Discourse on the intersections of politics, feminism, and motherhood.

Thursday, June 29

Athletics: A Corporation

An article in the New York Times today reveals how much investment some parents have in raising stellar athletes. An exceedingly large amount of early age preparation, including a hefty financial investment, goes into the child's athletic career. That 'career' of which starts with making the high-school team, is deemed by some as the kid's only chance at long-term success. To be completely honest this seems like an unrealistic concept that only has detrimental effects on the child. Playing a professional sport and making a huge salary doing it is relatively rare when compared to the amount of high-school and college athletes there are in this nation. Only the select chosen few rise to that kind of level. Sports camps and private sports training gyms are making a killing off these parental notions. Understandably, the rising cost of education is creating a more competitive landscape for athletic scholarships but this notion of the rising child athlete places misconceptions in the mind of the child as if educational performance is second in line when clearly a good all-encompassing educational experience is the best indicator for long-term success in college. Granted all kids develop at different stages and perform in many diverse ways, but many of the athletes I see at the university where I teach get a much better deal than other students. Plus the majority of scholarship money goes to male athletic sports and only those sports deemed as money making events for the university. Sports like wrestling get shoved off to the side as do sports like swimming. Girl athletes do not receive near the amount of athletic scholarships that males do. Perhaps, that is why more women now are graduating with degrees and are more often than males seeking higher academic degrees at alarming rates. Educators are questioning this discrepancy but not looking at the investment our culture has in male athleticism. 95% of the athletes on the football team are on scholarship but only 30% actually graduate with a degree. They are excused from class more often and are given separate make up exams according to their schedule. Some perform at expected levels academically but the vast majority just barely get by and are nothing but paid athletes for the university's team and do not even possess the bare minimum of academic skills to write a research paper. So.......your kid got a full ride to school but no degree......nice, how's that working long-term?

Wednesday, June 28

Second Hand Smoke

A new and improved report is out from the Surgeon General reiterating the detrimental effects of second-hand smoke. Having family members who smoke, even in their home, I have to remain obsessively strong when explaining why I don't want my seven month old over at their house. Of course I can not avoid visits completely but as it stands there has been no effort to eradicate the smoking from inside the house. My sister-in-law also takes her kids to another family member's home when in town, if she can, but still has to endure the situation more often than not. What I don't understand is the complete lack of logical thought going into this problem. You would think that adults would want to create a clean, smoke free environment, but they believe that if they air out the house for a few days, and only smoke in selected rooms with the doors closed then it's fine and not harmful. Clearly, this does not work and reflects the priority or the addictive behavior being overwhelmingly stronger than the mass amounts of information regarding smoking and second-hand smoke that is available. In true family format, relatively no communication has been exchanged regarding this problem and in true family format it will eventually come I guess I will have to come across as the bitch when the time comes.

Monday, June 26

A New Masculinity

This week has been extremely busy as evidence of my neglect of this blog. Nevertheless, it was a productive week so I can't really complain. We hung ceiling fans, installed dimmers, hung a porch swing, layed down fire-ant killer in the yard, cut two more teeth, bumped our head a number of times pulling up on furniture, worked on feeding ourselves with cheerios, found the catfood, discovered the fireplace exists, and offended a family member who purchased a particular book for my child. Actually, there were two books and though I'm all for books I screen each and every book my child comes into contact with. One book was about firemen which sounds all gender appropriate and all (which is a second battle), but the book only had white men as the firemen. The other book was more subtle. Animals in the jungle; now how could that perpetuate gender bias and give kids a lesson on appropriate gender behavior? Well, all the typically aggressive animals or carnivores are referred to as 'he' like the tiger, lion, crocodile, monkey, gorilla, and rhino, and the more typically less assertive animals are referred to as 'she' such as the elephant, giraffe, fish, and hippo with the frog, butterflies, snake, and zebra having no referrence to either. When the masculine pronoun is used the phrase goes like this; "Gorilla beats his chest. He is king of the apes." or "Tiger hides in the long grass. He's ready to pounce." When the feminine pronoun is used the phrase goes like this; "Giraffe uses her long neck to reach the leafy green treetops." or "Hippo chills out, she wallows in the cool river." Call me crazy but there are some significant issues here. The family member in question does not see how things like this strengthen gender stereotypes and teach children appropriate gender behavior. Let us re-phrase; the family member in question does not believe appropriate gender behavior is a negitive aspect of a child's life. Thus, the family member in question subscribes to tradional gender roles. This family member freaked out because of a clothing incident where little brother decided to try on big sister's Tinkerbell halloween costume and run around the house with a spatula. Clearly, something like that could potentially tarnish the child's masculine potential. That's rational thinking for you. Interesting that if the gender roles were reversed there most likely would not have been a 'crisis'. That's all fine but I, with the stress on 'I', do not subscribe to traditional gender roles and my husband does not either. We do disagree on the boyscout thing of which I think is a bit problematic but overall we do not believe kids should be 'molded' into little appropriate men and women. I don't allow people to say sissy, or crybaby and I don't allow people to use derogatory language in front of him. Clearly, you can not keep your child away from the world or from seeing television but you can parent and hope your child internalizes the knowledge you have put forth and shared with them allowing them to form their own ways of seeing. There are of course no guarantees. Boys are molded so aggressively and have less fluidity than girls. We have since changed our expectations of what's deemed appropriate for girls and that should remain in constant consideration, but I don't think many have attributed the same way of thinking to boys. The rules and regulations for appropriate masculine behavior are still going strong. Until we change both sides of the coin the machine will still function quite productively.

"Shattering Stereotypes: Courageous Girls, Ballet-Loving Boys"

"Gender and Culture in Picture Books"

"Gender Representation in Notable Children's Picture Books: 1995-1999"

Shamen Drum Bookshop, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Saturday, June 17

Crib Escape

T-Bone, as my good friend loves to call him, managed to climb out of his crib this morning. He will be officially seven months old on June 29th. My husband and I were watching him during a nap on Friday and decided we should probably drop his crib mattress down to the lowest level, due to a new discovery. Just standing in his crib was clearly not enough, he had to figure out there was a way to get over the edge and escape. I put socks on him last night so he couldn't get any traction and the bar comes up to his chest anyway. We thought we had at least one more day. Alas, I walked upstairs to get him this morning and there he was crawling around the landing, laughing and smiling, so utterly proud of himself.

On a complete digression, check out the article in the New York Times today.......According to this article it doesn't matter if you breastfeed your son because genetically they are predisposed to all kinds of illness and disease, solely due to their sex. Always nature verses nurture!

Friday, June 16

Zoo Day!

Since this past week I have been unbelievably swamped with powerpoint presentations on Ancient Art to Post-Impressionism, getting several t-shirt orders completed, chapter two of my masters thesis, and supporting my husband who had decided to do this workout program called "Body for Life," which is great because he cooked dinner all week, I think I deserve a day off! We've decided to take Teague to the zoo today. At six months old we wonder if he will care at all for the animals but I guess we will see. So alas, we trek out into the smoldering South Carolina sun and hope we don't get any monkey poop thrown at us.

Wednesday, June 14

Child Endangerment Through Lack of Breastmilk?

The Today Show is running a segment regarding breastfeeding and the government's latest campaign to insinuate that breastfeeding is the only healthy way to feed babies, and that babies who are not breastfed are in danger of all kinds of health related problems as they grow older. When is this critical stance on the choices mothers make going to stop? Clearly, breastmilk can not be duplicated but one surely can't say that all breastfed babies are completely free of illness and all formula fed babies stay sick all of the time. My niece and nephew were both breastfed and were plagued with ear infections which is one of the illnesses breastmilk is suppose to eradicate. I know moms who choose not to breastfeed and their babies are healthy and completely fee of illness. Most kids no matter if they were breastfed, formula fed, or both get sick upon entering daycare or school because they are now in contact with new bacteria.
Some women have trouble breastfeeding and some have a very easy time. Breastfeeding was very easy for me on many levels and also much cheaper. I'm a graduate student, run a small business, and teach night classes at a small university so the majority of my work is done at home. On those occasions when I have to be out of the house I have been very successful at pumping and storing milk. Even though breast pumps have become better, pumping milk takes time and requires a mom to organize her milk schedule and make sure there is extra to pump. It's basically a science.
So what are women suppose to do? If they have to return to work and can only breastfeed for three months then some might switch to formula and some might choose to continue pumping. What if the mother can't breastfeed for medical reasons? What if the baby just refuses to latch? Anything can happen. Essentialist campaigns such as this one make it seem that every woman on earth is capable of breastfeeding successfully, thus making the women who can't and/or choose not to feel like complete shit. What's next, these women will be procecuted for endangering their children; for hurling them in front of the dilbilitating illness truck?
Perhaps it results from a conservative push back to traditional gender roles. Lets face it. Breastfeeding every two hours for the first four months puts a damper on mobility. Its just plain easier to stay in the house no matter how insane you become. I personally have stopped the car on many of occasion just to get out and about. The outside public envoironment is not conducive to breastfeeding mothers. The public doesn't want to see it but yet the public space does not make even the smallest accomadations. There is one department store in the mall that provides sitting areas for moms, otherwise you have to find a dressing room. How hard would it be to place a chair of some sort in the bathrooms at restaurants? Mothers should not have to navigate these tricky cultural hangups. Geographical locales around the nation are different but here in the South if I was to breastfeed in public people would stare or avoid me like the plague but there is no where to go in most public places, so what the hell are you suppose to do? Given our current political climate on morals, values, and the obsession with same-sex marriage it does not surprise me that such advertising is out there. Just another way to keep the backlash against women and mothers in the public sphere going strong. I've said it before and I'll say it again......This culture is anti-mother which subtextually translates into anti-child and anti-family.

Monday, June 12

"If Men Could Have Babies"

An article in The Observer on Sunday, June 11th has facilitated some interesting dialogue. The writer, Rafael Behr places fathers in the same position as mothers attempting to juggle parenthood with career. An expectant father himself, Behr relays the divergent attitudes that pervade the male psyche upon entering into the realm of fatherhood; punishment and/or complete and utter amore. Clearly, I don't have much patience for the individual who conceptualizes fatherhood as punishment as those particular individuals should most likely refrain from becoming parents, as best they can, until they are ready, but I do welcome a more complete investigation of self-sacrifice that both parents will inevitably make upon the birth of a child. Acknowledging that our culture's strict investment in traditional gender roles is no longer realistic and affects women, men, and children is a decent start. Behr's article balances the conflicts that women have always faced with that of the ones men are currently up against.

"Our society still prefers to define parenting by traditional gender roles. It has become marginally less taboo for men to stay at home, but usually they have made a straight swap in status with bread-winning women. Both parties are made to feel slightly freakish. Even after all the battles won by feminism the career/parent equation is still a zero-sum game - as if there is a finite amount of commitment a person can muster, and if they spend it on their work, they must be depriving their kids. Working mums have wrestled with that problem for decades. But only now, a couple of generations into the revolution, men are starting to enter the fray. Why, we are asking, does it have to be a choice? Why can't we have it all?

Unfortunately the workplace is putting up a fight hence why the Family and Medical Leave Act is utilized as a protectent for both moms and dads who choose to take time off. Women have battled discrimination in the workplace for decades and now men who choose to prioritize their children and families over their careers continually face antidiluvian foundations of backlash.

"It is also a risky idea. The evidence from women's experience of trying to integrate a bit of full-time parenting into a life of work is not encouraging. According to the Equal Opportunities Commission, a woman who has worked part-time for just a year suffers, on average, a 10 per cent long-term reduction in earnings compared to a woman who has stayed in continuous full-time employment. Having sent a signal that work might not come first, employees are penalised for life."

Recently a debate ensued on ABC News regarding issues related to the Family and Medical Leave Act. The host was arguing that employers should be able to ask women during an interview if they planned on having children in the near future. His premise was that men's job committments are not as affected by the birth of a child as are women's given that traditional gender roles still pervade our culture. Caller after caller disagreed with the host stating both parties should be asked and that men also shift their priorities and change focus when becoming a parent. Even though this particular show had a conservative tint, as I don't think anyone male or female should be grilled about their personal choices during a job interview, the dialect affirming men's changing attitudes towards their jobs was telling.
The ironic issue here is when men are considerably affected by social policy in a negitive way, you bet that change will occur much quicker. It's like the funny little book I came across at a gift store, "If Men Could Have Babies." The author concludes that if men could have babies there would be coin opperated breast pumps at every gas station in America, birth control would be free for all, and health insurance would cover the cost of time off after birth. Though this is on the comedic side there is some truth buried there. It's all tied up in privilege. The bottom line is men enjoy certain privledges and women do not. While parenthood is being contested for both genders I wonder if these issues will just end up perpetuating the binary. Men will be revered for their family focused action and women will still be caught up in that old song and dance; The Mommy Wars.
And by the way, all the "battles feminism won," insinuates that feminism achieved its goals, if it did we would perhaps not be having this discussion.........Feminism is still battling and will continue to battle.........Do not get complacent!

Sunday, June 11

An NYT Misrepresentation

An article in the New York Times this morning is headlined "Hamas Fires Rockets Into Israel Ending 16-Month Truce." I find this headline extremely misconstrued if not down right manipulative regarding the play of events that created the situation in the first place. As young children were killed in this horrible atrocity I can not even fathom what it must be like to live in such a situation. Here in the United States we live with a false sense of security that became somewhat eroded on 911 but others in the world live daily, wondering what the next hour will bring. I hope for the sake of our kids that a dialogue can be opened up and various perspectives can shed light on the volatile confrontations that continue to erupt on a daily basis around the world.

Saturday, June 10

Ferber Don't Work When Your On Vacation!

When people recount tales from their family vacations one usually hears how they relaxed by the pool, ate out most of the time, took long bathes in the jacuzzi tub, went to the spa, layed out on the beach with a pina-collata, or even got some much needed rest. Going on vacation with your six month old can be difficult at worse and pleasant at best. Lets just cut to the chase and say ours was difficult and somewhat frustrating with moments of enchantment located in between. I envisioned myself lounging on the beach, limonata in hand, with my son in his beach tent snoozing contently and playing in the little pools of water that are created when the tide moves back out to sea. I covered his body in sunscreen, dressed him in his cute little boardshorts, and made sure he had his hat, toys, and anything else he might find interesting......I had planned! Instead, we had a screaming infant who wanted to do nothing but eat sand and then get pissed off because it was in his eyes. He didn't want to be held and he didn't want to sit down. He didn't want to nurse and he didn't want any juice. He was just pissed we had even considered bringing him to this beach place. After his initial interest in the waves and sand he was over it! I envisioned my husband and I taking long romantic bathes in the gigantic jacuzzi tub that was in our villa. Instead we made it into the tub once at 8:30 in the morning due to our child's inability to take any naps. I envisioned us walking around, shopping, eating lunch and breakfast as we took in the scenery. Instead we stepped out for two hours at a time and rushed back trying desperatly to achieve a successful nap. He also decided to master pulling up so he could stand up in his pack and play and preceeded to hang his arms over the side crying each and every time we put him down for a nap or put him to bed for the night. There should be a disclaimer; Ferber doesn't work when your on vacation. Each night we were awakened at 9:00 pm, 12:30 am, and 2:30 am. We were really lucky to keep him asleep until 6:30 am, thus that sleeping in thing doesn't apply. Our sleep structure that we worked so hard to impliment and home went to shit, and the little one was not happy about it. So, as for being rested; lets just say I came back exhausted. Enveloped in these moments of discontent were also moments of calmness and serenity. His little facial expressions when the waves washed over his legs were priceless and our long walks before bedtime, meant as a calming device, ended up providing some great family time. We even had dinner out once with no catastrophies and the last evening we managed to get him in bed at 8:00 pm, an hour after his usual bedtime which we counted as a success, and cooked dinner on the grill.
As parents you get to know your child a little more each and every day. This vacation brought to light some personality traits that I suspected existed, but had chalked up to age. My child is a creature of habit. He thrives on stability, continuity, predictablity, and interspersed moments of intense action. He is most comfortable at home taking a nap approximately every two hours and eating every three. He likes to sit in the same chair to eat his breakfast and dinner, and likes to take a bath in his bathroom with his toys. He likes his face to be free of food remnants and prefers to sleep peacefully in his own bed with his silky, cookie monster, and sometimes the cat by his side. Spontaneous experiences of which he is not ready for and that cut into his time managment are not welcome and only perpetuate aggravated sleep and annoying car rides. He will not accept being strapped down so the car seat is not a happy place accept when it's time for a nap, then he will sleep in it. His patience is thin, his fuse short, and his intellect sharp. He knows what he wants and wants it yesterday. His curious mind works quick and his intense focus on whatever he is doing allows him to acheive goals with little or no problems.
A parenting magazine I read recently told me I had a difficult child. I wonder how many parents interpret their child's personality traits to be those of a difficult child and then encounter those traits in an adult or maybe themselves and not think anything of it? One can not expect a child to remain one way: easy to parent, and then aquire certain traits that make them active go-getters when the time is right: say when they enter school. I think the trick to parenting is learning how to explore new and inventive ways to participate in your child's way of doing things; to see the world through your child's eyes. It may be a rocky road, but balance of discipline and autonomy can be reached.
As for the family vacation, it will always exist in the memory books and will improve with time. We didn't get sunburned and got to experience our child's first time in the ocean; a moment that can never be repeated!

Thursday, June 1

Family Vacation

My husband, sixth month old son, and I are heading to the beach today for our first family vacation. Traveling with an infant presents its own set of complicated matters, but going to the beach for a week with a husband who is a self professed sand hater is another entire issue. As I embark on my two days of preparation I can only fixate on the piles of research just sitting on my office desk. The clorox is permeating my nose and the dogs are spending a play day outside in the hot southern sun. As many mothers do, whether they consider themselves feminists or not, I have the same conflict on a regular basis. My desire to have things in their place before I can resume work on my masters thesis has been a slight hinderance and a justifing model of procrastination. How do you as a mother balance all those responsibilities that become part of a daily routine of childcare, house organization, day to day needs like what to get out for dinner, paying the bills, feeding the dogs, feeding yourself, showering, answering the phone, and checking e-mail with finding time to sit down read, write, and think? The answer is simple and has been voiced on a number of occasions by a number of people. Get the men to pick up more slack! Thank goodness for me, my husband is a teacher and has the summers off. One would assume this means he has more time to "pick up the slack." Unfortunately, these things do not occur to him on a daily basis so between making to-do lists and requesting a stretch of time each day to sit at my computer while daddy duty takes over, runs smoothly at times and not so smoothly other times. On occasion I will be faced with a crying infant who doesn't want to play on his play mat anylonger and a daddy who believes in a fit of frustration that he just wants his mommy or sometimes daddy will get bored and bring the little one up to the office to say hi. What is this disparity? I've tried to analyze, conceptualize, and logistically determine the ways in which this dynamic plays out. I awake each day committing myself to at least two hours of work time, and each day I get nothing done. So this vacation at the beach..........I packed a bag full of books and legal pads in which to make notes thinking that there will be no distractions around the house and daddy will having no lawn to mow. I'll report back and let you know if I completed my goal.