Parent model – the Good Parentâ„¢ who raises the Good Childâ„¢ – and the suffering these concepts necessarily inflict (briefly, on everyone – but especially women, children, babies, families with disabilities, those living in poverty, and any marginalized group or minority).2

I’ve thought a lot about how I needed to see the subject through. I want to edify, instruct, and help – not merely deconstruct and analyze – so a follow-up seemed necessary. The task is not simple. See, I’ve been elaborating on better models for parenting and better village practices, from the general to the specific, for some time now. I can say with authority the ideas I express, now matter how clearly and circumspectly and appropriately I put them forth, upset a lot of people. Our culture is so built on the necessity of child-as-second-class there is an immediate and vitriolic response to those of us who challenge these edifices. I’m reminded of a quotation I recently read by Dresden James, British novelist and scriptwriter: “A truth’s initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed.” This, in short, is why people get so angry if you identify “spanking” as merely a special word for the practice of hitting children. This is why if one writes about the abstention of domination in parenting strategy, people trot out very old, unimaginative, and tired-out examples of “What if a child tries to run into the street?” and “Why don’t parents control their children in restaurants?” This is why so many try to frame any discussion of best practices for children as a cultural war between parent vs. non-parent, even though it is absolutely not (many parents enforce unhelpful and authoritarian – and failing – models of child-stewardship while many without children have some of the best and most creative ideas for a better society), which inevitably creates a rather terrifying and depressing cultural concept of “every man for himself” – an ethos singularly toxic and horrifying to thrust on our young ones as we wholly do.

I’m tired of some of  these rather predictable conversations, and I’m disappointed in individuals and groups that should be doing better. This site was started as a social justice project within the blogosphere, but the current grassroots activist field therein has been an utter disappointment – and that’s an understatement – in discussing the rights of children and our responsibilities toward and treatment of the child class. Children are not “choices” (as so many other normally-astute activists frame them) but are a part of all of us; furthermore our commitment to bettering the world means recognizing they are our most vulnerable, most exploited, and suffering populations, across all racial and socioeconomic groupings, faith models and belief systems, class strata, and community models. I’ve discovered many social activists if not most are not willing or able to commit to a greater intersectionality in their efforts (probably because they don’t want to examine their own adult privilege).

So today I’m going to speak to a rather small group, I think. Those who already know we’re failing – who already see the “boiled frog”3, the troubling results of our practices invested on children. I’m speaking to those who know we need to do better but aren’t sure exactly how. I’m speaking, mostly, to parents/carers who feel haunted and amiss – and to compassionate and intelligent adults who care about our future. I’m speaking to those who want to parent their hopes, not their fears, and the non-parents who are ready and willing to be a part of this.

I’m going to talk about Tenderness.

We don’t much value tenderness in our world. It’s one of those optional and circumstantial things, an occasional indulgence rather than a commitment to a way of life. We think of tenderness as a feeling, not a practice – something akin to the experience of affection. But tenderness is an exercise, a way of life, and functioning in our larger communities I might call it a discipline. It only improves with practice and wisdom.

When it comes to children many like to talk about the Real World (whilst they work at creating or supporting singularly artificial institutional environs for said children, like compulsory schooling). And of those who invoke the looming spectre of this Real World, many are ready with talons out to dash apart an enthusiastic practice or promotion of tenderness. You see, in their worldview “soft” or “permissive” parenting will result in a Failure in the Real World (or Spoiled Children). Usually those quick to criticize don’t even bother reading, with any critical or considered analysis, the most humane and deeply rugged practices put forth by stellar authors, thinkers, and spiritual teachers. Critics of more humane treatment of children create strawmen (sometimes straw-hippies, ha!) as fast as they can to tear them down. Their words are filled with deep-seated cynicism, pain, anger, and fear.

Of course, in the longest view, how we raise our children – and we are all raising the children around us, whether we admit it or not – is instrumental in creating the Real World. We have been doing a fairly poor job, as shown by our failing educational system, the endemicity of youth anxiety disorders, eating disorders, depression and suicide (the recent bullycides4 have called attention to some of these very serious problems) – and just the garden-variety symptoms of misery I see in so many children today: duplicity, unhappiness, suppressed authenticity, and fear.

Besides, even if we were to pretend this rather dismal “hard guy” view of You Need To Learn To Cope in the Real World wasn’t a perpetuating cycle of dominator culture5, poisonous pedagogy6, and a rationalization of sadism7, “tough love” parenting strictures actually countermand healthy functioning and growth in children – in other words, we end up seeing more aggressive, angry, fear-based behaviors and children who learn very quickly to behave differently depending on who’s watching or Who’s In Charge (as opposed to growing their intrinsic moral center)8. We are, in short, growing Bullies and those who will be hurt by them – not compassionate citizens and heroes.

Most parents/carers/adults want children to survive. Whatever my differences from USian mainstream parenting practices, we have this in common. It’s my view and experience that treating children with tenderness and protecting them while they are under our care prepares them supremely for the nasty aspects of this Real World (that is, if you believe Nature didn’t screw up when she built us, the most successful ape on the planet) and in fact positions them best to be the change we need in this world.

Many parents, carers, teachers, and adults without children intuit the need for better models for child-caring than our recent history affords; there are swelling movements, sometimes fragmented, to reclaim humane parenting and save not only our children but ourselves. You can see this burgeoning awareness in communities that align themselves with principles of Consensual Living, Non-Violent Communication, Natural or Authentic Parenting, Attachment Parenting, Attraction Parenting, Radical Unschooling, Life Learning, and Autodidacticism, etc. Still, even well-intentioned adults have a hard time releasing models of coercion and control with regard to children: hence you see discussions of “positive discipline” and “gentle discipline” (in other words, for example, a rejection of hitting alongside laboriously-crafted defenses of “time-outs”). These concepts of “gentle” discipline make no sense or at least are only cosmetically or by-degree different from those who use more loaded or violent words, strategies, and physical responses. Discipline is discipline and there’s nothing gentle or positive about it; that is, an authority big and strong and (to most children) scary who will Have Their Way whether they sugar-coat it with words like “bummer” or enforce by a systemic removal  of “privileges” and loved possessions or time spent doing the things they want to. “Discipline” has nothing to do with safety – keeping our children safe and occasionally keeping others safe from our children – but it is an almost universally-accepted lie that it does.

Authoritarian and authoritative parenting (more hair-splitting of dominator culture) are exhausting battlefields we lay out. The skirmishes are grim or heated and brief moments of triumph are soon eclipsed in bouts of fear and shame and anger and confusion. Eventually our children move across town or the country or the world. Walls are set up. Parents are left lonely and uncertain and brittle. Children are left wounded and have cut themselves off from their parents; children, now grown, carry childhood injuries. They have lost even the desire to repair the lost connection with their parents.

Authoritative/authoritarian parenting propagates suffering.

But tenderness is life-changing.

From here on in this piece I’m going to refer to parenting, but really the concepts can be applied to any adult in relationship with a child.

What is tenderness? Tenderness is a spiritual practice: for those few individuals who do not believe we have souls, I suppose one could call it a logical one as well as it generally serves our health and herd relationships. It’s hard to articulate the practice of tenderness in a thorough, quantified way here in a short article; spiritual and humanist teachers have written entire tomes on similar concepts. I identify with concepts learned through studies of Christian and Buddhist works so my practice and concepts around tenderness are thus informed.

Briefly and significantly with regards to caring for other human beings, in the pursuit of the practice of tenderness I first must acknowledge my own suffering. I must – at least temporarily – abandon my scripts of blame and rehearsed anger and recrimination (note I am not offering a judgment on the validity or invalidity of such scripts) and instead simply see my suffering for a moment, with clarity, feel the shape of it – observe it and see it is not Me (“I” am who is doing the observing). This is the beginning.

Now for many if not most of us, our suffering is often such we cannot simply wish it away or banish it. Yet our suffering is at root of why we cling to worldviews and behaviors that are dysfunctional – and harm others. This is deeply relevant to the practice of parenting as the relative helplessness (enforced legally and socially in almost every way) of our world’s children puts us in power positions; we inflict deep damage. This is both an awesome and a scary responsibility, and one reason many are fearful at the thought of having children or even disgusted by the idea (such individuals also often want to believe they can just “opt out”, that they aren’t in fact participating in the larger village of child-rearing by their silent support of the status quo). On the other hand, this mission can be incredibly transformative; it is why, for some, having the care of another human being, a dependent – often their own child, but not always – can be the catalyst to a spiritual awakening unlike any they’ve yet experienced.

When we have the presence and space from our mind’s rehearsals of suffering and anxieties – that’s when we are best equipped to care for another human being (and not just children, either). That space is the fertile ground for the beginnings of the practice of tenderness.

When we parent from this place we respond to our children’s needs while having a longer view of our job as parents. This is such a tremendous gift, and I wonder how many parents and carers experience it. Instead I believe, most are familiar with the tension-wire feeling we have at all times or that can be activated at any moment (sitting in a restaurant, we haven’t eaten all day, our two year old begins making happy noises, the table over shoots the very familiar toxic glares, our stomach knots, “not again”, our acute awareness of how unwelcome we are here and in the entire public sphere until our children sit still enough and are quiet enough for everyone else). Ugh. I’ve been there. It sucks, and as I’ve said before, ultimately it is our children that pay the price as we lash out, restrict them, suppress them, require Obedience and Submission, hit and shout when “no one’s looking”, work ourselves ragged in the culturally-supported ritual of performing Good Parentâ„¢… and so on.

Yet parenting from a place of tenderness and Presence has the ability to lift these experiences, as incredible as this may sound, to transform them. Parenting with tenderness involves a deep-seated sense of unshakable joy; it involves my awareness it is my child I am with and the world around us in its chaos and coarseness and anger and fear, is just another presence in our day, nothing personal, not a boot to crush me (try as it occasionally might), powerful – is it? Time and time again my smile, which begins deep inside me, in my stomach, and emerges from my Being, I smile at the next table and I smile at my child (and I help my child) and I smile at my hunger (which may go unsated, for now) and I smile (with sadness) at how many adults react with such anger and fear to small children – and my calmness has soothed everyone – myself, my child, sometimes even, but not always, the angry customer at the next table. The trick is, you can’t fake it. But when obtained, it’s real.

Parenting from a place of tenderness keeps me strong for the times my children suffer or make mistakes and the times these events surprise or hurt me – or others. It is not “turning off” my instincts or alacrity or my loyalty to the rest of the human race, it is going deeper within myself where I find an indomitable ground, a strong woman, not her first rodeo, a person I like very much indeed as it turns out. Therefore some of the old fretting worries surface like they always have – Why is he/she doing this?  Have I failed as a parent (mother)? What’s wrong with him/her/me? - but instead of the anxiety, fear, anger, and confusion I’ve typically experienced in the past I often feel calm, alive, aware – even amused. As author Eckhart Tolle relates after a disturbing event at his then-workplace long ago, “There was a brief shifting from thinking to awareness. I was still in the men’s room, but alone now, looking at my face in the mirror. At that moment of detachment from my mind, I laughed out loud. It may have sounded insane, but it was the laughter of sanity, the laughter of the big-bellied Buddha. ‘Life isn’t as serious as my mind makes it out to be.’ That was what the laughter seemed to be saying…”

Parenting with tenderness means trusting the process of growth; it means giving love and support and assistance instead of withholding it or provisionally doling it out in order to coerce children into “better” behavior, like the Operant Conditioning experiments performed on rats (sadly, many, many adults do this by rote to children). It means folding a crying child into your arms and not believing the thought (formed out of fear and narrowness) that their emotional display is “babyish” (over time, this thought coupled with negative judgment will not come at all… and what a beautiful experience for me to have left it behind!). It means over time seeing your child and their suffering with deep compassion and intelligence and depths and calm, not identifying with the phrases “throwing a fit” or “having a tantrum” (imagine my surprise and delight when this awareness began to evidence itself in my experience with other grownups!), nor identifying with the fear that would have you rush to “fix” their pain. Parenting this way, or beginning to anyway, has resulted in more peace and happiness in my home – and “better behaved” children – than I would have thought possible.

Parenting with tenderness means not looking over our kids’ shoulders for the accolades of others (or the label of Good Parent) as we hustle them to the Accomplishment – reading, writing, riding a bike, “please and thank yous”, multiplication tables, straight As, Miss Congeniality – but being with them as they set their own goals and helping them in every way we can and watching with amazement what they can do (not watching what we can make them do).

Children have or develop, when nurtured and not exposed repeatedly to the trammels of adult privilege – or exposed as little as possible anyway, innate reserves of intuition, wisdom, compassion, righteous outrage, brilliant humor, fair-mindedness, and a capacity for forgiveness and love that rivals any bodhisattva. Tenderness and responsive, considered stewardship of our children will not only raise wonderfully-adapted and “well-behaved” children (promise!) but will also promote our own healing. Tenderness and nurture assist our children (because much as a doctor does not heal our body, rather our body does the work – children grow themselves) more than any artificially-prescribed “boot camps” parents/adults convince themselves are necessary9. To paraphrase author Naomi Aldort (and I wish I had her exact words here) – adversity is good for children, but not when organized by those whose job is to nurture and protect the child. I have seen this bourne out in our own family life countless times – countless.

Tenderness is meeting a child at their expressed need; tenderness is rejecting our arrogance when we attempt to direct what our children need, or what they need to be rescued from (the oft-maligned “helicopter parenting”), rather developing the extraordinary presence and observation and longer, more spiritually-centered awareness so many children find incredibly nurturing (my own father had this gift, despite much idiosyncratic coarseness). When we are in tune with our children, they will ask us with clarity (or we will be able to see with clarity) when they need our help. To my surprise, it’s been less often than I’d have imagined.

Tenderness is the only thing that has given me a compassionate awareness of my previous mistakes; after all, I could have heard all the well-reasoned and logical arguments in the world for more humane parenting but my mind could have dismissed them (as inconvenient or only for the “privileged few” or as naive or simplistic) – had I not been open and seen the suffering I was inflicting on these beloved children. Tenderness is the part of me that has, over the years, acknowledged the personhood of my child at the soul-level (or whatever you’d call it) – not merely a foil for my own ego and Expert status10.  Acknowledging my mistakes – instead of clinging to my dung pile11  - I have gained humility and wisdom (and hope to gain more). Our children will experience our improvements as healing, if they are not too far hardened to us. And on that account, it’s never too late to attempt to restore harmony between us.

And here, I would like to say a few more things about my own family.

The other day I heard my son Nels set up a cry and he came into the living room. His face was flushed and his eyes were full of hurt. His sister had bit him. Their skirmishes are increasingly rare; thus for one to proceed to such a level was surprising. Even as I opened my arms I knew something was wrong for my daughter, for her to hurt him thusly (not that long ago, before my husband and I began a deeper awareness of gentleness, a fight between my children that escalated to this level would be more commonplace and we’d have Laid Down The Law on them, more shame clouding up her own inner sense of justice and betrayal, obfuscating her integrity in a scary and humilating lecture…).

But now, in this moment, my son buries himself in my open arms. His bite is angry-looking indeed. But in less time than it takes to settle on the couch together he has stopped crying. My mind is calm and I am sad for his pain; I empathize without anxiety. Untainted by the fear and anger his sister’s behavior would have triggered in me only a short time ago, I have an awareness I must talk to her and we must try to discover what is wrong (which I later do). I have another moment of clarity: the wrongs the two commit against one another along with any redress will ultimately have to be navigated within their own relationship (in other words, I will not seek to force insincere apologies). My son soon hops down, his body language and spirit calm, fully recovered. He kisses me, his face tear-streaked and warm, he tells me he loves me.

Tenderness is making the time, later, to speak to my daughter Phoenix. She and I are sitting in her closet. She is silent and suffering (sadness, not anger), out of the reach of my loving hands, but she is stoic. I ask her if she wants to know what I think. She tells me Yes. I say, “I think you feel bad about yourself as a person.” “Yes,” she whispers. I say, “Part of this, maybe a lot of this, is my fault. I’m sorry.” After a beat I say, “I’d like to help you feel better about yourself. Would you like my help?” “Yes,” she says, again, and then slides into my arms. We sit for quite some time in calmness and I stroke her hair. I am sorry for my mistakes in the past but I am here with her now instead of there. After a while she makes a joke about her father, cooking dinner in the kitchen, his efforts coupled with much noise and clamor. We laugh.

Tenderness is my son in the car last night. “This is my golden apple. It is precious,” he says, as he smells its fragrance and holds it in his hand for along while. Later, he carefully eats it to the core and set it aside on a napkin so as not to mess the car upholstery. Later still, he tells my husband and I he wants to tell us something something. He says, “I know I always change my mind, and I’m sorry for that. But I regret coming on this car trip. I wish I’d stayed home and played.” (He is six years old.)

Tenderness is my daughter, as I type, from the living room: “Mom, can you please help me?” She asks. I come into the living room. She directs me clearly and with confidence (she is setting up a huge, messy living room fort for herself and two friends). “Thank you,” she tells me when I have finished assisting her, and I return to my writing.

Tenderness is a bit later as the house full of kids gets a bit rowdier. My daughter pops her head through the door and asks, “I’m sorry, are we being too loud for your writing?”

Tenderness is in our mistakes; tenderness is me seeing the children have poured too much milk and the half-full bowl sits on the counter and I am troubled as my mind goes to grim realities of grocery monies and I, exasperated, tell them to please try not to waste food. The kids smile and share the rest of the bowl of milk, drinking it up, standing in the kitchen, laughing. I apologize (which is accepted) and I ruffle their warm sleepy hair and I think how much smarter they are than I.

Tenderness is in our mistakes: tenderness is later at night when my husband, at the end of his ability to cope, very tired, snaps at our son and our son cries; our daughter puts his arms around him immediately and comforts him. A few minutes later my husband puts his arms around our (now calm) son and says he’s sorry.

Tenderness is my son sliding into bed with me this morning. I whisper, “Are you okay?” and he says, “Yes,” his entire Being infused with the knowledge of Self, security, and love provided for him. Tenderness is holding him in my arms while he falls back asleep.

Tenderness is the root – the only solution that will save our children, and will help them save others. It can help save us, too.

You are free to join us.

“You don”‘t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Martin Luther King

  1. You can read the whole piece here.
  2. “Hi. My name is Kelly. I’m a recovering “good parent. (part one)” at underbellie.
  3. “Boiling Frog”, Wikipedia entry
  4. “Bullycide”, Wikipedia entry, with references
  5. “Dominator culture”, Wikipedia entry
  6. Poisonous Pedagogy on Wikipediamore cultural implications
  7. See Study – half of high school students admit to bullying at CNN
  8. See “Spanking Makes Kids More Aggressive: The Research Is Clear” at psychologytoday.com; followed by “Spanking in the U.S.A.: a sad state of affairs and why spanking is never okay” at child-psyche.org and the typical backlash against anyone who speaks out against hitting children, followed by the tired-out “but I turned out fine!” single data-point anecdotal refuting and unwillingness to make the conversation about something larger than Oneself
  9. See Love and Logic, a well-intentioned mess with many levels of Fail, built almost entirely on the (false) principles that parents MAKE children, not that children grow themselves despite our attempts, for good or ill, to help or hinder
  10. “On Seeing Children as ‘Cute’” by John Holt at The Natural Child Project
  11. “The Worm”, an allegory

Hi. My name is Kelly. I’m a recovering “good parent”. (Part 1)

Part 2, here

"No Child is Born a Criminal", video clip

Camila Batmanghelidjh

 

“No Child is Born a Criminal” at The Guardian, 3 minutes and 48 seconds.

If you read nothing here or only have time to skim, I ask that you please watch this video.

I used to not get upset by the “bad kids”/”bad parents (mothers)” talk. Because I knew I was a Good Mother™ with Good Kids™ – see, I could “prove” it by their manners and how I could get all stern in stuff, in public, and make them “behave”, and get everyone’s approval, and then I could prove how I wasn’t one of those BAD parents, ew! It worked out really well!

At least… in supporting Oppression in our culture.

And… It actually didn’t work out for me, or my kids, very well at all. More in a minute.

See, one day I saw how harmful the whole business is. And now? I’m just done.

It’s hard to escape deep-seated child-hate, yes even when we are socially steeped in the myriad kinds of suffering that results. I’ve seen child-hate crop up loads (well, more than usual) recently in the articles regarding the recent publicized bullycides1 – probably because, to put it succinctly, bullies still scare the hell out of us.

We cannot continue to tolerate violence, that is clear. And yet our fear and suffering are often hand-in-glove with the very factors that create tragedies like these. When our strategies come directly from responses of fear and anger and deny the humanity of perpetrators and the reality of the forces that shape these tragedies, they are are often ineffective and/or further perpetrate the very things we are afraid of: some of us hide, some of us want to be the ones with the bigger stick to beat the bullies down in the name of justice.

These incidents of bullycide are enraging and upsetting, the culmination of a terrible series of events, adults in power who’ve let children down, children who’ve made mistakes and committed wrongs against one another, oppression and fear, damage, death, destruction. The stories are hard to read2 because we think of our loved ones – or ourselves. They are hard to respond to with good strategies because many of us relate, having been on one side or the other of bullying behaviors (usually both at some point) and we are damaged from these experiences. Many of us have not healed from wounds inflicted during our childhood. We remember with righteous anger or trembling fear these horrible things that happened to us. We want to speak out, to voice our pain. The pain and anger are so loud in our blood we sit down and start typing away. We walk amongst others with our gut in a knot of pain.

As the legal aphorism says, “If you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. If you have the law on your side, argue the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.” It is really easy for many to pound the table about bullies, about “assholes” and “psychopaths” (when children are younger you hear them called “Devil’s spawn” and “brats”, my parents used to call me “Little Hitler” when I was two!). It feels (momentarily) Good and Right. Does it help? Hmm… Does it further perpetrate harm? You might not like my answer, which is: Yes.

And the fact so many even well-intentioned adults don’t realize any participation in Dominator culture is exactly what creates and reifies bully culture and oppression is just – for me – devastating.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about these subjects over the past week. How would I write about it? What or who would I address? How could I discuss the poor strategies many grownups persist in (which need to be addressed) without denigrating the feelings of Fear and Anger these grownups have (which are entirely valid)? How could I differentiate the role of good leaders – who employ effective and holistic strategies against the abuse of power – with those who (mostly) “pound the table” – without disrespecting the feelings and experiences of the latter group?

The answer is, of course, to reflect on where this starts for victim and perpetrator: childhood.

So here, reader, is when I begin to talk about childhood. And here, perhaps, is where you may no longer want to read on. Because I’m not going to be writing to those who have not done their homework as to whether the child class is an oppressed group in our country (short answer: they are, and across all races and genders and socioeconomic classes etc).3 To further argue the subject is exhausting to me, personally, just now, and I have been let down by so many activists who do not engage in this work or take it seriously as their own activist subjects, seeking support for their own personal brand of social justice without seeing the limitations therein.

I am going to talk about childhood a bit, and here is another thing I’m not going to discuss: I’m not here to address the feelings and angry accusations of those without children who claim they aren’t “allowed” to weigh in on parenting or child behavior4 or the accusation that all those who parent children reject out of hand the experiences, feelings, and thoughts of those without children. Don’t misunderstand me: these feelings of minimization felt by those without children are important; indeed I have discussed them, though not yet at length, before5. I’ll likely write on the subject again.

The truth is of course it isn’t really a parents vs. nonparent thing anyway. Framing the issue of child oppression this way only obfuscates and ensures the continued oppression of mothers and children. It also means the best efforts and research in anti-oppression work regarding the child class is ignored in favor of shouting matches where everyone feels entitled to weighing in on with their “expertise”. And, sadly, those without children who have deep-seated anger regarding child behaviors have more in common with many parents than they might realize; much like racism and homophobia, none of us have escaped internalized child-as-second-class-citizens worldviews; instead we must work to undo them. Sadly, many if not most parents daily devote their work as the Long Arm of the Law, doing their best to “guide” (meaning coerce, control, beat, etc.) their children according to oppressive strictures.

And with that last I am – finally! – going to tell you who I am writing for, today.

I’m writing to other Good Parents™ who know it isn’t really working.

I’m writing those who already have those squicky feelings about how we frame children and speak about them and treat them. I’m here to speak to those who already know the problems of bully culture do not start in a vaccuum. Those who’ve felt uneasy when they see parents/carers cockily strut their, “I’d never let my kid such-and-such” or “I’m raising my kids right”, etc. stuff – the kinds of statements parents are so culturally-rewarded for saying (and talk is cheap). I’m writing to those who were smart and “strong-willed kids” (hi!), intelligent enough to see the “I’d never let my kid blah-blah-blah” is a road that only leads to two destinations: the person with the stick and the person being hit with the stick (remember, the person doing the hitting always feels righteous in the moment he/she is doing so, for whatever reason including Good Parenting and Concerned Citizen).

I’m speaking to those who’ve either not been damaged so much they cannot disengage from their personal history (for whom I have much empathy; some of my friends who most adhere to authoritarianism in parenting were themselves abused and maltreated horribly – one of these friends gives thanks for the beating and abuse at the hands of her mother – it kept her “safe” from worse things – but admits she is too afraid to have children herself as she knows she would likely be unable to not abuse them; naturally this person also supports corporal punishment of children even as she does not want to be the one who “has to” do it) or who’ve healed enough to be ready to do their part and Help. Sadly, there are too many who are – for lack of a better phrase – wounded. They aren’t yet ready to join to make a better future. I suspect many are scared and angry about the vulnerability of the child class and do not want to take a real hard look at what’s going on.

At root like a cancer our culture perpetrates poisonous worldviews reified generation upon generation. Most grownups believe kids will go astray unless we force values into them, like opening their throats for ill-tasting medicine “for their own good”. I used to believe this myself, even if I would have resisted such a grim characterization. Thus, many parents are afraid to relinquish control. Why wouldn’t we be? We know how severely we will be tasked and blamed (especially mothers6) if our children fail, or hurt other people, or wreck something, or say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Our strategies may be poor or not good enough but our drives are quite honorable: we don’t want our children to get hurt; we don’t want them to hurt others. We want to be Good Parents™. All most of us know are oppressive edifices that employ Control models. Many of us as children were told “sit down and shut up” – and rarely did anyone defend us or stop the diminishment and/or abuse – so much we grew a thick, leathery skin so we could deny how much it hurt. We merely, now, breathe a sigh of relief to have left it behind us. Now we’re in charge (or we SHOULD be, it’s our place and prerogative).

Never mind that Control doesn’t really “work” – for anyone. Sure, it seems to function well at first (or looks like it). We tell ourselves Control is what keeps our kids from running into the street and being killed by a car (this, along with the “loud children in restaurants”, are the two most oft-employed examples used to justify adult privilege). Make no mistake: we are responsible for our children’s safety, entirely at first, diminishing as they grow and learn to care for themselves. But so many of us go astray; as our children grow we shift our Survival and Safety drives onto our need to control child behavior, as well – an error socially-enforced, and one that doesn’t necessarily evidence itself immediately. Thus we can make our children (most of our children) toe the line and say “Please” and “Thank you”. We lap up the praise we get for “good kids”. When we hear other parents (mothers) dissed – for feeding their children “junk food” or, alternatively, for being “control freaks” about “healthy food”, or for not being involved enough, or being over-involved – whatever the Parental Evils of the day are being lamented – we breathe a huge sigh of relief because it’s the OTHER parent (mom) who sucks, not us. See, we know how to raise our kids in proportion. We make sure our kids have the exact right manners/diet/values/foodstuffs/education etc. They aren’t talking about US. In my case, the razor-thin line to walk in feminine perfectionism was dialed up all the more acutely once I embarked on Motherhood; and I know I’m not the only mother who experienced this.

Still, for a while we try to keep up the effort. We have successes and they dull us to the truths deep within our bodies. We have the “well-behaved” kid. This feels so good! Sure, sometimes we’re uneasy… when someone says something horrible and we recognize ourselves, and some of the unaviodable Truths of parenting, and we feel that little earthquake that informs us how much pressure it really is. So we say something. Usually mildly. Then we hear: “Kelly, I’m not talking about YOU, you have good kids, you’re raising them right.” I’ve heard it so many times. When my kids were younger it felt good. See, I was doing it Right. If the kids slipped up I’d only have to nip in and employ a little control. A little pruning.

And it feels so good until you’re under that lens – until it’s your kid who has the audactity to, you know, be a child, and hit another child, or wander over to another table in a restaurant (if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard the “horrible kids in restaurant” anecdote… I’d be able to buy my own restaurant!), or loudly proclaim a preference in public, or break down crying in public (and we all know how well that socially enforced suppression-of-unwelcome-emotions thing works for grownups!) – and then?

Then. Ouch. You want to know what happens? Let me tell you, you probably won’t like hearing it. Then we are crushed by all the judgments we’ve held against those other parents (mothers) who were Doing It Wrong. Then we’re alone – yet on display as Failure. Then we maintain the thin-lipped smile or brittle “in control” mommy mantra. “I”ll talk to you when you can speak nice.” “You need to quit this fit right now.” “1… 2…. 3…” We call our child a “brat” and shake our head (from our own fear and anger and as a performance for the other adults watching, the other adults putting the pressure on to “control our kids” – or maybe they are primly “not saying anything” but judging, and don’t think we don’t feel it). Then we hold it together and then, safe in the car, or in our home, we scream at our children. We hit. We say horrible, horrible things to them.7

Then, all the cultural pressures are rained down upon: our children. Literally the most vulnerable group in society.

Don’t worry. We don’t scream and hit our kids in public – if we are Nice White Ladies (or whomever) and that’s part of the training that is. Thus all those other people going about their day, they don’t have to see the fallout. You’re welcome; another service of Not Inconveniencing You, brought to you by the Kyriarchy, penalty paid by the little ones.

And the cycle continues.

If you don’t think this happens you’re only kidding yourself. You don’t need to be a parent to start caring about it, either.

Me? I had to stop being a Good Parent™. I was hurting my kids too much – and I was suffering not only from the Perfectionist mantra but by the awful knowledge me, I, was hurting my own children, a stark bottomless awareness that caused me more pain than I could have previously believed possible.

So yeah, I’m no longer a Good Parent. I intervened early enough to begin providing a better future for our family; I’d like to believe I’ve begun undoing damage. My children are now safe (safer). They are happier. I am happier. My husband is happier; our marriage has improved. I am moving through the pain inflicted on me as a child and more amazingly still I am moving through this with my mother (the author of much of my pain as a child). My children have given us another chance; and we’re giving them a better one.

And this? Is why I write.

Many who read my work know we are now life learners – sometimes called autodidactic homeschoolers or radical unschoolers – that we live consensually8, and that we do not “discipline” our kids. And I understand – well, I sure do understand now that I’m some years in! – since this is my field of study and my lifework, that the concepts of consensual living, life learning, radical unschooling, parenting without discipline are terrifying, confusing, and yes, even enraging to many. I get that they scare and upset many people. Those of us who employ it are called “crazy”, “loony”, “abusive”, “neglectful” or “sheltering”, “elitist” or “low-class”, “too intellectual” or “backward”. And you should hear the things they predict for children being raised in homes like these.

Those who say these things do not ask us how it actually works (but I like to believe some of the Good Parents™ reading here just might start to). We do have strategies; we do have a body of evidence. We have advice that does not require all parents follow the exact lifestyle tenets we do; improvements can be made in all circumstances. And we know eventually some people will catch up. Me, I’m waiting for them when they’re curious. I try not to think too much about what their children might be going through – unnecessarily.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “˜Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”‘ To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother”‘s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers “” so many caring people in this world.- Fred Rogers

My kids are going to be Helpers. They already are, and they’re pint-sized.

That’s who children really have the potential to be; if we treat them right.

That’s the solution to invest in – for bullying, to stop the wrongs being committed, for compassionate, intelligent, strong, firm, direct intervention, for leaders, for joy.

Trust us. Join us.

I used to be a Good Parent™. But there is hope, even for that.

Next week: Part 2.

Mentioned/Further Reading:

“Dancing between the tables: on the personhood of children” at Raising My Boychick.

“Bullies = bullies, children =/= sociopaths and other simple equations” at mymilkspilt.

Choice quote from the excellent “Children Take Up Space (and Notice When We Don”‘t Notice)”: “Children take up space, and when we don”‘t notice them, they hurt. It isn”‘t just a mother”‘s issue to let you know that. Children notice that we don”‘t do enough to give a damn about them, whether they know about social justice or not (some of them do, mine does). It hurts them. It should hurt more of us to realize this.”

“shorter, cuter, more honest people” – including in comments the typical “terrible children/parents in restaurant” derail, 400 of ‘em – at Feministe.

“I’m a Good Wife” at mymilkspilt

“My Child Takes Up Space” at womanist-musings

Mothers for Women’s Lib; I recommend adding this excellent site to your feed reader as it does not update often.

“Kids: screw ‘em” at Pandagon. Those who think only individual breeders are solely responsible for the holistic well-being of their own children have a lot in common with rigorous pro-lifers.

“How Children Learn Manners” by Naomi Aldort. This article was the first to expose me to unintended but unavoidable fallout of “manners” policing and enforcement when foisted on our children. Shortly after reading and discussing this with my partner, we stopped prompting our children. P.S. while I’d like to keep this article free of the justification of our parenting strategies by the “results” of our children’s behaviors I also know this kind of article challenges many people – who respond by predicting children will grow up total “sociopaths” without such “common sense” socialization. Thus I will point out our children, 6 and 8, evidence consideration, empathy, and social behaviors of saying “please”, “thank you”; they do not curse in public spaces, they make eye contact, shake hands, introduce themselves, and listen to others.

The Natural Child Project – better ideas for parenting

  1. “Bullycide” google search
  2. “safety” at kelly.hogaboom.org
  3. There’s already wonderful work being done: for some 101 you can read here at womansrights.change.org; in addition “The Adult Privilege Checklist” is a good start. The short essay “The Blank Page” offers much incredible insight: “Almost all so-called educational activity is pervaded by a notion of direct — and therefore violent — adaptation by the child to the adult world. This adaptation is based upon an unquestioning obedience, which leads to the negation of the child’s personality, a negation in which the child becomes the object of a justice that is no justice, of injury and punishment that no adult would tolerate. This adult attitude is so deeply rooted in the family that it is applied even to the child who is greatly loved. Furthermore, it is intensified in the school, which almost always methodically enforces direct and premature adaptation to the necessities of the adults environment.” Finally: read “Are Children An Oppressed Class?” at genderacrossborders
  4. This is entirely countermanded by the experience of those versed in US/UK/AU parenting culture: for instance I threw a rock on Google and immediately found a great example of typical child-hate made public and much “weighing in” on child-raising; “Entitlement-Minded Mommies” also earns points for the oft-trotted out “horrible child/parents in restaurant” trope and large doses of child-and-mother-and-grandma hate – kyriarchal perpetuation across three generations!
  5. One of my first pieces here at Underbellie regarded ways parents/carers can foster better relationships with their friends without children (“Breeding, or how not to be an inadvertant jerk” in the UB archives); incidentally, not only has my parental experience been saturated with lots of “weighing in” on my parental performance by many, many people, but I have indeed sought out those who have valuable insights, including those without children who it should not need to be said, were once children themselves. My favorite friend to discuss all things child-rearing related (besides my partner) has no children; several of my favorite authors with respect to parenting strategies do not have children. Et cetera.
  6. “I Blame The Mother”
  7. “and hours later I’m still thinking about her” at my blog
  8. That really does mean something – it’s not just an empty New Agey phrase: consensual-living.com

childbirth is natural / childbirth is danger danger!! or perhaps: if you’re a woman you suck

Newborn Nels

I totally had this baby to make you all happy, and it didn't even work!

A recent slight disintegration of discussion at a feminist blog I generally enjoy underscores the facts:

Women get it coming and going regarding childbirth and children. Just: constantly. And from the most elaborate and varied angles.  It’s almost breathtaking.

Just a primer in case you’re completely clueless: women are put down if they don’t want children or feel ambivalent on the subject. Childfree women (or childless women, or if someone can find a term that doesn’t offend those with kids or without, let me know) are harangued pretty regularly – when will you have kids? What? You don’t want to? Why not? What’s wrong with you? Oh you poor (unnatural, frigid, spiritually-devoid) thing.  If you don’t have kids you don’t have a life.  Tsk tsk.

Women who do want children but can’t make it happen – their bodies don’t provide the technology, they don’t feel they could support a child, they don’t have the support they require, there are physical or mental or chemical or financial barriers?  These women are constantly marginalized from the smallest throw-out sentences in children’s books (“A womb is a special place inside a woman where babies grow” purrs a very well-meaning, liberal-sentiment children’s book) to the glowing pictures of women-in-hospital, life fulfilled, yay baby!  Birth is talked about as “natural” – yet in the fervor to reclaim and rescue America’s abysmal birth culture these discussions can further alienate and hurt those who don’t have a “natural” or complication-free experience.  Infertility is somehow still a woman’s “fault” or failure; at best there is an insensitivity about the whole business.  “Just adopt!” chirps the seriously problematic hand-wave (socioeconomic class fail, to start) so many pipe up with when a woman has a problem breeding the more typical way. To my own consternation I hear women chirping proudly how easily they get pregnant, it happened at the drop of a hat, blah blah, with no regard to the woman standing next to them whose eyes fill with tears at hearing such oblivious enthusiasm.

Women who want children and then have them?  Here’s where we get right up close to the subject of birth where misogyny really ramps up.  You see garden-variety and boring misogyny when birth is discussed in any detail: accounts of orgasmic birth* (best-case, awesome birth scenario) and birth rape** (a very bad-case scenario) vilified, pooh-pooh’d, or ridiculed.  It would be boring and played-out if I didn’t regularly see how much these dismissals hurt actual women, their children, their partners, their families.

I’m one of the last category mentioned above – a woman who wanted, then had children – and I could wax eloquently on how that opens a whole shit-storm of criticism.  You birth the baby in the hospital or with drugs?  You’re a sell-out, a wimp, a failure, either a privileged prima donna or a sad statistic.  This goes double (or triple) if you have a C-section or if you (gasp!) formula-feed your child.  Women are cut open and subjected to the complications of heavy-duty abdominal surgery (the current C-section rate in this country is on the rise and at about 30 percent; some states have a 38% rate) and then the women themselves are made to feel like failures.

Have a baby at home (on purpose)?  You are an irresponsible, silly, vain (or ignorant) hippie.  [raises hand]

And for mothers, this is just what you’ll get five minutes after breeding the little person(s).  I haven’t got into the de-statusing and wage gaps and judgment (work outside the home or not? You’ll get it either way) and picking-at for childcare and schooling and career choice that await women in all walks of life.

Not everyone wants to admit this, but babies and childbirth are kind of everyone’s business – yes, men too. And yet your “everyday man” and fathers are, of course, mostly exempted from the vicious part of these conversations. While (white) men are still the primary women’s health policy makers, the OBs (who generally assist in most births in this country), the law- and policy-makers in this country, and even though they are often in positions that direct quite a bit about how pregnancy, labor and delivery goes down for many American women, they do not suffer the consequences and recrimination for birth outcomes nor passionate discussions about integrating family life with paid work. In the trenches, where women hurt the most, some of their bodies savaged or messed with and their life choices – to breed or not to breed, and how things play out when living their lives – sneered at, their emotions on edge and their sufferings and triumphs diminished or laughed at.  Too few men take these issues up as the human rights concerns they are.  Women are shunned and blamed for their suffering, if not additionally accused of Ruining America for being not-mothers or not-good-enough mothers or over-involved mothers.

I have no easy answers.  Yet probably Step One would be to give more credence to women and their lived experiences.  If a woman says she doesn’t want to have a child, please do not second-guess nor pity her, and please take away from this Actual Real Woman a commitment to stop assuming all women want babies, babies, piles of babies.  If the statistics show a wage gap and a lack of fair housework distribution between heterosexually-paired partners, respect that as a reality that involves, you know, actual people, and is a further testimony to our culture’s continued inequalities which yes, we should be working to fix.  If a woman speaks up about her birth or birth culture in this country, please take this as seriously as a discussion on your pet social justice topic, because reproductive rights and experiences fall under human rights issues that are happening to, again, real people.  Allow the many suffering women and babies and the statistics in America’s poor birth climate some consideration.  If you can’t or won’t do much about it, at least respect those who are fighting the good fight.  Because there are good reasons to fight it.

Step Two might be to stop attacking individual women for their choices or their life circumstances.  Just because you are personally squeamish about the phrase “orgasmic birth” does not give you the right to mock the real, actual women who find the subject important.  Just because you breastfed and stayed home to take care of your children does not give you the right to weigh in on the love, hard work, and commitment of any particular woman who did not (in this example) breastfeed or stay home.  Remember, we don’t pick on dads for this stuff, which is a red-flag for sexism at best.

And finally – again, just for starters – we all need to listen and believe.  Because something about the anti-women sentiments that rear up in these conversations remind me of a phrase I hear oft-repeated in school and childcare environments, a phrase I have never liked: “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit”.  Our cultural history has been one of silencing women, calling their concerns about housework or babies or jobs with or without kids silly, allowing their bodies to pay the price for being female.  You don’t have to understand it all (indeed, even highly-involved activists are continually learning), but belittling the conversation?  Uh, no.

Because: “If you don’t find time to change the world, then you’re busy keeping it the way it is.” (unattributed)

Mentioned/Further Reading:

“Non-Medical Reasons for a Rise in Caesarian Sections” at Sociological Images

* Several accounts of orgasmic birth at unassistedchildbirth.com

** Birth rape: “More Than a Traumatic Birth” at truebirth.com

A review of Heather Has Two Mommies at Raising my Boychick

“Maternal Death in the United States: A Problem Solved or a Problem Ignored?”, 3 part article by Ina May Gaskin

VBACtivism at the Feminist Breeder

the over-involved Momster, a convenient premise to continue the laydee-hatin’

The MOMster

Why did I even bring this thing home?

The anti-mother element in our culture is one of the hardest things I live with.  I feel its sting on behalf of many categories of mother (because yes, our culture categorizes us) even when I don’t have personal membership in the latest group being lambasted (formula feeders, c-section patients, morbidly obese mothers, mothers in any class besides working-class, mothers of color).  When mama-bashing occurs in a way that seems it could apply to my specific person, I feel it lasered in on my any possible defect even though hell, I know I’m a pretty good mom and a decent human being.

Still, whenever I fail – however briefly or epic in nature – it’s the cultural judgment and denigration of womanhood and motherhood, this enormous pressure to be all kinds of awesome (intelligent, fit, beautiful, kick-ass, kind, organized, unique, sexy, wise and whip-smart), that roars loudest in my ears.  For the moment I swim in guilt and smallness, knowing I’m deficient, and no other mom is as shitty as I, and I’m screwing my kids up, and it’s too late even though they’re only six and eight because I’ve set up all this pathology with my Horribleness and I’d should just give the whole thing up but then that would really screw up my kids and just: Suck.

But that’s just me.  No other mothers ever feel this way, right?  <snort!>

Because, you know, mothers are one group we don’t like to give a break to (like so many groups we belittle).  Our culture’s judgment and callousness towards mothers seems so needlessly cruel (although I suspect it has its uses, more in a minute).  Whenever our media crows the latest horrific thing that has happened to some American child the wail sets up: “Where was the motherrrr?!?”.  More disturbing still, there are those who seem to think the misfortunes befalling children are the just deserts to these women who’ve somehow failed their children (Seriously? Because a child being harmed or killed or dying isn’t already, you know, some of the worst shit that could ever befall many, if not most, parents?).  Mothers are too involved, not involved enough, overbearing, pathetically passive, too selfish, too selfless, too absorbed in their children, too preoccupied with things not their children.  They’re sell-outs if they stay at home to raise families; their priorities are skewed (and wrong and anti-family) if they aren’t home enough.

Briefly, and before I get to my main point, in late October 2009 I remember reading the sickening account of the Richmond, California 15-year old girl who was raped by many male assailants during a school dance.  The story was deeply sad and awful as such stories are; troubling me further were the vast amounts of comments online blaming both the victim herself – and her mother (just for, I suppose, the two of them not having the female decency to avoid rape). As many point out, internet discourse can be shockingly uncivil or cowardly; yet as it is also pointed out, it can also reveal thoughts and feelings people harbor deep within.  In the Richmond story I was struck by how much blame was attributed to the females in the case: the victim and her mother – women both deserving empathy, support, and compassion, I hope it need not be said.

This might seem a shocking example of wrongheadedness but I am here to say it’s nothing new.

It hardly matters the most recent bit I’ve read on the internet that gets immediately to the Mama-hating, because it’s such a common trope.  Funnily enough and as I’ve said, it always hurts to read.  Today’s example (which I am deliberately not linking to; it’s actually not that important who wrote it) happened to be the charge that moms are Boring and their over-involvement is The Cause of Our Country’s Problems.  You know, by ardently caring about chemicals in baby bottles or our parenting techniques or the carbon footprint of our family car we are creating a culture of tit-sucking Dependents who won’t be able to do anything for themselves.

Right.  So now: Mamas?  You’re boring.  Also, P.S., you’re Ruining America.

This flavor of vitriolic Mama-depreciation is nothing new.  Authors, pundits, and pop-culturalists have trotted out this particular bit since long before I ever birthed my own: the obsessed monster of a mother who has no life except for living vicariously through her kids.  She used to have a career but now she’s all nipple-shields and carseats and SUVs (we used to diss her minivan and soccer-chauffeuring).  Her involvement with and work for the family are not the result of her genuine caring and the heterosexist hierarchy that both demands these efforts and offers little status nor esteem for them, but rather her pathetic underdevelopment – a projection of her own Narcissism and shallowness.  Her interest and fascination with family life and babies demonstrates her profound limitations; these will surely and inevitably lead to her attempting to manage everything about her children’s lives which will result in ruining said children’s lives and, by extension, Everything Else.  So at this point an article like this will typically have some really cute and sarcastic (but rarely real-life) examples of Epic Fail, like how this woman’s children will be living at home at age 40 and won’t be able to hold a job, yawn yawn, you get the idea.

There are so many problems with this sort of article it’s hard to know where to start.  Let me just begin with what occurs from the example of my personal lived life, because funny thing is?  No woman I’ve personally known is anything like this caricature.

I started my family in a mid-to-upper class environs (though our little family, economically, qualified and qualifies as working-class), mostly white, self-identified “progressive”, and to a soul very – very – doting first-time parents.  The women I knew were those the Over-Involved Mother insults are often referring to: they had privilege (white, straight, moneyed as far as the globe goes), obsessed in doing well by their kids and often mourning their careers (whether on temporary hiatus or rejected permanently).  They found themselves up to their thickened middles in kid-care and parenting books and temporarily sexless marriages (not a uniform factor to all unions I knew, but common enough).  They really did care about this stuff and they talked about it – not all the time, but a heck of a lot.  They were literally just like these articles claim! OH SNAP! HA HA!  LADIES ARE STOOPID!

Of course, all these women had personalities, drives, desires, and yes, ambitions extending beyond family life (although why women, and not men, are supposed to apologize for their passionate work in “family life” boggles me).  A conversation on the playground about the best highchair might not sound too earth-shatteringly Thinky to someone who doesn’t have to worry about keeping a baby safe while eating (and anyway, as to highchair conversations being dull, I wonder why mothers should be required to be more damned entertaining and urbane than anyone else?) but the women themselves were not boring.  You had only to ask, to spend time paying attention – to change the subject if need be because hell, that’s allowed – and you’d find them as Special Snowflake as, well, anyone really. Like M. who was an amazing cellist (who kept teaching music even after breeding) and a pretty gifted photographer and had a career in pro-choice activism.  Like A. who’d waitressed and barfly’d and traveled Central and South America and now balanced a single income with a family of four including a former trust-fund husband while they both didn’t really know how to pay bills.  Like S. who was the most organized person I knew and had made it a priority to travel to lots of druggy outdoor festivals and made Wild and was a catalog of counter-culture.  Like A. who with her husband started an art supply store, and who could get so passionate about social justice that while she talked her breastfeeding child would pop off and A’s nipple would be an angry point while her mouth and mind, undistracted, spoke her passionate truth.  Like B. who read fashion blogs and knew more fashion than anyone I’ve known and started a little recipe blog such I ended up starting my own (I have decent enough readership, incidentally).  Like T. who was a former teacher and had gone through difficult and heart-wrenching infertility treatments and who taught me a lot about being less of an asshole about that sort of thing.  Like K. who was a former drink-and-drug ingenue, a chemical engineer, proficient seamstress, social activist, and B-movie buff.  Hey, psst, that last one is me.

It’s true that many of these women did obsess, and I do mean obsess, about partnership and new motherhood (P.S. they obsessed and thought and dreamed and talked about lots of other stuff, too). And why shouldn’t they?  It is fucking intense!  It has been, for me at least and alternately during different times in my life: amazing, exhilarating, more exhausting than anything I’ve known, rewarding, deeply troubling, by turns sublime and mundane.  I’ve had a lot of hard-working (and incidentally, a handful of well-paying and relatively socially prestigious) jobs, and while I loved those jobs and cared deeply and performed well, there’s nothing that has rocked my worldview quite like mamahood (probably because I was raised in a culture and family that kind of sneered at it).  I am not a boring or shallow or eye-rollingly obsessive person for caring – even caring a lot, for a time in my life – about homebirth or cloth diapers or cooking or sewing up the most perfectly soft blanket I ever could.  I’m not more silly than anyone else doing any other thing because each of these efforts increases my awareness of my abilities, of others’ needs, of the earth, the environment, my neighbors, of Love, of craftsmanship and failure and triumph.

Additionally, it seems almost Feminism 101 to point out the conversation dissing over-involved (and boring!) mothers gives fathers an Out entirely. For every over-involved laydee wondering how to pen a birth plan there is often a father who relies on her to shoulder the large part of the burden of worrying about such a life-changing event.  For every highchair enthusiast female there is often a male bankrolling or helping to bankroll the purchase.  Women who run about cleaning house and looking up recipes and reading on parenting techniques are often partnered to an (often male) person who comes home to a child (or children) well-loved and well taken care of.  What gifts these must be for him!  (He often comes home to dinner made, a house and checkbook managed, and a partner who deeply cares about his happiness and helps care for his needs, whatever her personal idiosyncratic tendencies.)

I know some people would like to believe that because I or any other mother (remember, we do not punish fathers so direly for showing any of the above passions or proclivities) get excited about reading up on childhood allergies or learning how to clean with vinegar and baking soda or cooking gingersnaps for a school function that we are tedious Bores of the first degree.  I mean, it’s a little confusing because people like eating the gingersnaps and benefitting from our volunteer efforts and they sure as hell, at some point, likely benefited from such a woman taking care of them. But now?  It’s so passé.  And worthless.  And shitty for America.

So, I don’t relate to the Out-Of-Proportion Over-Involved Mother because I haven’t yet met her – that I know of.  Now a real, true, rabidly-focused or even pathological parent?  Yes, this person exists (in all genders and sexes).  I know this because – guess what, there are all kinds of people out there!  (Like today I read about people who fervently collect artifacts involving human hair!*). She’s just: damned rare.  Really.  Or she’s remained elusive to me at least.  And don’t be so quick to smirk at a mother’s passion and endeavors – a passion that may very well be a temporary life stage borne of the life-changing event of parenthood.  This passion will often involve forging a person who cares passionately about other people, and her endeavors hopefully help raise a generation that learns how to care for one another as well.  After all, truly caring for one another – deeply and with consistency – is not always a culturally-expounded virtue but one at times in our lives we all, every one of us, desperately need.

Because seriously?  Next time you think moms are so, you know, MOM-like and boring and shallow because they give a shit about strollers?  First off, consider going and fucking yourself**, because someone changed your diapers and fed you and loved you up (and if you didn’t get the last I am deeply, deeply sad to hear this), and secondly – just, give me a break.  Women are people.  Even moms are people.  Just people, no more, no less.  And they certainly don’t owe you some kind of hip Awesomeness, all the time.

Kind of mind-boggling, eh?

Mentioned:

Rape in Richmond, CA from CNN.com

“What’s Wrong With Granola, Anyway?” by Wendy Priesnitz from Natural Life Magazine

Annual Hair & Trade Show in French Link, IN. Mr. Kendall, curator: “Mr. Kendall: “My life revolves around hair.”

** “Go Fuck Yourself”

guest post: we’re coming to eat your CHILDREN!

Jasie, author

Turns out this headless fattie has a head. And a brain. Heart, mind, passion.

This was posted today at my friend Jasie’s blog, By The Seat Of Our Pants. It’s what we might call an excellent dish of 101 with awesomeness on the side. Please go to the original article at Jasie’s site if you’d like to join the discussion.

Seriously?  In my opinion if you are serious about human rights and not espousing and supporting the opinions of a myriad of Haters (plenty of people will give articles like this a skim-over but will not in fact be serious about these things), you’ll read this essay and the links Jasie provides.  Bookmark the article and come back to it.  It will still be here for you.  Promise.

And thanks, Jasie.  Well done.

OMGOBESITY epidemic – We’re coming to eat your children!

Except… we’re not. We’re totally not. Fat people have no secret agenda to “make the rest of society fat”. Those of us involved in the Fat Acceptance Movement don’t have any hidden ulterior motive to try and assimilate you into FATNESS. Because it simply doesn’t work that way. Scientists and dietitians and creators of weight loss and diet programs have not found a safe and effective way to permanently turn fat people into thin people. Alternately, there is no proven way to take a thin person and make them permanently fat. So don’t lose sleep over it.

I know that for some of my readers, this post is going to come off eye-rollingly 101, but I don’t touch on the subject of fatness and Health At Every Size all that often outside of my FATshion outfit posts, so I really would like to go there.

These truths we hold to be self evident:

  • You cannot claim to know anything about my health just by looking at my size. No, I am not riding the fast train towards Diabetes, I do not have high blood pressure, my knees are doing just fine supporting my weight, and I have never once had a doctor express concern that I may develop any of those conditions. I don’t have a family history of diabetes, and while, yes, there has been hypertension in my family history, I have personally found that avoiding stress and getting enough sleep and exercise has kept high BP at bay.
  • You cannot tell anything about my diet or activity level just by looking at my fat body. I have known many thin people who are sedentary and many fat people who are avid joggers, swimmers, tennis enthusiasts, ultimate frisbee players, belly dancers, hikers, and yes, fitness instructors. Fat people don’t inherently avoid exercise or stuff their faces full of twinkies all day. I have known fat vegans, vegetarians, locavores, omnivores, and eat whatever is around-vores. The same goes for people who happen to inhabit thinner bodies. Plainly put – people are unique and different from eachother. This includes our bodies.
  • If you are a person who used to be fat and has lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off for over 5 years, congratulations – you are either a unique and special snowflake, or the higher weight you used to be was NOT your bodies natural set-point. Our bodies do have a natural weight-range that they settle into, based on many factors. These include, but are not limited to: genetics, environment, whether your body has birthed children or not, lifestyle and career, metabolism, access to fresh air and pure food, income and socioeconomic status… the list goes on. I have maintained the weight I am at for awhile now because that is the weight my body settled at. Sometimes I eat quite healthily, sometimes I forget to eat regularly, sometimes I eat large amounts of calorie-dense foods because they are delicious and pleasurable. My exercise level also fluctuates depending on my mood, the weather, my amount of free-time to participate in athletic activities, etc. Through all of those fluctuations, my weight remains steady between 225 and 230 lbs. I am between 5’2″ and 5’3″, this weight puts me into the “morbidly obese” category. Many people have certain connotations associated with the term “morbidly obese” and from what I have seen, they don’t include a body like mine that enjoys physical activity, home-cooked meals and good health.

  • Headless fatties who are portrayed in the media to illustrate the “obesity epidemic/crisis” are people. They DO have heads… and names and personalities and families and lives and are whole people. Please remember this when spouting off about “personal responsibility” and how all those OBESE people are costing YOU money because of their assumed ill-health and grossness. Thankyouverymuch.
  • My health and my body is not public property. It is no one’s business but my own. The fact that I put myself out there and publicly give details about my life is MY choice. I don’t owe it to anyone to be the “good fatty” who does everything right and is still *gasp*… FAT. I don’t owe it to anyone to be visible and upfront and honest about my health. It is MY choice.
  • With that said – I do think that the governing body of our country has a responsibility to provide decent health care and resources for its citizens. I support universal health care and am 100% for whole foods being served in schools, people getting off the couch and out into the fresh air, advocating cooking at home with wholesome ingredients, fresh seasonal produce being available to people of all races, income-levels, and sizes. All too often I see these ideas trotted out under the guise of “fighting obesity”, though, and that saddens me to no end. So many well-meaning people who truly want better health for all, whose hearts are very much in the right place are putting their focus on the wrong thing and/or are getting dangerously close to suggesting that a portion of the population is somehow “wrong” for existing the way they currently are. Those are some mighty dangerous waters we’re swimming in. Michelle Obama, Jaime Oliver, Michael Pollan, Lenore Skenazy – please, please, please stop focusing on eradicating fat in our nations children (and everyone in general). It’s not going to happen and it shouldn’t be expected to happen. We’re on the same page in so many ways, but when I see headlines that read “Is It OK to be Fat?” or “Obesity Killing Millions” it’s hard not to get a little worked up and a little defensive… See what I’m saying?
  • By eschewing the diet & weight-loss mentality I have not “given up” or chosen to just be FAT FAT FAT. I have simply decided to do what’s best for my sanity and my health by leaving behind disordered eating practices and unrealistic “goals”. I don’t owe it to you or my mother or society at large to fit into some arbitrary little niche of what is acceptable. I’m listening to my internal voice and harnessing my power and strength to buck a system that IS NOT WORKING.

a little bit of related reading/viewing for you:

“strong character, female”

My daughter, 8 years old

1, 2, 3, 4, what are we fighting for? Only: everything.

My daughter Sophie, who turns eight today, is friends with several children – all male – from the neighborhood.  The normal group numbers about seven boys ranging in age three to ten.  We moved here in December; in late February our weather opened to an early (and likely false) spring.  So the sun is out and the kids are too, which is inviting all kinds of play and skirmishes.

Some of these boys?  Their parents may be letting them down. Because they’re exhibiting behavior like miniature Entitled White Males and it’s all I can do not to heap a little strangling on them, although I know just as my hands slipped around their necks I’d realize it was their parents, and maybe The Patriarchy, I am pissed at.

But my daughter?  She seems to be handling it well enough.  Here are four examples for the last handful of days:

Friday: her nine year old friend is avid about handling Sophie’s new pet, a leopard gecko named Anna.  The boy keeps calling the reptile a “he”.  “She’s a girl, P.,” my daughter responds firmly and immediately.  And she has to repeat this as P. keeps repeating the masculine pronoun, because the child can’t apparently grasp the concept of an entity being female if there are no obvious gender qualifiers (if Disney were God it would have designed the creature with high heels, a feminine swish-walk, and long, batting lashes).

The next day we have a sleepover.  My children’s ten year old friend shouts to the other three kids, “Hey guys, hey guys, come in here!” Sophie responds with, “I’m not a guy, L.”. Again: instinctively, firmly.

Last Wednesday: my daughter comes in from the sunshine and tells me she and about five boys had been playing War (with nerf guns) and the group – all five of them – joined on one team and singled her out.  My stomach instantly curdles at the cowardly pack-behavior exhibited – note, I had no fear for my daughter, whatsoever – I open my mouth to tell her Wow, it seems like they must perceive you as a real threat if they need the odds to be five-to-one, but before I can do so she says, “I’m going back there and telling them that’s not fair,” and calmly walks back out the door.

The day after this, upon returning in the afternoon she tell Ralph these same boys told her they would “kick the c. out of [her]” (she says “c.” instead of “crap”, and my children make me laugh; my eldest won’t allow even the most minor of curse words to escape her lips; my youngest has a specific and acerbic tongue that can put curses to use in such a way as to make a pirate blush).  My daughter, even though threatened with a beating, is not particularly distressed; she is home, waiting it out.  A little later she ventures back over to play and apparently all goes well.

These examples, piling one on top of the other, are striking.  And my daughter? Sometimes you gotta call a success a success – and after all, those who read my blog know I’m good at admitting failure -

And this?  Is a success.

Now first off, don’t get me wrong: my daughter is not being overtly and scarily targeted by bloodthirsty miniature thugs. As far as I can tell these kids are playing with eachother mostly nicely.  There is no Lord of the Flies shit going on here (yet!) because it seems they enjoy one another and find enough diversions to have a good time.  And also?  This pack stuff?  This is life, this is how you have to figure it out.  She’s sorting it, and she’s sorting it out well.

Earth-shattering?  Perhaps you think not. But then, here’s my very young child speaking out against bullying and – perhaps even more important to me and dear to my heart – in the examples of the “guys” and the “he”-reptile, she is speaking out against the concept that “women are women and men are people”*, a subtle but earth-shatteringly devastating construct we live and move in.  She’s perceiving and addressing things when so many others – children and adults alike – simply do not.

I told her father about these incidents the other day over dinner.  “We’re raising a feminist,” I said, half-amused, and we exchanged an exuberant high-five in the restaurant.

I remember the days I parented babies and the ideals I had at the time.  You know, all that gender-neutral parenting stuff floating around in the soi disant progressive and liberal parents I associated with: I’m going to let my girl play with boy stuff and let my boy have pink stuff, that kind of thing. My experience shows those ideals, those plans, they’re only a start – and I so often see it peter out as the twin forces of school and entrenched family dynamics win over.  Babies don’t give a shit what color receiving blankets they’re wrapped in, and their baby playmates don’t either, and for a couple years anyway some fathers don’t mind as well.

But by about age five I’m hearing my friends say well, actually, My five year old boy just prefers to wear blue and play with trucks and My girl, well, she really does like pink and princessy stuff, and what to do [handwringing]? (Note: “progressive” parents seem more concerned when their daughters choose and re-choose the femme, and largely okay when their sons consistently reject the femme. See, even for “progressives” femme=bad).

Here’s the thing: I don’t have a problem with preference, even when it includes the femme for girls or the masculine for boys. My children seem healthy and well-adjusted and their predilections flip back and forth. Sophie’s favorite color used to be pink; now it’s light blue. My son at four wore drag regularly; he now and then experiments with growing his hair shoulder length. His nails are currently hot pink.

Preferences aren’t often as innate and innocently biological as so many adults want to believe. Heaving a big sigh of relief and resignation at your son’s gendered dress preferences, or your daughter’s entrenchment in Barbie and Taylor Swift is the easiest response – but is it what I want to do?

Because how gender-neutral, how feminist, and how anti-racist can you raise a child if you are not seriously checking your own baggage? Egalitarian treatment and feminist values begin with the head of household and how he/she/they operate. This may mean allowing your daughter to be assertive and managing your own discomfort; many parents I see are instead (constantly and either directly or subtly) socializing her to be more passive and people-pleasing. This may mean, as a father, speaking out against injustice so your son can learn behaviors of rejecting the alpha-male and pack cruelty mentalities. Raising egalitarian, fair-minded, and empathetic children may mean reducing their exposure to marketing, video games, and television (Guess what? Seriously! Advertisers should not get to raise your child! It really is your choice how much of this stuff they consume!). Raising a heroic and equality-minded child means more than waiting for your kid to say, “What does ‘gay’ mean?” – it means bringing the subjects of homo- and transphobia into the house and the discussion, in whatever ways are appropriate for the family.

Raising non-sexist children means actually caring about this stuff and enacting it in our lives – yes, including the hard work between heterosexually-partnered couples – because I can’t just put these items on a to-do list for when they now-and-then come up.  The marginalization of certain groups of human beings and the suppression and subjugation of the female is happening all the time and all around us. If you are waiting for your children to come to you and then you’ll do the ‘splainin’ about how we should be nice to people and stuff, this strategy just won’t be able to compete with larger cultural tropes and your own as-yet unexamined social conditioning. This latter element is, I’m sorry to say, actively passed onto your child if you do not do what my friend recently referred to as “excoriating self-examination”; a process constant, gentle, persistent, humble, sharp-minded, and committed to the Good. “Raising kids right” involves parents’ or caregivers’ active influence and a fight against unfairness in the home and in the community. With respect to feminism, women who do the “invisible work” of the family and get little acclaim, and the men who contribute to this, raise entitled little boys and overworked and resentful little girls, however healthy and “normal” their children may seem much of the time. Sadly, the overlooked and undervalued work of women and the low social and interpersonal status of their efforts is trickier to fight than it might first seem and involves more than the occasional tepid “girl power” t-shirt or pop star.

And yet strategies?  There are many (perhaps I will list more later). Here are a few: I “self talk” a lot in front of my kids – I say things like, “I finished making dinner and got my writing done today – I’m proud of myself.” I point out that when Daddy is cooking, it takes longer and he needs more time, because he is not as skilled as I. I talk about my life before children. I let my children know our lives with them were a choice we’ve made, and one we stand by. I reject sexist shit my friends and family say in my presence – yes, including the sexist shit children say in my presence.

My partner does his part: he accepts my expertise in family matters when he is not performing well and he commits to improvement. He does not shame my daughter’s body, and therefore self, by refusing to help her care for and wash it. He actively seeks out female musicians to collaborate with in his musical projects. He straight-up points out sexism, misogyny, racism, ableism, and homophobia when he sees it in a film or on a magazine cover or in a real-life interaction we are a part of.

I don’t want to be, like so many women before me, an “invisible woman” to my family. I don’t want my husband to get an ass-out when he fails at doing the laundry – hello, he can run an entire computer system at an educational facility, he sure can learn to separate whites from colors! I don’t want my daughter to be invisible and overworked, nor my son to expect another human being to take care of his deemed-”lesser” (but essential) needs should he end up partnered or married.

I want my kids to tune into their own voice – the voice that tells them when they are proud of themselves, or sad, or feeling uncertain, or happy – or when something is not fair. I’ve found my kids have a very high level of emotional intelligence and can express themselves accordingly. It’s been wonderful to watch this process; it has helped me grow personally.

So we’ve taken on the hard work of gender-baggage and prescriptive heterosexism and the laughable concept of a “post-race” America – among other things – and so far it’s going well enough. With regard to ladyness, I have a boy-child who feels free to wear long hair, dress in a formal gown for shopping, sing Abba and Skakira, display tenderness and eschew the pack mentality; a girl who can play aggressively on a soccer field, paint her fingernails black, cut her hair short, select and occasionally wear Gucci Flora perfume – and stand up to five boys with nerf guns (fuck yeah!).

My daughter? In this week or so of playing with the kids it’s dawning on her some of these boys are behaving like asses. But she’s so far sticking to it, and giving them the heads-up when they’re acting like jerks.

I don’t know about you, but I am actually eager to see what she gets up to.

Mentioned / Further Reading:

Anna Dell Geckaboom

* “[i]n which men are people and women are people”: The Smurfette Principle, a twelve-minute video that is a must-see for children of the 80s and the 90s, or anyone who grew up watching cartoons now and then; further links after the video include those of default avatars, “girls as an afterthought”, and “girls relate to girls and boys but boys only relate to boys”. All good stuff.

* Stick figures vs. stick figures who parent

“Raising an Equality-Minded Male”, or the subject of gender neutral parenting, at The Feminist Breeder

Nels and his skirt, on Flickr

“Gender Stereotyping and Under-representation of Female Characters in 200 Popular Children”‘s Picture Books: A 21st Century Update”, February 2007 study

“Strong Female Characters” in film, a must-read.  Because guess what?  It’s still mostly dudes writing movies.  And they aren’t getting it right.

Speaking of film, if you liked the last link, you may enjoy “The Cinematic Man-Child and His Perpetual Harem of Willing, Nubile Females“, my own post from Red Room