Look out for my full article coming soon in the Nanny Magazine!
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.”
When I first saw the title of this article on the New York Times Parenting blog, I literally sighed out loud. With anti-girly girl movements, stay-at-home-mom shaming, which seems all very obvious to me, I expected this piece by Catherine Newman to be yet another trash talk on the girly-girl, and it is, but only kind of. What I like about this piece, is that the author clearly points out expectations and differences between male and female. Newman talks about her daughters not-nice qualities in comparison with her sons overt niceness.
I know that our sweet-hearted son, who is 13, has always had the experience of niceness being its own reward. What can I do to help? he asks. Please, take mine, he insists, and smiles, and everyone says, “Oh, aren’t you nice!” and “What a lovely young man!” (Or sometimes, because he kind of looks like a girl, “What a lovely young lady!”) But, if I can speak frankly here, you really don’t worry about boys being too nice, do you? He still has the power and privilege of masculinity on his side, so, as far as I’m concerned, the nicer the better.
Compare this to…
I bite my tongue so that I won’t hiss at her to be nice. I tell you this confessionally. Because do I think it is a good idea for girls to engage with zealously leering men, like the creepy guy in the hardware store who is telling her how pretty she is? I do not. “Say thank you to the nice man who wolf-whistled!” “Smile at the frat boy who’s date-raping you!” I want my daughter to be tough, to say no, to waste exactly zero of her God-given energy on the sexual, emotional and psychological demands of lame men — of lame anybodies. I don’t want her to accommodate and please. I don’t want her to wear her good nature like a gemstone, her body like an ornament.
It’s a hard topic and it’s definitely gender/biological sex specific. Stereotypically people expect girls to be nice and boys to be masculine, AKA, physically strong and emotionally immature. I like that Newman points out her own hypocritical tendency when discussing her son versus her daughter, though I’m not sure this was intentional.
But there is one thing that Newman insinuates about gender which follows the girly-girl bashing. Newman, like many others’ writing about girls, the color pink, girl play, likens niceness to naivety, and, typically masculine characteristics of sloppyness and brut behavior to success.
Here is the part where all of this negative gender stereotyping happens, whereas before, her observations about her son and daughters character didn’t directly relate to their future success.
She is a beautiful kid, but she is also sure and determined in a way that is not exactly pretty. Which is fine, because God help me if that girl ends up smiling through her entire life as if she is waitressing or pole-dancing or apologizing for some vague but enormous infraction, like the very fact of her own existence.
I picture her at the prom in stripy cotton pajamas, eating potato chips with both hands. I picture her slapping a patriarch-damning sticker on her jacket. I picture her running the country, saving the world, being exactly the kind of good bad girl that she knows herself to be. And I think: You go. I think: Fly! I think: Take me with you.
And I just have to add that I hope no parent ever hopes for their son or daughter to be at prom, eating potato chips, with both hands. Unless you want your kid to be either overweight or poorly behaved, or both…
“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 was attempting to write a post about car seat safety, but I soon realized that while I can speak about certain common mistakes, there are some car seat safety rules I needed refreshing on myself.
Savanna’s Safety/Happy Ride Tips:
- Make sure your car seat is secure! It should be snuggly fitted to the seat, and depending on your baby’s weight, rear or forward facing.
- Tighten those straps! Straps should be very snug around babies shoulders, you should not be able to put a finger between strap and baby.
- Remove thick sweaters, coats and snowsuits! I see people making this common mistake, not only do thick sweaters and jackets prevent you from tightening the straps correctly, they also cause your baby to overheat. Overheating for infants can be especially dangerous, and for older babies and toddlers it’s uncomfortable. Your baby will, understandably becoming very irritable within seconds of being in the car. A screaming, hot uncomfortable baby is no fun when you’re stuck in traffic.
- Don’t leave too small objects in arms-reach of baby! (chocking hazard: everything you leave in back with your child, unsupervised, should be bigger than the cardboard tube used for toilet paper.
- For longer rides, make sure your baby is comfy! Make sure to dress baby in light, comfy clothing. Give your baby a clean, dry diaper, and make sure babe has been recently fed. Have a water or milk bottle close by and a toy (bigger than toilet paper role).
Resource Tips: So, to supplement this advice, is some real car seat safety from Parents.com. Obviously there are better, maybe more credible sources, but I think this one is a little more accessible. I specifically like tip #5, I didn’t know the positioning for this, but luckily have be doing it right!
Mistake #5: Using the retainer clip incorrectly
Test your seat: The retainer clip should be at armpit level, resting across your child’s breastbone. The clip assures that the harness straps are in the right place.
The danger: When the retainer clip is in the wrong place, the straps can easily slip off a child’s shoulders, and the child is at risk of being ejected from her seat in a crash.
Fast fix: Parents often move the clip as they maneuver their child out of the seat, so check the clip’s position every time you buckle up.
For other tips check out these sites:
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.
Semi-new action toys have come out, and they’re pink. The color pink has become controversial in its own right, but throwing weaponry into the mix brings up a whole new set of dialogue, “Why pink? Why weapons? Should girls and boys be playing out aggression? Are weapons bad? Are pink weapons bad? Is aggression good?…” Where I live, most parents are anti-fake weapon play. The mere pointing of a stick with the added “pow-pow” nearly brings parents to tears, likely fearing this role-play is somehow indicative of their parenting and the adult their kid will grow up to be. I am not apart of this mode of thinking. Kids role-play all sorts of things, they pretend to be a dog or a turtle, and yet we don’t fear children will grow up to have be “furries” or “plushies”. Nerf Rebelle Heartbreaker Exclusive Golden Edge Bow by Hasbro is being talked about simply because it’s pink. Toy weaponry is old hat. The focal point of the new weaponry toys is that they’re pink. Nerf guns have been around for years, in varying blues, oranges, greens and blacks, and while Nerf guns have suffered some criticism revolving around the presumed aggression, or warfare the gun may promote, I can assure you the criticism never once revolved around the color. So why now? Why does pink, and all things typically female create such cultural upheaval? We all know the argument against pink, I’ve written about it before, i.e., “pink is bad, it upholds gender stereotyping and women’s oppression.” Or something like this. First of all, a color cannot do these things, that’s just absurd. Second of all, we shouldn’t look at something that loosely represents an idea of “female”, and chastise it, we should embrace it and change whatever negative meaning it might have held. In order to progress, and continue equality among men we need to actually think that Women are equal, and not place blame on things like pink, makeup, tight clothes, etc., to each their own. And while I don’t wear pink or know how to properly apply make-up, I also don’t think that these things in anyway represent, or are cause for women’s oppression. I urge you to think about this topic. Consider what the color pink and weaponry play means to you, and why. Read the New York Times post I linked to about the new “girl” Nerf guns, written by Hilary Stout and Elizabeth A. Harris. I’d love to see some comments about this topic!
“How to Talk to Your Children About Gay Parents, by a Gay Parent” by Jerry Mahoney is an awesome post, informative and a must read for people who are uncomfortable or unwilling to talk about gay parents/ couples.
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.