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The New Yorker-Laugh Here.

The New Yorker-Laugh Here.

Amazing, funny read by Sarah Miller.

A recent study has shown that if American parents read one more long-form think piece about parenting they will go fucking ape shit.

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The New York Times published some excerpts from Ron Suskind’s “Life, Animated.” This is an amazing piece about Suskind’s son Owen, who suffers from autism and how Owen found language and emotional connection through Disney.  Suskind gives a new outlook, and perspective on autism.

“When Owen was 3, his comprehension of spoken words collapsed. That’s clear from every test. But now it seems that as he watched each Disney movie again and again, he was collecting and logging sounds and rhythms, multitrack. Speech, of course, has its own subtle musicality; most of us, focusing on the words and their meanings, don’t hear it. But that’s all he heard for years, words as intonation and cadence, their meanings inscrutable. It was like someone memorizing an Akira Kurosawa movie without knowing Japanese. Then it seems he was slowly learning Japanese — or, rather, spoken English — by using the exaggerated facial expressions of the animated characters, the situations they were in, the way they interacted to help define all those mysterious sounds. That’s what we start to assume; after all, that’s the way babies learn to speak. But this is slightly different because of the way he committed these vast swaths of source material, dozens of Disney movies, to memory. These are stored sounds we can now help him contextualize, with jumping, twirling, sweating, joyous expression, as we just managed with “The Jungle Book.”

…………..
There’s a reason — a good-enough reason — that each autistic person has embraced a particular interest. Find that reason, and you will find them, hiding in there, and maybe get a glimpse of their underlying capacities. In our experience, we found that showing authentic interest will help them feel dignity and impel them to show you more, complete with maps and navigational tools that may help to guide their development, their growth. Revealed capability, in turn, may lead to a better understanding of what’s possible in the lives of many people who are challenged.”

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Feminism Vs. Dolls in Nanny Magazine

Feminism Vs. Dolls: Nanny Magazine

My piece “Feminism Versus Dolls” is now available to read in Nanny Magazine, and below!

FEMINISM VERSUS DOLLS: A NANNY’S THOUGHTS ON PINK TOYS

Flickr Commons courtesy of Jason Pratt

Flickr Commons courtesy of Jason Pratt

by savanna fox

One of the underappreciated skills a nanny possesses is being able to adapt to different parenting styles. A nanny, at some point in her career, will enter into a household unrecognizable from the one in which she herself was raised. It could be a house with same-sex parents or opposite-sex parents, one with processed foods or an in-home chef. The girls we care for may not be allowed to play with girl-gendered toys, or only girl-gendered toys, where pink and all things female are shooting out from every crevice in her bedroom.

While some of the choices a parent makes may seem baffling, the exposure to these different styles and methods can encourage us to grow and think constructively. Let’s, for instance, think about the gendered-toys I just mentioned. In recent years there has been a cultural backlash against the hypergendered-toy market, especially in the “pink aisle”. This backlash has stimulated a gender-neutral movement in general, from gender-neutral toys to gender-neutral colors and names. However, for some people, gender-neutral isn’t always good enough.

WHEN “IT” STARTED

The first time I heard a mother say “I never want my daughter to play with dolls; I only want her to play with trucks,” I was flooded with memories from gender studies classes in college, classes in which we discussed the potential evils of Barbie, baby dolls, and both the colors blue and pink. We theorized that these gendered toys and colors were upholding patriarchal structures and the harmful subversion of women.

I immediately felt a sense of camaraderie with the mother, thinking she too was aware of the social and feminist issues that take root in our young. By removing female-gendered toys, she was attempting to push back against outside gendering the world would inflict, both socially and professionally, on her daughter. I presumed this mother knew that statistically her daughter would likely earn less money than her male counterparts, be overlooked for promotions, feel pressure to have kids, and to look a certain way, just to name a few of the feminist issues children are still too young to have to struggle with. At the time, I believed that this mother, myself, and others like us were invoking positive feminist theory by engaging in and enforcing gendered-toy monitoring, but were we?

THINKING DIFFERENTLY

As a nanny in a progressive Brooklyn neighborhood, I continued to hear similar parenting qualms with specifically girl-gendered toys and I found myself questioning this “no dolls” logic. Weren’t we oversimplifying the source of gender separation, especially because the idea and practice consistently excluded boys from the same toy monitoring?

I believe the “no dolls” parenting fad, while masked with claims of relief from gender, patriarchy, and sexism, is severely flawed. How did we transition from believing that we are a gendered society and that some toys are gendered to removing specifically girl-gendered toys from biologically female girls and introducing opposite-gendered toys (e.g., trucks)? Does the removal of one gendered toy and the introduction of another equally gendered toy break down gender barriers? Or do we simply reinforce gender differences by acknowledging the legitimacy of gendered toys?

GENDERED-TOY MONITORING

The driving force behind the ban on dolls practice seems to be the fear that providing young girls with girl-gendered toys will pressure our daughters or female charges into subservient roles, both socially and professionally. Are we worried that toys that appear to typify stereotypical female characteristics of image over substance, nurturer over logician, will lead girls to only want to become stay-at-home moms, caregivers, cooks, and wives? Are these fears valid? And are these career and lifestyle choices inherently bad or digressive to the feminist movement?

While the fear of a gender-coercive world is real, girls’ choices to inhabit these roles are not bad or harmful to the feminist movement. People should be aware, though, that their children will have outside pressure to embody the ideals of “male” and “female”. But I do not think the knowledge of a hyper and yet unattainable embodiment of male and female warrants actions that disembody girls from all things female. Aren’t we just limiting our daughter’s options in the name of feminism?

The fundamental misstep occurs when the parent substitutes boy-gendered toys for their daughter’s girl-gendered toy collection. This action contradicts the feminist movement instead of upholding it by taking away choice and associating feminism with women’s likening to male, to becoming more male rather than being equal. The core of feminism is choice; limiting it is precisely what we are fighting against.

MALE VS. FEMALE

Substituting male playthings for female ones also devalues classical female roles. While on the one hand we are saying “no” to dolls, we are confusingly and simultaneously saying “yes” to typically male-gendered toys. In this scenario, not only are gender dichotomies upheld, sexism is amplified by highlighting the perceived differences between male and female gender norms.

The embedded message in the “no dolls, only trucks” practice is that classical female roles are less important than male roles. It appears as though sexism can be avoided so long as women don’t enter into the hyper-female roles that girl toys may represent (e.g., motherhood, the housewife, caregiver, and cook). By practicing gendered-toy monitoring, parents instill in their daughters and sons the idea that sexism only exists when a woman chooses a classically female, or not male, role in society.

STIGMA IN CHILDCARE

This reasoning places feminism in conflict with the stay-at-home-mom and all classically female roles. I myself have been subject to the stay-at-home-mom stigma because I’ve chosen to be a nanny. The stigma surrounding my career choice is clearly in conflict with my peers’ original image of me as a “strong, educated, feminist female.” When I tell my peers that I’m a professional nanny, I am greeted with awkward silences followed by statements like, “I need to really work and use my brain to be stimulated.” These comments directly demonstrate that classically female roles are not considered “real work” unless performed by a man. Men are often rewarded and praised if they choose to dedicate any portion of their lives to “female” work. Stay-at-home-dads are all the rage these days, or so it seems.

Is this what we aspire to teach future generations, that one can only be a feminist or a radical if she engages in what has been culturally determined to be “male” work? Don’t our very acts of toy monitoring only further set up a world where male and female continue at odds, where “female” maintains its subversion through the praise and likening to “male”?

THE REAL PROBLEM

Baby dolls, Barbie, the colors blue and pink are just things. They are symptoms of our errors in thinking, not the cause. I believe it’s important to remember that toys only carry as much cultural weight as we put on them. Toy dolls are not responsible for sexism, people are. When we blame objects for sexism and negative gender dichotomies, what we do, by accident, is push aside the real issue, which is our way of thinking, making it harder for us to find the real source of the problem, and thus, the problem persists.

The reality of the “no dolls, only trucks” practice does not instill feminist values. It does not teach you or the children you care for how to effectively address issues of gender coercion or sexism. Instead of addressing, teaching, and educating on issues of equality, feminism, and gender difference, toy monitoring only reinforces gender differences and women’s subversion. There is no gender neutrality when parents substitute one gendered toy for an equally gendered toy.

WHAT TO DO

If toy monitoring isn’t an effective tool against gendering and patriarchal structures, then how do we address these issues? How do we effectively as individuals and caregivers continue to pursue this topic for our children and ourselves?

I believe the best way to address these issues is to constantly maintain a dialogue with our peers and the children in our care. We should question both the short-term and long-term effects of our chosen parenting and coparenting, styles, not just turn a blind eye to the inconsistencies in logic. As long as caregivers and parents create and maintain an environment that stimulates conversations and encourages creative play of all kinds, the dangers of gendered-toy play should be limited.

Caregivers, unfortunately, will be limited in addressing some of these issues, unless specifically asked their opinion, in which case it’s good to be informed. Issues of feminism, gender, and sexism should be a topic for all.

If the family you work for is against baby dolls but their daughter is obsessed with them, point out that baby dolls can be a useful social tool. Children can learn how to relate to themselves and how to become a big sister or brother, for starters. Role playing is important and will likely happen with or without a baby doll. Gender divides, while they exist, are not concrete. Children learn how to gender themselves from the adults in their lives. You can remind the parents that inanimate objects don’t speak, they can’t have real back and forth dialogue with them, but you can.

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The Art of Being Born by Marcia Aldrich

I’ve been reading through The Best American Essays of 2013 for the last couple of weeks.  Yesterday, on the train, I read Marcia Aldrich’s essay The Art of Being Born” this is a beautifully written piece about “the” initiation into motherhood and childbirth.

“I thought I was the wounded party.  It never occurred to me that perhaps I wasn’t the only one who had been deprived of a birth story, or a story one would want to share.  It never occurred to me that there were no baby pictures because my mother was denied access to me in the first weeks.”

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What Drives Success?

What Drives Success?

-New York Times

-New York Times

Here is an interesting article from The New York Times by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld about race, immigration and success.  They identify three embedded-not innate traits which can lead to your child’s success.

“The fact that groups rise and fall this way punctures the whole idea of ‘model minorities’ or that groups succeed because of innate, biological differences.  Rather there are cultural forces at work.

It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success.  The first is a superiority complex– a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality.  The second appears to be the opposite– insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not enough.  The third is impulse control.”

Success happens, not by instilling only one of the three traits, all three must be present– and in America, specifically well-off white families, falsely think they can drive their child to success by constant confirmation, such as, “You’re amazing.  Mommy and Daddy never want you to worry about a thing” (NYT.)  Rather, success is based not solely, but partially, on some possible threat of failure, or of failing to live up to some standard prerequisite.

Back to Pink, Kind of.

This is kind of a reblog from Bluemilk, I saw her post referencing the recent article/discussion Girls, Boys, Feminism, Toys: Deborah Siegel and Rebecca Hains Discuss.  The discussion between Deborah Siegal and Rebecca Hains, points to issues with the anti-pink phenomenon, and ways to educate children about media literacy.  

Rebecca: In all honesty, the argument that we need to stop (“or at least pause”) the war on pink didn’t even come off as a rhetorical device to me. I’m sad to say that it just came across as ill-informed. There isn’t a war on pink; there’s a thoughtful, measured argument that while pink isn’t inherently bad, it’s limiting the play worlds and imaginations of boys and girls alike. So “Who’s Afraid of the War on Pink” reads, to me and my colleagues, like a straw man argument. The authors were conjuring up a nonexistent epidemic of myopic thinking, instead of engaging with anyone’s actual writing on the subject of girl culture and the rise of pink.

Check out the rest of the discussion on Girl W/Pen
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Everyday Gendering

Gender Neutral Parenting: 5 ways to Avoid Implicit Sexism

Here is a great article which pinpoints the dangers of naturalized sexism. “Naturalized” sexism is something that most of us unknowingly perform, or take part in daily, even women.

“In one experiment, mothers were asked to guess the steepness of a carpeted slope that their 11-month olds would be able to crawl. Then the children actually crawled the slope, and the difference between actual and mother-predicted angles was noted.

The results showed that both boys and girls were able to crawl the same degree of incline. However, the predictions of the mothers were correct within one degree for the boys and underestimated their daughter’s ability by nine degrees.”

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motherlode: child care

KJ Dell’Antonia on Motherlode, points to issues of subsidized childcare.

“It sounds cheesy, but in many cases, these truly are the pillars of their communities. They do after-hours, 24-hours, emergency care. They’re providing the infrastructure that isn’t there for these working parents.” It’s a cobbled-together structure that both employees and ultimately their employers have come to rely on — but the caregivers who create it aren’t compensated or recognized as the resource they’ve become.”

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“Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD”

“Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD” is a great article, which, I believe, identifies broad weaknesses in American parenting ideology.

To the extent that French clinicians are successful at finding and repairing what has gone awry in the child’s social context, fewer children qualify for the ADHD diagnosis. Moreover, the definition of ADHD is not as broad as in the American system, which, in my view, tends to “pathologize” much of what is normal childhood behavior. The DSM specifically does not consider underlying causes. It thus leads clinicians to give the ADHD diagnosis to a much larger number of symptomatic children, while also encouraging them to treat those children with pharmaceuticals.