Entries from September 2007 ↓
September 20th, 2007 — Other stuff
by Tracee Sioux
Which of these babies is a boy and which is a girl?
Before I had children I thought it would be easy enough to avoid genderizing my babies. Numerous studies provide evidence that baby boys and baby girls are treated in a vastly different way. (Growing A Girl, PAP Report on Sexualization of Girls, Dove Campaign for Real Beauty White Paper.)
I won the baby lottery in that I was blessed with one girl and one boy.
I felt it would be easy enough to combat the nature versus nurture gender influence on my babies. What I didn’t count on was the immediacy of the nurture genderization that was beyond my control.
I also had the unique perspective of having same-age, opposite-gender cousins to compare treatment in the present sense. More simply: My daughter has a male cousin born 3 weeks after her and my son has a female cousin born 3 weeks after him. Without picking on my mother-in-law, whose influence on my children I consider positive and invaluable, her behavior toward my children is the most marked in its gender-stereotyping so I’ll use her to illustrate.
Within days of the birth of my son and his female cousin she could not stop talking about how “all boy” my baby was, as compared to how “all girl” his cousin was. My son, in my opinion, was a pretty as any girl baby. I really believe if we took them to the mall with Zack in a dress and called him Samantha everyone would believe he was a girl and therefore treat him accordingly. She believes he is somehow inherently boy-like.
Babies, whether they are girls or boys, eat, sleep, poop, pee and cry. That’s it. There really are no scientific gender characteristics aside from genitalia. Yet, the way they are treated from the very second they pop out of the womb is vastly different.
What I realized is that it’s a mute argument because you can’t insulate them from gender-stereotyping. Not even for the first five minutes.
Have you ever been in a store with a new mother and someone says, “What a cute little boy.”
One mother I was with said, I have her dressed from head to toe in pink, the blanket is pink and the headband is pink and has a bow. How much more obvious can it be that she’s a girl?
Mothers feel it’s imperative that even strangers understand that their baby boys are boys and their girls are girls.
With my girl the clothes available were pink, ruffled, bearing photos of dolls, teddy bears, bows, and dance emblems. The clothing very often bore some comment on her attractiveness like cute, adorable, sweet.
I think my son wears something with a ball, bat, net or truck picture every single day.
My boy scored some blocks, trucks, puzzles, tools and a video game system for his first birthday. My daughter got some dolls, a stroller, cooking paraphernalia, fake heels and a tea set for hers.
Adjectives used to describe my infant daughter included pretty, sweet, adorable and precious.
Adjectives used to describe my son include tough, big, smart, strong and cute.
What I realized is that you can’t stop people from treating your children in different ways due to their gender. Not in reality.
In the real world it’s ungrateful and rude to tell people not to buy your daughter girl toys. You sound like an ass if you say please don’t call her beautiful, call her smart. You really have little control over what friends and family say to your kids. You can’t go around policing every toy, clothing item or word. There’s also an argument that you don’t really want to criminalize girl toys or positive feedback about girlness. The goal is not to make them boys after all.
My husband and I are as guilty of gender-stereotyping our babies as anyone. My first instinct with my daughter is always to tell her to be nice and get along.
It’s not nice to hit.
Yet my son is encouraged by the whole family to flex his muscles and be physically aggressive and growl. My husband likes to show his aggressiveness off to his friends, Get him Zack!
I even gave him a very aggressive masculine hair cut with his spiked Mohawk, while my daughter isn’t allowed to cut her hair short.
While I’ve given up the idea that it’s remotely possible to insulate our kids from early gender-stereotyping, I think it’s important to be conscientious about applying “masculine” adjectives to our daughters too. It’s important that we make a habit of telling our daughters that they too are smart, competent, strong, fast, brave and tough. It’s important to expose them to the “masculine toys” like video games, puzzles, math games and the computer.
For that matter, it’s pretty funny to watch Zack run around in my red peep-toe pumps and play house with the baby dolls. Sweet and gentle are adjectives I like to use with him.
One of the babies in the picture is a boy. One is a girl. Which is which? What makes you think so? Look to the sidebar to participate in a baby-gender poll.
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September 19th, 2007 — Other stuff
This is the company photo for WordPress.com. See that one woman among all the men? This is 2007 and we talk a lot about all the opportunities available to women, but this is a current photo not a flashback to the 1970s.
What do we say to our daughters about that one girl? Do we encourage our daughters to emulate her, join her, be like her? Or do we criticize her fashion sense and hair?
Do we tell our daughters that math and science pay a lot more than traditionally female occupations like teaching and social work?
When we’re encouraging a hobby it might be better to forgo the tap class and encourage chess club. Parents of girls should get extra-excited about math ability and foster a curiosity about computers.
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September 18th, 2007 — Disney Princess Culture & Fairy Tales, Media, Marketing and Advertising
We took our kids and my mentee to see Shrek the Third (Widescreen Edition).
I was thrilled to expose the girls to the scene where the Disney Princesses, Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, deliberately nod off to sleep to “wait to be rescued” when the villains of children’s literature lock them up.
Fiona and her mother look mystified by such a stupid response and take matters into their own hands – effectively saving themselves.
HELLO! It’s about time someone had the nerve to confront those girls about the stupidity of waiting around for someone to save them. Thank you Fiona and Queen of Far Far Away!
I used to allow princesses at out house, I’ve since banned them. (We still have some videos and books that were sentimental gifts.) But the messages of the Disney Princess culture is that girls are valued for beauty rather than competence. That a prince must come save them for they are incapable of effective action. See Cinderella Should Have Saved Herself, Belle – Battered Codependent, and Ariel – The Little Mute for details about why I’ve restricted access to the princess message.
If parents are going to offer their daughters the Disney Princess culture, and it’s really not possible to isolate them from it completely because it’s so pervasively marketed, at least offer up an alternate view of a girl’s role. Shrek the Third should join the others on the DVD shelf, at the very least. Use it to point out to your daughters the (dis)functionality of the Disney stories. Give them permission to envision saving themselves and be proactive about their lives.
Tell them the truth about men they will date someday – that prince grows up and turns into a fallible man that picks his nose and turns right back into a frog – just like the King of Far Far Away does in Shrek The Third.
Watch Shrek the Third (Widescreen Edition)and tell her that you think Fiona and her mother’s actions are more admirable than the Princesses who passively nod off to sleep and wait for someone to save them.
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September 17th, 2007 — Girl Culture, Media, Marketing and Advertising
by Tracee Sioux
The beautiful America Ferrera won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series last night for her role as Betty Suarez in Ugly Betty.
While my husband believes the themes in Ugly Betty are too adult for our five-year-old daughter, and they are, I love Ugly Betty’s message about beauty.
I think it’s a provocative look at beauty and the value we place on women. The social climate at Mode Magazine begs the question are women valued for their brains and abilities or are they valued for how much they participate in the ideal of beauty?
With lots of glamor, fashion, paparazzi and soap opera gender themes it seems the only thing everyone on the show wants to be is the ideal of a beautiful woman.
Take Wilhelmina Slater, played by Vanessa Williams, she’s beautiful but what she really wants is to be taken seriously by the publisher. She wants to run a magazine. She wants to be valued for her abilities, she’s obviously the most capable of running a fashion magazine. But, as the “beautiful woman” she keeps getting the “assistant’s” job.
The cattiness and image obsession of the receptionist Amanda is like a caricature of what mean girls grow up to be. Beauty is so important she’ll do anything to get it.
Even the men are caught up in the obsession with fashion and beauty. The less-than-masculine boy, Justin, and the homosexual assistant place place an equally distorted importance on beauty and fashion. They become completely absorbed in the whole glamorous world, in which they can never be the ideal, as they are male. They accept worshiping it from the sidelines.
The two heirs, both male, chase the ideal of the beautiful woman with equal vigor – one, Alexis Meade, surgically becomes one, while the other, Daniel Meade focuses on sexually obtaining many. Much like their father, Bradford Meade, who has built a dynasty around photographing the beauty ideal and writing about the importance and significance of beauty to encourage that other women, his audience, to seek it.
It even brings in the cultural influences of beauty with Betty’s sister, Hilda, obviously beautiful by the standards of her Queens neighborhood going to beauty school.
Betty, completely oblivious to the vicious competition for becoming “the prettiest”, always seems the most truly beautiful person in the room. She broadens the scope and definition of beauty, being refreshingly a-typical of young Hollywood.
DVR Ugly Betty, Thursdays on ABC this fall. It will make you think of beauty, the ideal of the beautiful woman, and the importance of beauty in lots of new ways.
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September 17th, 2007 — Fit Girl, Sexualization of Girls
by Tracee Sioux
My daughter was reciting all the things about “A” she had learned her first week in Kindergarten.
A is for alligator, apple tree, astronaut, Ainsley.
Then she handed the phone back to me.
Well, when she was reciting all the things that start with A, I refrained from listing Asshole.
Well, thanks for showing some restraint Mom, I said. Sometimes I don’t even know who you are. When I was a kid I would have sworn you would never, ever say the word Asshole. Let alone be tempted to say it to a five-year-old.
I would have sworn the same thing. Then I had you.
You mean parenting a child like myself in particular, or the experience of mothering in general?
It was parenting you. When you have a kid like you and you start defending them to people, you don’t realize how many assholes there are in the world. The world is pretty full of assholes.
I’ve learned more things about things I never, ever wanted to know about or understand being your mother. Well, and Larry’s wife. The two of you. I was so naive. I’ve really had to grow and learn being married to him and mothering you. You two are my trials to endure. You’re the people in my life that force me to grow.
My poor mother. She’d have chosen a life of rule following, respecting authority and blending in.
Then she had me and I would have none of it – straight from the go. Challenging authority, questioning the status quo, getting into trouble, experimenting with addiction, using my voice loudly and publicly, forever going against the grain.
She did defend me too. I remember she took on the vice-principal of my junior high when I kicked out a window at school. I went right to him and confessed and offered to pay for it. I kicked it, but was surprised it had broken. My intention wasn’t to vandalize. The principal expelled me for the rest of the year and she fought that. But, you know what she would have chosen for herself? That I was not the type of kid to kick anything. That I would have just nicely and politely gone to class.
I put my mother through hell. People always make vague comments about myself to me. My grandmother recently wrote, You always have marched to a different drummer.
I never do know what they really mean. I always choose to take it as a compliment. But, I’m vague about how people really perceive me. I never quite understand how exactly I’m so different. Occasionally I’ll struggle against it, my nature, but it’s futile. I worry that my daughter is too much like me, and girls like us are really such a challenge to mother.
Well behaved women rarely make history.
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