unschooling for Haters, especially my favorite kind of Hater, the “skeptic”

Wynoochie River With Friends

a typical day for my kids

Hi. I’m a radical unschooler named Kelly! Listen, I feel ambivalent about labels. On one hand they are helpful for the human mind to process; on the other, the human mind invariably dredges up bias and preconceptions the minute it can label a thing. That’s just how it is. As an experienced unschooler, I thought I’d flesh out many of my encounters with those who hear the term “unschooling” for the first, second, or third time, and the biases so many continue to hold on to.

If you stop reading in a few seconds there is one takeaway I’d like to leave with you: the term “unschooling” means different things to different people. If nothing else, if you go about your day remembering that whenever you hear that word, it could mean something different than what you’ve previously perceived, EXCELLENT. My job is halfway decently done.

I’m actually not going to write tons on what unschooling and autodidactic learning looks like in our family. I write a bit about how our lives play out here and on my personal blog. I’m happy to answer any specific queries you have. You can reach me best by email at kelly AT hogaboom DOT org.

I hope what you read here is helpful.

Unschooling For Haters, Especially My Favorite Kind of Hater, the “Skeptic”

or, how my family life is not all about YOU, but thanks for playing

I resent your choice of words. I’m not a Hater, but I am a skeptic. My cousin unschools and her kids are noisy/dirty/can’t read etc.

On balance, skepticism never helped me much. It didn’t make me smarter, kinder, nor gave me a roadmap to life. A lot of time my skepticism was actually just a barrier I put up because other people’s lives, ideas, strategies, or existence frightened me deep down in the pit of my gut (for me that wall-building action is part of… being a Hater). I understand it’s human to be frightened of the unknown but any strategy – including one of perception and thought – that I develop out of that place is usually a poor one.

Anyway I’m sorry but I think unschooling is irresponsible/neglectful/elitist/etc.

I think contempt prior to investigation is irresponsible. I think you should come to my house and hang out with my kids – or give them a call or email and talk to them directly – before you decide I’m neglecting them. As for elitist, this might make more sense if I didn’t passionately and consistently work with, and know of many other unschoolers who work with, many schooled children, and if we weren’t learning in a much deeper way how to participate in public life, rather than being daily confined to age-segregated institutional procedures. In short, any of these charges might make any kind of sense if unschooling didn’t, you know, work so well at increasing our sense of humanity and our experience of community.

(Oh, and I know you’re not really “sorry”. But, that’s cool.)

Well that’s just my opinion and it’s a free country.

I have a little experiment. Let me ask: is your opinion defensible enough you’d warrant it’s worth five dollars? I mean after all, your opinion influences the choices and realities of so many, and you’re deciding what’s best for like, tens of millions of children (in the US alone). So, are you willing to back up your opinion? Listen to Jeff Sabo’s talk addressing the hundred varieties of “it’s just my opinion and I have a right to have it” conversations he’s had. It will be money well spent. Promise.

I went to school and I turned out fine.

Really? Are you “fine”? I went to school too. I’m “fine”. I smoked for 17 years and I’m “fine”. Is “fine” what you want for your children? And mine? Do you begrudge the parents and carers who might want to explore beyond “fine”?

I went to school and I turned out fine. Kids need discipline.

If you can look deep, deep, deep inside your guts, inside your Knowing Place, and tell me you have absolutely no bitterness at the thought of today’s children having a better life and more freedom, autonomy, and opportunity than you had as a child, I mean if you can really dig in there and tell me that’s not even a tiny part of why you want to force kids into school, then I am willing to entertain that line of thought.

If you know that’s not a part of how you feel, please do read some of Idzie’s blog. She has a great resource, interviews with many grown unschoolers.

On the subject of compulsory schooling being requisite for character development; my unschooled children age eight and ten demonstrate more discipline, sense of self-worth, self-control, kindness, openness, interest, critical thinking skills, and social abilities than most grownups I meet. Full stop.

And briefly: discipline is an inside job. You cannot inoculate a child with discipline no matter how much you coerce, praise, blame, hit, scream at. You do, however, run the risk of creating a praise-dependent, risk-averse, and fearful person.

I’m glad I went to school. I learned blah blah blah

I’m glad I went to school too. I learned wonderful things there, including the experience of forced institutionalism for young minds and bodies. If things had gone differently, I’d probably tell you I was glad to have been unschooled; but we’ll never know, as I wasn’t given the choice to NOT attend school. I think it’s pretty cool my kids get to choose. I won’t be haunted I didn’t let them. My grandkids, should I be so fortunate to have any, will probably get more choices and more nurture still.

Addendum: I used to be someone who took a great deal of pride in my degree, my education, and my soi disant expertise. You know, having those letters before or after your name, having an office with a big important desk and stuff. When I had children I fully planned on raising them academically-achieving, clean and well-mannered, etc. Problem is, when you decide for another human being how they should spend every minute, and how they should act/look/behave (even if you don’t admit to yourself you’re doing this), there will be intensely unpleasant fallout. For everyone. I’m grateful I started to perceive this early on in parenting.

No one stripped my degree from me and no one can take away my accomplishments (real or imagined). Today I willingly relinquish the illusion my education, my position in society, and my privilege make me a better or more deserving person.

If I didn’t make my kid/forbid my kid to X, Y, or Z he would A, B, C (eg. watch TV all day, never bathe, ONLY eat cookies, et cetera).

Yeah. As an unschooler, I hear that stuff a lot. Often from people who don’t ask us if our children watch telly all day, or eat only marshmallows and white rice (they don’t, to either). Most fear-disguised-as-anger, handwringing, and pearl-clutching about unschooling or non-coercive/non-punitive parenting comes down to just a few issues. Screen time (computers and television), bedtime (on the adults’ schedule of course especially since a school schedule is required), hygiene, math worksheets, and food. I can tell you I’m grateful to have left behind mainstream schema on all of that business. My kids’ hygiene is fine, they are active, they eat all kinds of food, they get enough sleep, they have mad life SKILLZ, et cetera.

You’re saying I’m a bad parent.

I haven’t met a “bad parent”. I’ve met sick parents, parents who were lost and overwhelmed. I’ve met parents who’d entirely abdicated their responsibilities. I’ve met parents who chose their addiction over their children (usually not even knowing they were doing so). I’ve met parents who parented with strategies different than mine. I’ve met many, many parents. I’ve never met a “bad parent”.

You’re saying I’m a bad parent.

No, I’m not. Do you think you’re a bad parent? What, specifically, do you have doubts about? Are you seeking help for those or are you surrounding yourself with strategies of Ego-preservation? Why do you care what I think? Your opinion matters more than mine; if not, it should.

You’re making me feel bad.

That is not my intent. This is not all about you. If you can put aside this experience of persecution for a moment, understand this: if others hadn’t written boldly about this non-mainstream way of parenting and living family life, I would have never had a choice of my own to parent a way that has yielded tremendous dividends. I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to those people, and I’d like to pay forward to other parents and children. I’m sure you can understand.

Well this is all fine for YOU but I’m not ______ enough to homeschool (rich, brave, smart, educated, patient, etc).

I’ve met parents with disabilities, mental and emotional health issues, single parents, poor parents, impatient parents, chronically-ill parents, who homeschooled and/or unschooled. I myself used to think I could never hang out with my kids all day, good Lord I needed a break! I’m so glad I faced my fears; I had everything to gain.

I don’t have to defend myself to you or anyone else. 

Nope. You don’t. And you also have the option not to take the piss re: other people’s lives. If you were really relatively serene about your own parenting style, why would you need to pick on others’?

Listen. I’m not the unschool police. I don’t have the right nor responsibility to come to your house and see what you’re doing and hit you with a cat-o-nine tails. No one does. You might be beating yourself up a little but I can assure you I’m not beating you up. There’s nothing I can do about your skepticism and/or rudeness and/or ignorance and/or self-doubt, although sometimes I wish I could. Your judgment and your fears are affecting others’ realities.

Good luck!

 

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.)

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

quick hit: compassion and critical thinking ≠ Big Brother

“History is written by the winners” - non-attributed

Growing up in America we are taught to believe in the Rightness and Goodness of the Meritocracy – that people who have good things and a life of comfort earned it all on their own efforts. Please note, people that have things relatively good tend to trumpet this loudest.  People who have things harder, well, sometimes they have a different perspective. We the privileged often don’t like to hear that perspective.

I believe one’s gut reaction to the “winners” quote above depends on one’s worldview.  Some people might see the quote as purely observational shorthand – that is, recorded historical accounts are told and reified by certain groups while others’ equally valid experiences are suppressed. Some believe the quote to be morally prescriptive in a Darwinian fashion: that is, a “winner” is someone who’s dominated others for their own goals, and – yay, the world is their oyster as it should be (this is sort of the sports analogy interpretation)!

Here’s what I believe: in being a “winner” one is essentially in a position of privilege (no matter how we got there); when I find I am a “winner” I must then look carefully around at how I have prevailed – and who hasn’t, and how to help them if they should want it.  It should go without saying to any who read here that I believe it is my responsibility – given I have relative privilege, good fortune, and personal success – to take steps to care for the “losers”, the down-trodden, those who are being marginalized, eclipsed, abused, oppressed. There are many, many paths of responsibility and stewardship; imagination and exposure continue to illuminate more still.

Some measures are small.  Today in a Yahoo group I made the tangential request those in the discussion pool refrain from using the words “crazy” or “lame”. Here is my clarification post (after I asked and was granted permission to post links):*

My intention wasn’t to police anyone and obviously I don’t have that power anyway (I’m not a mod). I am active in reading blogs authored by people with disabilities and the topic of abelist conversation comes up quite a bit.

For those who are interested, here are a few readings that convinced me to stop using those terms as pejoratives (“adult” language in the links):

“The Transcontinental Disability Choir: What is Ableist Language and Why Should You Care?” at bitchmagazine

“Guest Post from RMJ: Ableist Word Profile: Crazy” from Feminists With Disabilities/FWD

“Why Not to Use the Word Lame: I Think I”‘m Starting to Get It” at Alas! A Blog

I still accidentally say “lame” and “crazy” myself but am working hard to use other effective and less offensive words. Fortunately the English language has many!

This is also a fun read that comes up usually when someone calls out language as being problematic, and the resultant typical objections that often ensue: http://www.derailingfordummies.com/

The moderator immediately accused me of – guess what? Censorship. Yes – the moderator accused me of this. Very rich indeed.

Now of all the toothless arguments people knee-jerk with when their behavior is identified as being aligned with oppressive tactics, cries of “censorship”, accusations of being “the thought police”, and sneers of “PC” probably bother me the most; like an unholy Trinity of Ass they share the same roots of fear and an immediate assumption of bad faith.

I mean really, Censorship? “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” (Here is some 101: “online interaction and free speech” at finally feminism101). “Thought police” is particularly fartsy-bloated with the same tooting self-important drama-horn as the C-word; as if by maintaining a moderated blog or objecting to a word, phrase, or worldview that is offensive or incorrect or bigoted the blog author/objector is suddenly in the POSITION OF ALLTIME INTERNETTY POWER and now has CONTROL OVER ALL TEH BRAINWAYVES / ORWELLIAN TELESCREENS.

PC? Please. I teenaged through Bill Clinton’s Presidential tenancy and the attendant revival of sensitivity/PC language and I can tell you the backlash started so quickly it almost preceded it (which to me is a barometer that people loooooove their bigotries). There hasn’t been a whiff of PC that hasn’t been, like El Niño (this paragraph is very USian 90s), simultaneously and fervently blamed for Everything Bad including Ruining America and also, Now We Can’t Have Jokes.

Back to the Yahoo group response: at current count there have been five responses to my request – very familiar responses to those versed in corners of the social justice online sphere. On the positive side, the original poster who’d used the term “crazy” apologized for using it and said she understood why the word was problematic (classy! and – more later). The remaining four responses have been skeptical and/or hostile and for their brevity have still nailed a surprising number of the squares in Bingo for Derailing – including “You’re being oversensitive”, “You’re being overly-intellectual”, and “Words have power only if you give them power”/the reclamation argument (the “power” sentence is an actual quote from one of today’s Yahoo messages – this person also said, “words hold no inherant ability to hurt”). If the discussion doesn’t die quickly I predict soon I will get, “you’re nitpicking a minor/trivial issue” / “Don’t you have more important things to think about?” But hey, I hope I’m wrong.

The most commonly iterated response was the token/backup trot-out, or what I sometimes think of as the “black friend” defense meant to entirely shut down conversation: “I have a friend / brother / such-and-such in this marginalized group and they don’t find this offensive” etc etc. So therefore: I will not read the articles or listen openly to your points. Therefore: I will ignore the fact that marginalized groups sometimes internalize oppressive and damaging narratives and strategies (reading the above link re: “reclamation” helps explain the so-called “double-standard” on who is “allowed” to use what language). Therefore: I do not care how many other people/scholars/researchers/writers/bloggers have objections and have worked to elucidate others on why they do – my tokenized example puts me above any reproach. This would be a laughable defense if it wasn’t also a very typical response to anti-oppression work and therefore, a bit sobering if not frustrating.

I have no evidence whatsoever a single soul who responded on Yahoo read my provided links, and that’s a shame. I posted them precisely because they were good, well-written, and better formed than anything I could have done. I’ve been exposed many times to the defense of pejorative use of words associated with marginalized groups: “retard”, “gay” (Wanda Sykes – I love it!), “crazy”, “lame”, “pansy”, “spaz”, “moron”, “pussy”,”woman” (yes! This is often used as an insult!), “faggot”, and “idiot” (um, I really could go on and on); objecting to these words and offering up arguments against their casual use is my prerogative and is not done for fun nor whimsy. I further add nor is it my contention those who use these words are Monsters and I am A Thoroughly Enlightened One (please; I only recently got right re: “crazy”; if you search my near decade-long blog you’re sure to see my ass in many minorly humiliating ways). To those who are uncomfortable with being challenged and/or embarrassed, I feel you. I’d offer this tasty tidbit from the Shapely Prose comment policy:

If someone gets pissy at you for using the word “retarded” for instance, that doesn”‘t mean they think you”‘re an evil person who hates developmentally disabled people OR that they”‘re hysterical, overreacting thought police. It means there are people around here who find that word hurtful, and we”‘re a lot more interested in protecting their feelings than your god-given right not to think of a better word.

Believe me; I’ve made my share of comments and been called out; it stings, I know, and I fully expect it to happen again! Being allowed to say anything I want without being challenged is not an inalienable human right; in the glass-half-full analysis of this I would posit that listening openly and self-educating are some of the more breathtaking and beautiful aspects of human responsibilities if we are in the position to do so.

Speaking up is hard. It often isn’t welcome, as any of my dedicated readers will know by now. This isn’t because the world is full of assholes (or at least I refuse to believe this); it’s because many people don’t like having their worldviews challenged; they often respond with a counter-offense (no matter how respectfully, I’ve discovered, one puts forth an objection).

But there are good reasons and positive results from objecting to a harmful status quo; a few touching anecdotes came my way from a father who tweets me today in recognition of these problematic words. “The one that makes me cringe the most is ‘that’s retarded’ and this was before I had a son with a mental disability.” He continues: “Now that I do have a son with autism I hear the ‘R’word and it sounds like it’s coming out of megaphone.”

Yeah. And thank you for sharing. He sends me the link to his blog where he writes about his son; I put it in my feed reader.

And then there’s this: some people truly can pick themselves up, brush themselves off, and thank you for the assistance. The very first comment in response to the FWD ableist word profile linked above is from Sarah, who simply writes, “I”‘ve been guilty of this. How embarrassing! Thank you so much for posting.”

Now that? That gives me hope.

* Incidentally? I would appreciate it if you do not re-tweet, IM, email, or share this article unless you first read through the four links provided in my cited Yahoo message; I typically do not write using linked articles (hence “quick hit”) and these are good ones.

Mentioned/Further Reading:

Meritocracy at en.wikipedia.org

The quote, “History is written by the winners” discussed at the snopes message board.

“Teaspoons 101: I Am Not the Thought Police” at Shakesville.

“Ableist Word Profile: Why I write about ableist language” A great 101 on a way to think about abelist language and the study therein at FWD.

“Being White” by Louis C.K. (trigger warning: rape metaphor)

“Touching Strangers: Making Friends of ‘Others’” at humaneeducation.org, sponsored and authored by Zoe Weil

“What ‘So Ghetto’ Really Means” by Tami Harris at change.org; those who’ve used “ghetto” against white neighborhoods might want to zap to my comment re: growing up in then-largely-white-but-working-class Hoquiam.

Tangentially and finally, because I had nowhere else to post this – someone in rebuttal to my points in the Yahoo discussion offered up this page: “Your guide to living life in the U.S.”. I kind of don’t have words as this does not seem to be a parody.

look fabulous or go home

Look fabulous!

"Why on EARTH she'd think box pleats were acceptable in society is beyond me!"

I’ve been meaning to write a post about Nice White Lady Syndrome, a condition I myself struggle with. Hell, I used to be a walking Typhoid Mary (I’m trying to heal, people).  NWLS is elusive for me to describe but it’s real.  I could easily off-hand name some of the common traits. We with NWLS are concerned with being “nice”, of course, and will go to great lengths (including avoidance of subjects or people) to ensure the facade does not shatter.  We are incessantly – internally or aloud – policing the bodies, clothes, manners and appearance of ourselves as well as other women, thereby making sure any concept of “sisterhood” runs concomitant to the pledging of a sorority that allows some (worthy ladies) in, while some are most stridently refused.

Yet despite the desire to be “nice” many afflicted with NWLS will devolve to hateful language and ad hominem attacks if you call out – however respectfully and accurately – problematic behaviors. In fact in our rigidity against admitting wrongdoing we have a core of steel that matches the most unapologetic purveyor of hate speech.  Now I hardly need point out that not all white ladies who are nice suffer from NWLS (so please don’t be bringing me that bunk). 1  I shall leave it for another post to write much more about my thoughts on this little syndrome but I will say: you see its true colors when you disagree with our most treasured bigotries, perpetrations, and prejudices.

Case in point, I enjoy following Gertie’s Blog for Better Sewing, a lovely series of entries that are akin to one of those entrancing, snapping insect-killer lamps for so many American mid-to-upper class white ladies like myself (we’re in the “working class” category if you’re curious). On May 28th Gertie wrote a bit about her experiences in classes with (illustrious and amazing) professional Kenneth King. In brief, her post stated the following: that as she pursues an interest in fashion and fitting clothes for oneself, inevitably she begins to find problems in the fit of ready-to-wear (RTW) clothing she sees out in the world.  Thus her passion for personal clothing construction becomes a nit-picking enterprise on other people’s clothing – and this troubles her a bit.  Or as Gertie herself says, “It makes sense that as we become more proficient fitters and sewers, we’ll become more observant of the garments all around us. (Unfortunately, we might also become more annoying, petty people in the process!)”2

Gertie makes a good point but the issue is not so simple as mere “nit-picking” or “petty[ness]“, since the intersection of a whole mess of issues comes to the fore when we begin to look at other (usually female) bodies and decide what looks good or bad (I think of sexism, racism and classism FAIL right off the bat, but of course homophobia and transphobia rate quite high).

Sure enough, many comments following this post exhibited quite the buffet of harmful worldviews: mostly with regards to body shaming, a whiff of slut shaming, and socio-economic class insensitivity to put it mildly.  Essentially the reader is treated to many lectures on people who wear too tight jeans and too-small stretch fabrics which means they are basically Letting Us All Down by not looking good enough.

Wait, why am I writing “people”? The vast, vast majority of the eighty-three (so far) comments on this post concern women’s bodies, full stop.  The list went on: people (women) are in denial about their size; thus they wear ill-fitting clothes which are somehow a grievance committed against us, the viewer; people are gross for being fat but they’re really gross for not disguising this fat in some way according to the standards of the poor innocent bystander who has to see this body.   All women should consider body shapers or getting their bra fitted. People should make sure to have their pants properly hemmed because please – “spare a few bucks”, your dry-cleaner can do it for you. Shaming and dehumanizing language abounds: “embarrassing sausage-in-a-casing look”, “trashy”, “rubbish”, “gross”. Muffin-tops, camel-toes, and skeletal women are all disgusting. Anyone and everyone outside of the parlances of what fashion provides should either learn to sew or do whatever it takes to not look slovenly.

I won’t deny that, as a seamstress myself, fit analysis is a huge subject and once you get some chops you may notice poor fit all around you.  It’s where one crosses the line into the many types of dehumanizing language and assumptions, insensitivities, and unacknowledged privilege that things get gross.  Along with this nasty stuff comes the adjunct prescription that all women owe everyone, everywhere the duty to wear something flattering or becoming according to – well, I’m not sure who gets to decide that part (the “flattering” prescription for ladies is a feverish mantra in our society).3 In these four-score comments only one (Tasia’s) pointed out there might be financial and lifestyle considerations that might excuse someone for not making Looking Their Absolute Best a high priority.

There were glimmers of hope in the conversation.  Several commentors laid the issue of poor fit in part at the fashion industry’s ill-service to women in particular aspects.  But many comments were kind of muddy – like this one, which took me on a roller coaster of hope before quickly plummeting into more typical territory regarding fat people and compulsory-DIY4:

I also deplore baggy shoulders and shapeless side seams on plus size women, myself included. I don’t blame the women for this, they can’t help it because many manufacturers offer poorly executed plus size designs. And at certain income ranges that is all that is available to them. When I see this I want to grab the women and tell her, “Yes, you can buy a t-shirt for ten dollars, but if you make your own it will actually fit you and look good and you will feel better about yourself when you see how sleek you really can look!”

Oh dear good Lord.

Then there was: “there is nothing more tragic than a larger busted woman with a seam that SHOULD go under her bust…”

Nothing! More! Tragic!

Believe it or not dear reader, I could go on with more problematic content.  Wondering what might happen, I sent this email to Gertie:

I think it’s awesome you are starting to really SEE clothes and fit issues – and that you have the means, time, and privilege to explore a self-education in creating well-made, homesewn clothes. It’s also wonderful you are sharing your experiences with your readers! I have you in my feed reader and look forward to your writings.

But with your last post, I’m sure your intent was not to start a classist bunch of fashion-and-clothes policing. Where I live lots of people are just trying to pay the bills and feed their kids and have clothes on their backs and try not to freeze their asses while they wait an hour between buses (and of course, I’m a white American and surrounded by far more wealth and privilege than many global citizens have). I seriously cannot imagine looking at ANY fellow human being and picking on their “rubbish” or “trashy” or “cheap” sense of style.

I know there are ways to talk about fashion and the pursuant fun of achieving it that respect all human beings. I am sad to see your comment stream is not a respectful space in that manner.

I love your writings and I hope you take my comment knowing I come from that place.

Gertie wrote back almost immediately and asked if she could publish my email in an Op-Ed on the site. I agreed, although my stomach sank because You know? I’m not super-awesome about wanting to speak up about social justice a crowd of inter-netz anonymous who had committed such egregious class and size acceptance FAIL already. But hell, I know I’m okay with what I wrote so I said Sure.  The morning of May 31st the little “Op-Ed” was published with my email and a sparse introduction from Gertie.5

Since most my Underbellie readers are beyond 101, you can imagine what happened next.  A very small series of comments granted my points; many sent up defensive arguments and of course, ad hominen attacks on yours truly (one commenter described me as “insane”! Shoehorning in the ableist pejorative – w00t!). A handful of people said I was “unfair” and handing out “badges” of wrongdoing (so apparently, no matter how politic you point something like this out, you’re being – let’s face it – a pesky bitch to cite it at all). Notable too were the many who said there was “nothing wrong with Gertie’s original post” (although I’d made clear I was speaking about the reader comment stream specifically), a classic Derail that carried through the discussion over. & over. & over.6  I was accused of taking myself too seriously, told I should take on a “real” social issue, and that everyone should wear “sackcloth and ashes” to meet my standards of social justice.  I expected a few attacks, but I will admit I was surprised to hear how many people claimed style and clothing options have nothing to do with socioeconomic class.

Interestingly enough, those who defended my points said when it comes to commenting on other people’s clothing, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” (this happens to be another adage in the NWLS canon). Although I have often employed the “don’t say mean shit” strategy at specific instances in my life, what’s funny is of course, we absolutely can discuss fashion and fit and style – holding there are good and poor strategies and builds for clothing – whilst respecting other human beings who inhabit clothes we personally wouldn’t wear (and due to our various degrees of privilege may not have to).  Eschewing describing a woman as “trashy” is something I can commit to while discussing an erroneously-drafted or ill-fitting empire waist – this latter an interesting subject to me in terms of garment fitting as I don’t often wear this particular style myself. And yet again, discussions on this subject often devolve into that policing bit; that is, a woman who fully knows well where her empire seam is and doesn’t give a Good Goddamn is thrown under the wheels as Unsightly; so too is her sister who is busy thinking about things other than clothing like – oh I dunno for example, food, shelter, her job(s), her family, her passions, her aging father she’s providing round-the-clock care for in the home, her chronic pain issues, her looming layoff, etc. etc.

Most odd of all were the accusations I was this kind of lurky dark-sided outlander trying to make Gertie “feel bad” for her silly hobby (someone claimed I said “frivolous” and of course as you see – I didn’t).  As most my readers here know I share the same exact hobby (garment sewing). Sewing is a life-blood creative source of joy for me; incidentally, I also share some of the same types of privilege Gertie does. I don’t require her to feel bad about any of these things to make my points.

So you know, my whole speaking up thing just felt like oh, making-fart-noises-with-my-mouth. Fail.

But you know?  Amongst the comments following the “Op-Ed” were some diamonds in the rough:

purplesews wrote:

I grew up steeped in the idea that the best thing to do was go home and stay indoors until you’d lost blankity pounds and then buy clothing – and it’s taken me some time to unlearn that and learn to fit my own unique figure without jumping right to disliking myself – so yeah, that comment thread did make me sad in places. The idea that you owe it to other people to wear “the right” clothing for your age/size/coloring/whatever tends to annoy me – while the fact that the market can’t presently provide most of us with the right clothes for our bodies is one of my hobbyhorses. But then, I feel this way about a lot of kindly-meant fashion advice, right down to good old Stacy and Clinton: I feel like if you walked up to the average poorly-dressed person and handed them $1500 and walked away, they would – well, probably pay off part of their mortgage, but if they had to spend it on clothes, they would probably be better dressed immediately, advice or no advice. I also think it’s interesting that we as a culture look down on vanity – there’s definitely some puritanism to the everybody-in-t-shirts aesthetic – but are very gung-ho about having some duty to others to look nice. It’s a strange dynamic.

emadethis wrote:

This is well-said. I shudder to think of people stopping others on the street and pointing out the defects in their garments. I’m distressed when I see poorly made garments on the rack. The deeper you get into sewing, finding these defects becomes just an outgrowth of your learning. A lot of people cannot afford well-constructed items, myself included. I consider myself blessed that I can sew for myself, but many are not in that camp either, and we need to respect where people are on that continuum.

Solitary Crafter writes:

Maybe I just have low expectations of people on the internet, but I avoided the comments on that post because I assumed that it would devolve into critiquing body size and that comments would be made about people shopping at walmart and all the rest.

As much as I enjoy sewing and crafting magazines and blogs, it’s always clear that people like me – poor, redneck, white trash – aren’t considered to be the ‘class’ of readers or commenters desired or expected and the issues faced by poor sewers and crafters, those of us who shop at walmart and thrift stores for fabric and patterns, tend to be either ignored or brushed away as unimportant.

No, I don’t expect everyone to cover the issues facing people like me, I have other resources for that, but neither do I expect understanding when the issue comes up.

Maybe I’m a coward and maybe I’m just pragmatic, but this is one subject that never can be resolved, even among people with the best of intentions.

A handful of comments like these in an otherwise rather dismal showing gives me hope that what I write and speak about is important (enough).  In particular Solitary Crafter’s comment tugs my heartstrings – I know exactly the exclusion and dismissal she speaks of and indeed was pointing it out.

Part of me aches for the person (woman) who is defensive and angry at my observations. I really do know what it’s like to suffer the pain of having my “niceness” bubble popped, especially in an exposed setting. I know what it’s like to be called out in public (which the inter-netz obviously is) and while many can shake it off, I have on occasion blanched and felt my heart race at such things.  In short, I really do have empathy for how upsetting this sort of thing can feel (and I was only calling comments out primarily with regards to classism; you want to see NWLS in full-blown danger mode, speak up when a white lady has said or done something racist - and yes I’m aware by even suggesting “white” has anything to do with these kinds of behavior I am inviting some indignant denial-screeches!).

An investment in being “nice” is/was a seductive condition.  There were so many perks (if I had good “intentions” my actions could not, I repeat not be called into question) even while it took away my ability to handle constructive criticism and listen to other worldviews. Additional “perks” came in the form of believing I was someone who Meant Well and was Part of the Solution and it was totally other people who were Part of the Problem. Since I had a black boyfriend or a few gay friends or since I came from a “poor” background I’d passed some kind of test where if someone ever brought up those issues with regard to my behavior I’d know I wasn’t in the wrong(, ever), so please do not ever point that out.

I won’t say learning differently wasn’t painful. It was (still is sometimes). In my case (personal story), I became active on a social networking site that had a significant proportion of women of color and queer women and unmarried women with children and I got schooled more than once. I was told when I had said something racist, or classist, or elitest, or using heteronormative language or being a garden-variety asshole. It hurt.

Funny thing is even after I left this community I kept seeking out those types of spaces online.  I kept wanting to learn more even if it meant being called out (sometimes in error, but often with a fair bit of accuracy), yes “publicly” and often not nearly as politic as I myself tried to intervene here.

In attempting to shed my biases and denials and sense of White Lady Sainthood (and I hasten to add I am still working through these things) I’ve become a much better listener and I have a broader perspective. I’ve experienced a greater diversity of friends online and IRL who value what I bring to the party.

But some, it seems, still prefer to stay “nice” – until they have to shout rudely over someone else. I wish them the best in their journey.

Do read the links below, especially the writings of Tasha and Natalie.

***

Thanks Arwen and Paige for your personal assistance in writing this post.

Photo credit: clotho98 on Flickr

Mentioned/Further Reading:

“Body Image, mothers, classism, fashion, Karl Lagerfield, and social inclusion” at lisaschweitzer.com

“Nice White Lady to the Rescue!” at Alas, A Blog

stuff white people do, a blog

“Defensiveness as a Signpost of Privilege” at Shakesville

“Where My Sistas At? The Underrepresentation of Black Plus Size Models in Mainstream Fashion” at racialicious

“Are There Class Cultures?” at classmatters.org

Very brief primer on how classism functions within feminism or women who consider themselves pro-woman, at everything2.com

“Women and Class” (and the avoidance to discuss the latter) at classmatters.org

Tangentially and to sort of soul-destroy anyone still clicking through my links, while searching for a CC-licensed picture I found this charming series of comments under the photo titled “Fatties”. If yer so inclined you can sooth your eyeballs on the photo caption of this treasure: “My Neighbor Is A Big Fat Ugly Pig”. OK, I’ll stop now. Promise.  Just: it was rough finding a photo.

A little ray of sunshine – because there are many people out there working for the Good: definatalie is writing some of the best articles re: fashion snark. Besides her “skinny jeans” post you can read “Confessions of a Former Snarker” recently published on her blog.

  1. This is similar to nice guy vs “Nice Guy“, as explained here and many, many other places.
  2. You can find “Like ANTS Crawling on Your SKIN: Clothing Pet Peeves.” at BfBS.
  3. One of the  most amazing, wonderful rebuttals to this very common and socially-enforced meme is definatalie’s “You Can’t Bully Me Out Of My Skinny Jeans”
  4. Concomitant but not in response to Gertie’s post, blogger Tasha Fierce wrote beautifully on this subject the next day: “The Class Dynamics of DIY”
  5. Op/Ed Column: on Fashion Policing at blogforbettersewing
  6. Derailing for Dummies

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”

breeding, & how not to be an (inadvertent) jerk

Yo y mi amigas

Me (far right) and my girlhood (and non-babybirthing, so far) friends, some of whom may resent me or think I

I want to talk about the people you know – your friends, your family, those who may be dear to you – who don’t have children. Because seriously – Mama, Daddy? You could probably be doing better – if you’re ready and willing to try.

Here’s the thing: once you have a kid, there’s a faction of people that will just hate on your (and your child[ren]‘s) ass(es). I’ve read up on and thought about and pondered these examples of Hate in our culture – and no matter what the specific rant may be (pregnant women do not deserve extra consideration on a bus because they choozes to be pregnant, urban parents’ strollers are too big and full of too much expensive stuff and they’re such assholes for this) – what it really comes down to is that some childfree hate on parents because we, and our kids, have the audacity to exist. It’s about taking up space, mostly – space coming at more of a premium these days, our environment and planet being strained, and here we toddle out our snot-nosed little vacuum cleaners, sucking up even more of everything.  Children are, to an extent, reliant on grownups – they are almost entirely helpless when they are born.  They need our care, plain and simple.  Some childfree folks can’t wrap their mind around this – after all, taking care of oneself can be a difficult business! – so their head just asplodes.

That’s not all, though: some versions of childfree hate-of-breeders are informed by the attitudes of many who feel pressured that they aren’t deemed “worthy” by society until they’ve Married and Babied (this is their baggage, but it’s more complex than that, and I’ll discuss this more in a minute), a hefty dollop of Ignorance – thinking that by seeing how you and your bambino behave on your worst day of the week tells them, really, anything much about the whole picture – as well as an illusion of Control, which many of us parents and caregivers have now had mercifully shattered thanks to our pants-shitting and willful progeny.

I don’t really need to link you to or quote any specific breeder-hate, do I? If you’ve parented your children for a couple years you’re well-seasoned in it.  Sometimes I wish I could rid my mind of it certain examples so chilling and ugly they remain with me like an indelible soul-stain: off and on for the last couple months, my mind keeps going over a rant on heartless-bitches.com entitled “Entitlement-Minded Mommies (and their partners)” – such a caustic, soulless, and judgy spewing of vitriol I won’t even link below.

My purpose here is not to address the Haters out there, who will never particularly care about our actual experiences – any discussion of what it’s really like for us to meet our friends and family’s needs will be met with, “Maybe you should have thought about that before you had a kid” (ha! Hahahaha!) – nor expand their worldview to include reflection on Fact: every person who has ever existed has for a significant number of years needed the care and stewardship of others (if we live a long and full life, indeed our span may be bookended by such realities).

I’d like to talk about friendship.

First, Acknowledge: You Have More People To Feed
I think as parents, maybe sometime around year two, we should be allowed at least one full month in a closet hysterically crying, because it’s just that big a deal and that much of a strain for so many of us.  You know, kind of constantly, and in the backdrop, whatever others may see on the surface.  We have good days and feel on top of the world; our bad days bring us so very much lower than we thought Low could go; besides watching our children suffer we get to feel like whatever is wrong hurts or threatens our babies is Our Fault – such low points are like a straight-up toxic cocktail of fear, remorse, anxiety, and what can sometimes seem like a neverending burden to bear.

So sure, most childfree have very little concept of what parenthood is like: the care for, feeding of, nurturing of, worrying about (something very, very few – if any – involved parent could avoid), and guidance of the children; the constancy of financial, spiritual, emotional, and physical (including the feeding of, cleaning up after, bodily care of, and provision of clothing) resources needed.  But guess what?  Our responsibilities shouldn’t give us a free pass to stop doing, you know, the rest of life.

In my experience not every friend, acquaintance, or family member has understood my circumstances as a mother.  Well, fine.  It’s the truth, and they don’t have to understand it fully.  The question is: how am I going to do what’s right given these are my circumstances?  How can I love my friends and be there for them even if I’m not who I used to be?

Watch Your Mouth
Seriously?  When you say stuff about your husband and your kids, are you being careful?  Our culture gives special support to those who are the following: white, upper- or middle-class, cis-gender, able-bodied, straight, and married.  This support for a “typical” life is so pervasive and seen as is-ought (or preferred) that it ends up creating a pressured and unpleasant place to live for many who exist outside these parameters: they end up marginalized both directly and indirectly, coarsely and with finesse.  Since I myself fall into these categories I’m guessing many of my readers do too.

So, stop talking and consider what you’re saying.  Are you through your words and actions in any way implying that the married, straight, breeding life is normative and prescriptive, an experience all should live or are going to live?  Just stop that business right now.  Consider dissolving your marriage, if you’re totally bad-ass and want to support equal rights for gay and lesbian couples.  If you can’t (or won’t) do that you can read up on heterosexism, you can refer to your husband or wife as “spouse” or “partner”, you can stop doing unthinking things at Moms’ groups like saying, “Where does your husband work?” (which assumes this woman you just met is straight and married to a traditional breadwinner). Language is important because in part it forms the reality for those around us; even more important are the assumptions we carry and those we pass on – sometimes to harmful effect.

So, stop.  Stop assuming anyone else has, or should have, a partner or child(ren).  Seriously, I feel so silly writing this out because it’s rather 101, and this space is not generally a 101 space.  But I see enough of this kind of thing it bears mention.

There’s more: do not say, “When you’re a parent you will understand.”  Duh!  You can say, “I didn’t understand this until I was a parent,” if that applies.  Because it’s true, and hell, probably valuable to say!  And it doesn’t sound condescending nor assume everyone should squirt out some kids to be able to have a well-enough formed opinion!

Language is more than language, and the pursuit of better language – besides influencing other people, and our society and peer groups – changes us within.  When I stop assuming that Parenthood is some kind of journey essential to Wholeness – when I systematically begin to stamp out the wisps of this wrong-headed thinking – I am more open to my world, my friends, their needs and their potential positive influences.  When I stop assuming everyone should (and wants to) get Married I appreciate my own partner at the same time as recognizing, to some extent, the circumstantial nature of our union; I acknowledge the impermanence of this arrangement – however important I hold it – and feel humble, open, and grateful.

Take Care Of Yourself & Whomever Else You Can
I don’t owe my childfree friends a visit to the bar, or a hang-out at their black tie party, or my appearance at their child-excluding housewarming fete (these are real examples from my real life).  I owe them my friendship – more about this in a minute – but the truth is, when you’re a parent you have a few obstacles they’ve likely not considered, and the first that immediately comes to mind is a little complex:

As a family of four on one income, paid-for sitting is something of a fucking luxury, that is when I can find someone on a Friday night in the first place.  And maybe a party or the bar with girlfriends wouldn’t be a first choice when that luxury is obtained: for instance, if I have the kids out of the house I’d like to have the night with my spouse working on projects together, maybe watching a movie, and then getting up to dirty, dirty lovin’. There’s no friend in the world who can compete with that most days.  In fact, if I do go out with you while my kids are being looked after and my partner is available for that movie-watching, house-work, and spousal intercourse?  Then you should consider yourself highly esteemed in my eyes.

Another truth adding to the complexity of the “Why don’t you get out more?” business: our culture is a terrible, terrible village when it comes to raising kids.  Thusly before I had children I thought you know, now and then others would care for them.  And yet in my eight years as a parent, most of those who’ve cared for my kids have been either A. my own mother, or B. other mothers.  My childfree friends have not watched my kids gratis but a handful of times (and those that did have been predominantly female); my male relatives, not once.

Do I “expect” those in my life to watch my kids?  Not really, as in I did not feel particularly entitled to that assistance.  Have I been surprised just how segregated and hands-off the non-parents of this world are?  Hell yes.  Seriously – what is going on there? My children are not that terrifying!

Another reality: you can’t leave little ones in the house alone; and our culture currently pressures parents to not leave a child unsupervised until age twelve.* In terms of social nightlife – unless you can afford regular babysitting or repeatedly burdening your mom-friends with additional kid-care – that’s like a jail sentence!

So when it comes to friendships, for many of us it hasn’t been easy to maintain them without kids in attendance; and yet, some childfree begrudge the accompaniment of said youngsters into the friendship sphere.  No matter the amount of time you can and choose to take from your little ones, give yourself credit: your time is a precious commodity these days in a way others may not understand.

Be There
You’re probably reading this and, if you have kids, feeling hey, possibly you have let down some of your friends and family.  Fine.  The point is not that you should feel terrible for having been swallowed up by the care of children (Hey, guess what, people who haven’t had babies! Did you know newborn babies require to be fed and diapered about every hour and a half, around the clock! It’s fucking crazy!  Just a little informational tidbit!), but that you can show your friends your love by re-committing to the relationship.

The ways to do this are literally endless: it might be as simple as making an effort to listen more and talk less.  Last night I spent about a half hour in deep discussion with two friends regarding the training, care of, and feeding of their purebred dogs, and I didn’t once minimize their experiences by you know, comparing dog-ownership to child-raising while concluding child-raising is so much harder, or more important.**  I wasn’t pretending to care about my friends’ pets; it’s a genuine interest of mine.  I want to know my friends, not merely exchange quid pro quo fake expressions of interest.

Respect
Your kids?  Oh my gosh.  Your kids are so awesome.  They are literally the awesomest things ever.  I know this, because I too have THE CHILDRENZ.  But, how would you feel if you had a friend who bought some bright-red sportscar and then talked about little else for, oh, years?  Not too good, eh?

So, don’t talk just about your kids.  Again, duh, but – there it is, a complaint I’ve heard more often regarding new parents than those who’ve been doing this a while (but seriously, non-parents, did you read the part about how babies eat and poo around the clock and it’s like Anti-Sleep Boot Camp? Yeah, turns out it kind of occupies your Life a while).  So anyway, parents and caregivers: Listen.  Settle down.  Be present.  Be grateful for your time with your friends when you can get it.  If family needs are pressing or stressful, fine.  But realize that often our childfree friends and family aren’t in a great position to empathize or advise.  You can know if they’ve turned off or unable to comprehend by the tone of their voice, the quality of eye contact.  Whether you choose to continue the discussion is up to you.

That thing about listening?  Yes, that means occasionally listening to subjects that at first seem to hold little interest.  You cannot fake this one.  If you truly believe deep-down that your children and familyhood are more important than your friend’s passion for mountain climbing, or your sister’s squawky love birds, well first off: you’re an asshole (imagine how you’d feel back before you had children and were juggling three jobs or maybe college and an internship and a terrible cheating girlfriend or whatever, and your friend was condescending and disinterested because in their eyes you weren’t living some version of “real life”?  Not too fun, eh?).  Secondly: if you can’t bring yourself to care about what they’ve got going for themselves, ask yourself why you’re friends with this person.  If you can’t meet them at their needs maybe what you have is a drinking buddy or an ego-boost or whatever – not a true friend.  Be honest with yourself.

And then, hell, you may have to end a few friendships.  I broke up with a friend five years ago because even though I followed him down his fork of the road, and cared about his interests, these sentiments were ultimately not reciprocated (the letter, as linked below, intimates that I did not tell him my feelings; actually, I did change my mind and send him a copy).  This actually hurt, a lot, even though I don’t kid myself he felt the same.  Still, it was the honest and appropriate response:  we simply weren’t friends any more.

Life’s too short to be regularly half-assed.  Your childfree friends deserve your respect and consideration as much as they ever did, no matter how much your circumstances have changed.  And they can learn a lot from you, too – if their minds are open and you represent yourself fearlessly and honestly.

* Age twelve is not a legal requirement; that is a cultural standard that makes little sense to me, more about that some other time.

** It must be said: I have heard many childfree pet owners claim the responsibilities inherent in pet care to be identical to that of having children. LOL<sob!>

Mentioned / Further Reading:

Heterosexism at Wikipedia (I particularly liked the section on Heterosexism vs. Homophobia)

Heterosexism 101, a questionaire from One Hundred Little Dolls

“Dear Ex-Fellow Collegiate”, from my blog – five years ago

to another hater, an open letter

You are SO disgusting!

Seriously, have you looked at yourself?

This morning the Inter-netz delivers me Laura Washington’s fresh column regarding Kevin Smith’s recent flying debacle.  A recap for those not in the know: mid-February of this year the Hollywood director was kicked off a Southwest Air flight for being too fat.  He proceeded, in view of his 1.6 million Twitter followers (and though a podcast), to object to a “sizest” and “rude” policy of the airline, his objections – to my view – equally eloquent and profane (a mix I myself enjoy muchly).  Mr. Smith is a vociferous tweeter – he sends out about a couple dozen messages a day.  The story was likely featured in our media as much as it was because, A. we love talking about celebrities who are fat, B. Kevin Smith is vocal – and eloquent and profane, and C. Kevin Smith is much-liked and much-followed (whatever you, dear reader, may think of him, if you think of him at all).

Ms. Washington’s column this morning is completely familiar and, sad to say, typical: “fat people are unhealthy and gross, and they should all lose weight, because it’s wrong to live that way.”  I don’t know Ms. Washington and up until this morning had not read a column of hers; I have no reason to believe she would care at all for my thoughts or that she would be interested in challenging her worldview.  I probably shouldn’t write her an email – as a friend quickly tweets to me this morning: “I thought I heard the rule ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ from you”.*

But you know, some of the best things that happen for me are the day-to-day discussions between people trying to understand one another.  It’s true that finding other like-minded people is an essential supportive mechanism that many, myself included, employ.  But I also know healthy changes (individual or society-at-large) are threatened by encampment with only those who share similar ideologies.  So, a letter I decide to write:

Ms. Washington,

Your recent column is troubling because it is seems to be more fat hate.  Shaming the obese does not help them make positive changes in their life; there is every piece of evidence to believe it actually makes things worse for them.  Shaming the obese is quite trendy in the media these days.

You also seem to not understand Fat Acceptance; your assertion the proponents avoid the phrase “fat” means you have not read some of the more important sites regarding Fat / Body Acceptance.  But I must admit, when I first read into the subject I was confused, a bit disgusted, and it seemed contrary to everything about health that I had previously understood.  Fortunately, because I’d heard from credible sources it really is a human rights issue, I kept reading, and reading.  I’m glad I kept reading and I wish more would consider doing so.  It is a challenging subject but it has improved my life in so many ways – many seemingly entirely unrelated to body acceptance and much more along the lines of clear thinking, compassion, and a more fine-tuned ear to our social environments today.

I’m always sad to read another author who jumps on the all-too-common “fat people are gross and unhealthy and causing us all these problems” bandwagon.  Just know you’re in – I won’t say, “good company”, but, lots of company.  I’m sure your comments section will be full of, “fat people are gross and wrong”, etc.

If you are interested in continuing a discussion I would be happy to send a few links that I have found wonderful, relevant, and helpful for my own life, as well as share some of my own experiences.

Regards,

Kelly

I sent the email; it bounced immediately.  Looks like the Chicago Sun-Times needs to update their author’s email information.

But: I’m not sure I’m the best person to address random online Fat Haters directly (you know a couple who really, really are?  Michelle Allison and Kate Harding: see links below).  It’s not that I don’t fully relate to Fat Hate – I do: I used to be a card-carrying Fat Hater.  And these days, although my mind has changed, it’s not as if I am neutral or laissez-faire on the topic – I fully comprehend it is a terrible, terrible thing that so many in our culture engage in (including, it would seem, our own First Lady; her well-intentioned – uh, I choose to believe – “Let’s Move” campaign, entirely focused on the word and concept of “obesity” – thus framing a “health” debate irrespective of health, conjuring up images of lazy, bratty kids sitting on couches playing video games and fisting snack mix into their faces).  I take Fat Hate seriously because A. I am friends with actual fat human beings, and even if I weren’t, I object to seeing any human denigrated, B. We have health problems in our culture and those aren’t being properly addressed by the OBESITY SCARE; C. worse than that, we have those who are large, obese, and really, really obese being shamed constantly by the media and culture around them; they visit their physicians (if they can afford one) and are often told their weight or size is a problem (even when it isn’t, and sometimes when more pressing problems need examination and treatment).  After such experiences some don’t return to doctors, ever.  Many don’t get their health diagnosed properly.  I could write more about Fat Hate and just how pervasive, destructive, and obfuscating it is, but believe me when I say I have read, read, read on the subject and I remain convinced – net gain for our public health/well-being: negative.

What I’ve found works well for me is to try to have discussions with the Real Actual People in my life – when the subject comes up.  Unsurprisingly, these conversations don’t always go wonderfully – but at least in face-to-face contact with acquaintances and family who – for whatever reason – do not believe I am sticking up for TEH FATTIEZ because I, personally, want to lie on a pudding-encrusted beanbag chair all day and inject bacon grease – well, these conversations have gone well enough.  If nothing else, I am glad to startle my friends and family, who have come to rely on the songs of diet and self-loathing so much that any other response is a surprise.  My friends simply aren’t hearing the typical litany from my lips.

In other words, when my girlfriend says, “Oh ugh, I’m so fat,” she expects me to say something like: “Oh my gosh, I know what you mean, I am simply bulging out of my jeans!”  What she got instead: “Do you think you’re fat?” a considered question on my part.  At this she says, “Well, yeah, I mean…” and I watch her puzzle over her answer: isn’t it obvious she is So Fat?  Why would I ask her this?  She definitely expects that as she shames herself I will respond either of two ways: “You’re not fat!” (the knee-jerk response some men Har-har over as the ONLY correct one, because Oooh ladies are scary and silly and neurotic when they call themselves fat!), or “I am fat too! Yay verily, I am in the same Wretchedly Inadequate Boat as you; let’s hate ourselves together”.

After a bit, listening to her experience and her feelings of fatness, I tell her truthfully, “I think you’re beautiful the way you are.”**

My in-person conversations are going well enough, although they have their roadblocks and speed bumps.  I was recently treated to a long, mansplainy lecture by a beloved friend who told me no really Kelly, Calories In – Activity = How Fat You Are, including the use of various dinner utensils at the table to illustrate his point.  More personally – and more painfully – I have witnessed my mother’s arguments with her new boyfriend, who praises her for her weight loss efforts and will not allow a Genuine Fat Person to pass them on the street without saying, “That’s so sad.”  Last summer my mother, likely influenced by our conversations together, told me how she defiantly said to this man, “I’m not losing weight for you or for approval, I’m losing it for my health!”  She wanted me to Yay-Sister! her, and to agree this dude was seriously overstepping.  Instead I said, “What’s the difference between the entitlement of his comments about your person and your body, and the fact you’ve been dieting your whole life?”  It hurt a little, because contrary to what you might think I don’t always enjoy challenging someone in a vulnerable area.  It also wasn’t a sudden flower of Understanding opening up between us, either; in that moment my mother was not willing to understand and admit that she’d spent her life calorie-counting in an effort to be smaller – and she was definitely not in a position, challenged suddenly when she thought she’d be getting a feminist fist-pump from her adult daughter, to even consider what effect her constant weight-loss efforts and poor body image might have had on her children.

You may be surprised to know how many people – even when they don’t enjoy feeling bad about themselves, when they are not willing to give up Fat Hate or The Fantasty Of Being Thin (dear reader, if you click-through none of my other listed links, please do read this essay as linked below), when they know their personal efforts of dieting and excercise only result in temporary weight-loss – are simply not wiling to change their worldviews.  I wish it were so simple, but what I am discovering is that body intolerance and self-loathing, besides being the morally correct de rigueur lifestyle, have a few very seductive upsides – sure, it’s a poisoned apple, but it tastes so sweet going down and besides, everyone else is doing it.

I can still fight the good fight of talking to friends and family; I am learning from them and, I hope, they learn from me.  But tackling someone online whom I don’t know?  Someone who seems entrenched in the “hate people for their own good” mentality?  Should I attempt to speak to or dialogue with this person?

Sure, why not?  I just know it might not go very well at all.

Oh, and please note – I actually think the accompanying picture here is of an adorably cute animal, lest ye think I am a porcine bigot.

Mentioned:

“Kevin Smith is in denial, and it’ll kill him”, online at the Chicago Sun-Times

Kevin Smith’s Twitter feed

* What’s a troll?  This. Also: Concern-trolling techniques, addressed.

Michelle Allison, The Fat Nutritionist

Kate Harding’s site, Shapely Prose

“Let’s Move”, Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood obesity campaign

A response to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move”, by Kate Harding

** You know what’s funny?  Fat Haters claim that by proclaiming a compassionate message – or hells, even saying, “You are beautiful” to someone who may actually be fat – we are personally giving someone a Lifetime Fat-Ass Voucher that they will immediately employ to disgusting, disastrous affect.  But you can absolutely not tell by this anecdotal (and true) story how “fat” my friend is.  Like, is she a “fat” size 6, or 12, or 32?  The reason you cannot tell is because So. Many. Women. (& some men) believe they are “fat” and flawed – irrespective of their actual body mass and size.

“The Fantasy Of Being Thin”, at Shapely Prose

A response to Jamie Oliver’s latest effort, more anti-obesity FOR THE CHILDREN