Archive for the ‘Gender’ Category

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is today, March 8th.  I thought it would be nice to celebrate by looking at some inspirational women.

RitaThe reality is that the best and quickest way to decrease population, therefore decreasing environmental problems and increasing standards of living, is to educate future mothers.  The more women know, the more they empower themselves and take control of their reproduction and production.  There are many Ritas who have had the guts and opportunity to educate themselves and develop their own voices, but there are many others who need and deserve help and support.

Benazir Bhutto, Mary Robinson, Mary MacAleese, Corazon Aquino – A sample of the women who have reached high political office.  We struggle to get equal numbers or rights in parliaments, it is inspirational that some women can reach the highest levels.

Marie Curie – Of course I have to have a scientist in here!  She worked with her husband in a little shed doing hard physical labour to process ore and isolate radioactive elements.  There were actually many woman scientists at the time but they were only credited with the data collection and illustration, not the qualifications and theories.  Marie Curie was an exceptional woman who had the good luck but also the tenacity and brilliance to be recognised.

Jane Austen – Such acute insight, psychology and reflection in such an unassuming package.  Read her books.  Think about them.  Marvel how well she understood people, the depth and complexity she manages with seemingly simple subjects.  And above all, enjoy them and introduce her to your daughters.  She’s still around 200 years later, somehow I don’t think Stephanie Meyer will be.

Mothers of children with special needs – Mothering is the most important and toughest job there is.  How much tougher it must be with a child who has extra needs.  How much tougher to try to be fair to other children.  How much tougher to find time to look after yourself and your other relationships.  I have no doubt there is also so much joy and love, I don’t see it as a constant sacrifice.  And I am certain there are bad days and things they don’t get right and things they feel bad about or wish they hadn’t done.  But I am humbled by women who do something harder than the thing I find the hardest – mothering.

Breastfeeding Counsellors – I’m sure they don’t always get it right.  I’m sure there are times when personality is wrong, or they make a mistake, or their answer isn’t what the woman ringing wants to hear, or maybe there is no answer.  But mothers of young children who volunteer to answer phone calls at 2am purely to support other mothers are very special women.  As women we have a tendency to pull each other down or not value each other enough.  Volunteers of all types, and especially volunteers who are there for other women, are inspirational.

Who inspires you?

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I don’t want my kids to be nice

or good.  Definitely not.  You see ‘nice’ and ‘good’ are not actually nice and good things to be.  They’re about oppression, and definitely a feminist issue seeing most pressure to be nice is on, and comes from, women.

How can I say this?

‘Nice’ is the woman who is working herself into the ground because she can’t say no to another job.

‘Good’ is the little girl at the back of the class who’s being pinched, but won’t say anything because she’s been told to be quiet and taught not to make a fuss.

‘Nice’ is biting your lip while people say things that are rude or nasty.

‘Good’ is allowing other people to judge my behaviour, not myself.  It is living in a constant guessing game and being scared to do anything in case I get it wrong.

‘Nice’ is not standing up for yourself, and putting everyone else’s needs ahead of your own.

No.  I definitely don’t want my kids, and especially my daughters, to be nice.  And unfortunately they, and I, will almost certainly cop criticism for it.  But I’d rather be criticised than bully my own children.

There are other things far more important (in no particular order).

  1. Polite – especially when you are going to disagree with someone, it’s still important to be polite and give them the same rights you expect.
  2. Kind – being kind is completely different to ‘nice.’  Kind is telling someone (politely) when they’re hurting other people, ‘nice’ is letting them get away with it so you don’t upset them.  Of course it includes all the other types of kindness, being helpful but with limits.
  3. Assertive – very different to aggressive, but it seems to be so rare they get confused.  But we all need to be able to stand up for ourselves.  How can the world change if we allow injustice to continue?
  4. Assertive for others – I wasn’t sure what to label this, but sometimes we need to stand up for others too.
  5. Compassionate – An important one, but hard.  I can be compassionate and sympathetic, which means supporting someone and feeling for their situation.  But it also includes being kind and calling them on it if necessary, not letting them get away with things.  As an extreme example, we all know about the cycle of abuse.  A child who is abused definitely needs our compassion.  But if they grow up and abuse others, are they no longer worthy?  To me, it’s not compassion if it comes with limits.  It doesn’t change, they are still deserving of our support and our understanding, and still need us to call them out on what they are doing wrong.
  6. Questioning – I don’t want them to accept something purely because it comes from authority.  Of course, knowing when to question is the trick!
  7. Curious – This is a source of so much joy, and I want them to have a joyful life.  Discovering, investigating, noticing what is around them.
  8. Reflective – Know thyself!  So much of what we dislike in others is a reflection of ourselves, I want them to be constantly thinking about what they have done, and thought, and said, and how it impacts on others.  Be open to criticism and willing to change, if they think the criticism is right.
  9. Generous – How can we live together as a society if we don’t help each other?
  10. Persistent – Don’t give up, keep trying.  Whether it is to understand something, or finish, or find a new friend, or understand why on earth people do that.  And don’t retreat into your comfort zone.
  11. Independent – Be able to stand on your own.  It doesn’t mean you have to, but if you do you’ll be OK.
  12. Confident – This is about self-worth.  About knowing that your opinion and experiences are as valuable as other peoples’.
  13. Gracious – Pick your battles.  In spite of being confident and independent and assertive and reflective, you don’t have to have the last word.  There are times you will never convince others, even if it is hurting them or someone else.  So have the grace to withdraw and allow them to continue.

Of course, I would absolutely love them to have wisdom, which is how you know if you’re doing all the rest!  But I think that one will take a lot of time and experience to develop.

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13 Reasons I Like Dora

I’m not into commercialisation, I really don’t like most of the kids shows and groups or at least the way they’re marketed.  However we have managed to amass an extremely extensive Dora the Explorer collection and I’m actually pretty impressed at how she stacks up as something I’m happy for my daughter to watch.  So here are 13 Reasons I Like Dora.

  1. She’s child shaped, not some distorted miniature model.
  2. She’s a girl doing all sorts of active, non-traditional things.
  3. She’s adventurous and goes all over the place, including the jungle and fantasy lands.
  4. She goes outside and gets lots of exercise, but it’s not just organised sport.
  5. She’s independent, confident and a problem solver.
  6. She’s dark skinned, not a cute little white angel.
  7. She’s imaginative and creative with a rich fantasy life.
  8. She has all sorts of friends, male, female, cows, monkeys, trolls, …
  9. Swiper isn’t purely evil, sometimes he’s good and sometimes he’s bad, which is realistic.
  10. They celebrate and acknowledge good things.
  11. I like iguanas, I just have a thing for reptiles.
  12. Her mother is an archaeologist, professional, female, scientist, how many great role models in one.
  13. She interacts with adults, it’s not just a Neverland full of children.

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Real Women

This post has been a long time coming, it’s probably still a bit confused.

First of all, there is another push for the use of ‘real women’ as models.  A group led by Mia Freedman and Sarah Murdoch met with Federal Minister Kate Ellis about it, and I suppose the government is the way to go if you don’t have any connections in the modelling/fashion/media industries.  (Heavy irony here, for those who don’t know Mia Freedman is an ex-editor of Cosmopolitan and has written for most of the women’s magazines, and Sarah Murdoch is host of Autralia’s Next Top Model and married to a Murdoch.  Mia Freedman did introduce non models, ban diets and show different skin colours while editor.)

And that’s great.  But all of the commentary I’ve seen is focussed on weight.  Or let’s be honest, fat.

I struggle with fat and body image.  When I was a kid I wasn’t fat, but thanks to comparisons with my family and all the other little girls at ballet I thought I was.  Since uni I’ve swung between mildly overweight and mildly obese.  I don’t yoyo diet or anything like that, but I’m aware that I don’t have healthy eating habits and periodically try to improve.  And that’s really the key to some of my ambivalence – health.

No matter how happy you are in your skin, heart disease is the number one killer in the world.  You can be confident and glowing and look good, but it’s not going to save you from clogged arteries or insulin insensitivity.  I don’t think that overweight people are stupid, or lazy, or anything like that.  And I know that there are medical conditions or lifestyle factors that make it hard to stay thin.  But I have to admit to a little voice that says come on Deb, you know you could do it if you cared enough.  You could find the time to exercise if you really wanted to.  You don’t have to buy chocolate.  It would require a lifestyle change, but I could do it if I was really serious.  And that’s the problem – I certainly don’t think it’s ok to discriminate against fat people, that’s me too! but it doesn’t quite fit in with the other isms.  You don’t have control over your skin colour, your ability, your gender or sexuality.  But most of us do have at least a little bit of control over our food and exercise.

So I struggle and I stress about what to teach my girls.  I want them to be happy and healthy, so I’m aware I somehow have to teach them better habits than I have and give them, and me, better food choices than I usually make.  It has nothing to do with how they look – it’s about giving them healthy eating and exercise habits.  But at the same time, I want them to be happy with their bodies and confident however they are, and not think that they have to conform to some limiting ideal.

And then I received a sewing magazine I subscribe to, and there was an article about French women and their body confidence.  As children they generally aren’t put down as we are, and are much more successful at living by “If you feel good, you look good.” At first I thought this was wonderful, because here was a rule I could use.  You don’t have to conform to an artificial look, but it’s important to be healthy so you will feel good.  But then I started thinking about all those other little body flaws.  And I realised I’d bought in.  Whether you like seeing skinny models because we shouldn’t let muffin tops be the norm or think there should be ‘plus-size’ models because that’s how most women are, you are still defining worth by weight.  Either they have eaten right/had lucky genes/exercised hard to be skinny, or they are confident in themselves/not bowing to societal pressure – whichever is important to you.

Real women aren’t just fat or skinny.  Real women have short legs.  Or hooked noses.  Or moles.  Or big hands.  These are the things that have nothing to do with health and we can’t control, it is just the way we are born.  So these are the things I need to work on, or rather not work on and not mention.  These are the things my girls never need to hear about, because if they feel good, they’ll look good, and I can help them develop that confidence.  And I can also try to give them healthy eating and exercise habits, not because it will fit in with society, but so they can continue to feel good for a very long time.

Men at work…

I’m trying to make a point here so let’s get to it – My husband works in a male dominated industry (mining).   I work in a female dominated industry (early childhood education).   I take our two year old to work with me and I work part time.  I travel a lot for work and I sing to her in the back of the car.  I take her to meetings, conferences, lectures, and networking opportunities where I am always surrounded by lovely women who smile and laugh and we all get on with our jobs.  I always make sure I am at home for 4 days out of 7 and then every second week full for our girl to be with her dad.

Now for his story…  My husband has just started out in the mining industry over the last three years.  He works a lot of overtime and is surrounded by men who also work a lot of overtime and probably have children at home.

Recently my husband refused some overtime to spend a Sunday with us.  Over the weeks leading up to this particular Sunday he had been away … then I had been away … and we had seen each other for one week out of six when his parents were visiting – not really a time of marital bliss.  Come Monday and dear husband is getting ‘pineappled’ at work (that’s his term for being in trouble with the boss).  He is sat down, given a warning and then the BIG boss is on the phone also telling husband that it is in his contract to work reasonable overtime.
My husband asks, “what do you consider reasonable overtime?”
“10 hours a week or one full day.”
“well I worked all day Saturday and overtime on Friday.”
“look… If you want to work in this industry you have to expect to work overtime whenever asked”…

My husband, being a gentle soul leaves it at that and accepts the warning.  He is even convinced that he had been in the wrong.  Until he got home and I had something to say about it.  I say – People make an industry – it doesn’t make itself.

Here is my biggest issue…  It’s almost a feminist issue (leave it to me to make anything a feminist issue).  Well actually it’s a humanist issue that impacts negatively on women as well as men – but the men within the industry are the only ones that can really change it.  THE ISSUE – It is the fact that we have a huge mining industry here in Australia that is mostly full of men.  Most of those men are probably fathers with wives who might happily be stay at home mums (part time in my case) but who still want their children to see their fathers.  However, the head honchos who make the industry are anti-family and therefore anti-woman.  So, are they promoting bad parenting towards our future generations?  Are they promoting negative relationships between man and wife?  Are they reiterating their own outdated beliefs by assuming that women should be the ones to raise children generally alone?

There has been a shift in choice in the world of feminism.  Before it was the choice to work and be liberated from forced domesticity.  Now it is the choice to stay at home and have the well earned support of society or to work with that same respect and support.  However, for those of us who have chosen to stay at home – with a partner in this industry (and many other male dominated industries) we could be taken for granted.

Although … in the end I think my husband is really getting the crappy end of the stick.

“boys” toys played with in “girl” style…….

…….and vice versa!

Now I should preface this with the fact that I don’t go in for gender stereotypes at all however I am well aware they exist. Handbags and fairy wings are bought for boys in our household as well as for girls just as trucks and cars are bought for girls as well as for boys!

My interesting observation lately (at least I think it is interesting! 😆 ) has been what looks like the gender stereotypical way my children play with toys that are not specific to their gender!

Work with me on this! 😉

So, Isabelle and Samuel’s cousin gave them a heap of monster trucks and cars on the weekend. I was playing with Isabelle with them today…..she LOVES them!  I was revving them and crashing them into other cars/trucks/objects in the games room and getting quite into the huge monster truck wheels mounting her shoes (that were off and in the middle of the floor) and crashing over them. Isabelle pulled me into line quickly! The trucks were all named (Jake, Jade, Anchor, and Angy) and they did NOT want to crash everywhere they wanted to go to the post office to post some letters. They didn’t want to crash up the curb when they got there or rear-end each other 😆 they wanted to park neatly and chat to each other and then they wanted to go for coffee (we NEVER do this – we are not a cappuccino/baby cino family!).

Then I watch Samuel. He puts on high heeled shoes, he slings a pink bag over his shoulder and he marches to the front door. He waves and says “bye bye, work” and pretends to open the door. Then he scuttles form the door to the big toy car in the lounge room and hops in, throws his handbag down, and makes revving noises as he “leaves for work”

I am just fascinated by the fact that I have these 2 beautiful children who really to the best of my knowledge haven’t been specifically exposed to gender stereotypes (any more than the average child out and about in today’s world) and are more than happy to play with toys that are stereotypically not associated with their gender yet they play with them in such a girly or such a masculine way.

How does this happen? Is it inate? Is it the very small amounts of TV they watch? Is it watching older children in the family? Is it me? Is it my husband?

It doesn’t matter, it’s just interesting………I think! 🙂

Dads do things differently

In the first few months after my daughter was born, I became quite convinced that my husband was doing things all wrong. Which means, in short, that he wasn’t doing things My Way. I wasn’t the anxious mother hovering around the bathtub watching to see that Daddy got the water temperature exactly right. On the contrary, I was the one to broil my daughter…on more than one occasion. Nor did I oversee as he changed nappies, got her dressed or wrapped her up for the night. He did all that much better than me too. It was the other stuff that was the problem….you know, all that talking and singing and reading that you’re supposed to do with your babies even before they’re out of the womb.

When he read books, he didn’t put enough expression in to his voice. And he read way too fast. I, of course, read slowly and clearly, with lots of rhythm and resonance. I was interesting to listen to. On the other hand, not even a dirty old sock would enjoy story-telling when done by Daddy. I sang. A lot. If I die before my time, I am sure that one of my claims to fame could quite possibly be that I know the words and tunes to at least 3154 nursery rhymes. My husband can’t boast a feat like that. Because, of course, he doesn’t sing unless I sing too. It’s just not what he does. And then, there was the talking thing. Obsessed with language development, I knew that babies needed to have their parents talk to them. A lot. In fact, all the time. I tried, I did. I talked about how I was folding all the nappies neatly and placing them in tidy piles. I talked about what I was preparing for dinner. I talked, no, complained, about how her father didn’t talk to her enough and that there was now way she would have a vocabulary of 500 words by the time she was 2 if he didn’t up his game a little bit. Or, rather, a lot. I yabbered away constantly and quite possibly bored to tears, my daughter succumbed to sleep very easily, usually before I got to the bit about how I was peeling the potatoes now…one by one…see the skin…it’s all brown…it goes in the compost bin…now here’s the next one…(oh, sorry, I’ll stop now). But really, it was good for her. Honestly. It says so in my book.

So, as I said, in the first few months of mutual parenthood, I was doing everything right and my husband wasn’t. I thought that he would learn by my example; that he would start singing, talking and reading exactly the way I did. After all, I was a language development teacher. I knew what I was doing. He, apparently, didn’t. After a while, I decided that he just wasn’t going to get it, so rather than fret, I decided that I would just go it alone and do my thing and he could do his. I didn’t want to raise the issue with him, knowing that it was important to our parental harmony not to cause any unnecessary conflict. Instead, I tut-tutted away to myself as I watched him crawling around on his hands and knees chasing our daughter round and round the dining room table. I harumphed as I watched him tossing her in the air and catching her again, while she delightedly squealed with unabated excitement. I hmmmmmd when I heard them banging on drums and cymbals as loudly as they possibly could. I frowned when I saw him playing rough and tumble games on the carpet with cushions and pillows. Just think – all that Valuable Time Being Wasted on Frivolity and Nonsense when her vocabulary was at stake! Harumph indeed.

Then one day, it finally all clicked. He WAS doing things right after all! He was being a dad and I was being a mum. That’s a pretty sweeping generalisation I know, but it just seemed so obvious (and I’ve seen a similar pattern occurring in lots of other families). I’m more talkative than him; I like singing and I can make books sound interesting. I enjoyed doing those things with my daughter so naturally I tended to do them more. I didn’t have the energy to be on my hands and knees all day crawling and rolling and tumbling and bouncing. On the other hand, my husband is physically much stronger than me. He could toss our daughter up and down a dozen times before stopping to take a breather. His bursts with her, after a day’s work outside the home, were intense and active. And she LOVED it. A Lot.

To be honest, as time has gone on, we both read the stories, sing the rhymes, play rough and tumble games and mess around with musical instruments, but we also each have our own specialties. And so, our daughter truly gets the best of both worlds. But certainly in our case, what we do, what we enjoy doing and what we’re good at doing are quite different to each other. I’m interested in knowing if we’re a special case or if other families out there are similar – does mummy do most of the singing and reading and daddy most of the physical stuff; is it the other way round or is there no difference at all? I’ve now learned to be thankful for our different approaches because I’ve finally understood that it’s all about the balance and not about who’s doing a ‘better’ job (my stories are still more interesting though)!