Look out for my full article coming soon in the Nanny Magazine!
Every once in a while, though, I hear someone make an offhand remark about LGBTQ parents that makes me cringe. And it’s not always the usual culprits. Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies, and it’s gay people themselves (usually childless ones) who make unfair generalizations about those of us who do have kids.
So, in honor of Mombian’s 9th annual Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day (you can see my post from last year here), I want to address some sentiments I’ve encountered as a gay dad, from both gay and straight people, which I find incredibly wrong-headed and which I’d like to dispel once and for all.
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The Overprotected Kid by Hanna Rosin looks at the history of playgrounds, and how regulation and safety guidelines have possibly made recent generations “less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”
“[Lady Marjory Allen] wanted to design playgrounds with loose parts that kids could move around and manipulate, to create their own makeshift structures. But more important, she wanted to encourage a “free and permissive atmosphere” with as little adult supervision as possible. The idea was that kids should face what to them seem like “really dangerous risks” and then conquer them alone. That, she said, is what builds self-confidence and courage.
The playgrounds were novel, but they were in tune with the cultural expectations of London in the aftermath of World War II. Children who might grow up to fight wars were not shielded from danger; they were expected to meet it with assertiveness and even bravado. Today, these playgrounds are so out of sync with affluent and middle-class parenting norms that when I showed fellow parents back home a video of kids crouched in the dark lighting fires, the most common sentence I heard from them was “This is insane.” (Working-class parents hold at least some of the same ideals, but are generally less controlling—out of necessity, and maybe greater respect for toughness.) That might explain why there are so few adventure playgrounds left around the world, and why a newly established one, such as the Land, feels like an act of defiance.”
“We believe that parents are critical for how well children perform in school, just not in the conventional ways that our society has been promoting. The essential ingredient is for parents to communicate the value of schooling, a message that parents should be sending early in their children’s lives and that needs to be reinforced over time. But this message does not need to be communicated through conventional behavior, like attending PTA meetings or checking in with teachers.
…Conventional wisdom holds that since there is no harm in having an involved parent, why shouldn’t we suggest as many ways as possible for parents to participate in school? This conventional wisdom is flawed. Schools should move away from giving the blanket message to parents that they need to be more involved and begin to focus instead on helping parents find specific, creative ways to communicate the value of schooling, tailored to a child’s age.”
Reading this article, by Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris, I strongly agreed with what their research, and motivation for their research found, and, yet something feels weird about saying “STOP being involved!!” Why? Because there are so many parents who really aren’t there. There are parents from different all socioeconomic backgrounds who don’t take the time from their lives to see what’s up with their kids. So this article, that I agree very strongly with, also feels slightly dangerous for the parents who will simply skim through and feel justified that they are doing the right thing by stepping away, because when it comes to the President’s initiative for programs like “Race to the Top” what I think he, and other programs like it are trying to do is simply point out that parents involvement does matter. They are trying to reach out to a group with generations of subpar, or just simply lacking of any parental role-models, and say “you actually do have an effect on your child’s future.”
So, for the parents who are already doing things like attending every PTA meeting, or doing their child’s homework for them, or simply sitting idly by while they do homework, you can stop, not just for them but for you. But for the wider range of parents who aren’t talking, and who never sit by their kids, being encouraged to do a little of that isn’t a bad thing. The “overachieving” parents should take a tip from the underachievers, and vice versa.
Here is a pretty good, short essay about why white parents should talk about race with their kids, by Melinda Wenner Moyer.
So if children as young as 3 develop racial prejudices when left to their own (cognitively biased) devices, it may help for parents to intervene and, you know, actually talk to their kids about race. “Don’t you want to be the one to suggest to them—early on, before they do form those preconceptions—something positive [about other races] rather than let them pick up something negative?” asks Kristina Olson, a University of Washington psychologist who studies social cognitive development and racial bias. “White parents seem very, very resistant to talking about race—even really liberal ones—and they have this attitude of ‘I wouldn’t want to talk about it because it would make it real to my kids.’ But inevitably, it’s their kids that show these really strong race biases.” In fact, Olson says, when parents don’t talk about race, kids may infer from this silence that race is especially important, yet highly taboo—basically, the last thing you want them to think.
I love this book! Written by Andrea Beaty, Rosie Revere, Engineer is a inspirational children’s book about not giving up. This book will motivate children, and adults to get going on the projects we love, specifically those we don’t succeed at the first time. The illustrations by David Roberts are fantastic, possibly a little circus-esque-scary but wonderful and full of life.
“She handed a notebook to Rosie Revere, who smiled at her aunt as it all become clear. Life might have it’s failures, but this was not it. The only true failure can come if you quit.”
My piece “Feminism Versus Dolls” is now available to read in Nanny Magazine, and below!
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?
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?
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.
My boss shared this great piece with me by Jill Lepore. It’s a historical look at breastfeeding, pumping, formula and bottle feeding. Some of you may have read this back in 2009, when it was published in The New Yorker, but for those of you who didn’t, I highly recommend checking it out.
“Then, bizarrely, American women ran out of milk. “Every physician is becoming convinced that the number of mothers able to nurse their own children is decreasing,” one doctor wrote in 1887. Another reported that there was “something wrong with the mammary glands of the mothers in this country.” It is no mere coincidence that this happened just when the first artificial infant foods were becoming commercially available.”
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.”