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It will happen again

In light of domestic violence awareness month (that’s October if you weren’t aware) and in facing a newly reopened wound (or possibly one that never completely healed) here’s a poem from an adult survivor & witness of multiple types of abuse during childhood as I sit here in the aftermath of yet another nightmare. I don’t write poetry as much as I once did but I believe there is a connection between my poetry and my pain. When it’s bearable the words don’t flow; when it’s not, like this morning, it sometimes writes itself.

what i knew
that i could trust no one
that it would happen again
that i could do nothing right
that i didn’t want to hurt anymore
that i was terrified
that it would happen again

what i feared
that it would happen again
that someone might find out
that he would kill me if they did
that they would not believe me
that they would not help me
that it would happen again

what i believed
that if i left they would all be safe
that i was the reason it happened
that somehow i deserved it
that no one could help me
that no one wanted to
that it would happen again

what i felt
scared it would happen again
depressed that i was helpless
terrified that it would happen again

what i learned
that i’d gain strength in leaving
that i could be loved
that love doesn’t hurt
that it wasn’t my fault
that it really did happen
that it would happen again

what i feel now
that i’m still scared
that i have to protect my daughter
that i am still helpless to protect my siblings
that it can happen again

what i know
that i still have nightmares
that i’m still afraid to sleep alone
that the fear is still fresh
that my mother was a victim too
that he can’t hurt me now
that he can hurt others
that i am safe
that others aren’t
that it will happen again

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Polite = I’m interested in you?

I am a polite person. I’m friendly and outgoing (most of the time), and I like to talk to people. I believe strongly in human interaction. I believe that our tendency to separate ourselves from others lends to inequality and social injustice. If you can separate yourself from others and not humanize the consequences of your actions, you allow yourself to feel free from liability or responsibility. Separation from the “others” is where marginalization begins.

So, I smile at people. You might not agree that smiling is an act of feminist activism and you have the freedom to disagree. I don’t just smile though. I say hello, make small talk, get to know people on my bus route and occasionally I stick a quarter in a meter that’s almost empty when the owner is no where in sight. I can help it! I’m a nice person.

It is inevitable though that at least once or twice a week someone will misconstrue a simply smile and “good morning” or “have a great day” to mean that I am somehow interested in that person in a sexual way.

I’ve gotten the up and down look like I’m a piece of meat for sale, kisses blown and/or lips licked at me, “hey mami” or some variation thereof, the occasional stalker that decided to got completely our of their way to make sure they see me EVERYWHERE, and of course my absolute favorite the ones that blatantly ask me if I “have a man” (and a little lower on the evolutionary chain the ones who say “what’s he go to do with me & you being friends?”).

Seriously, I’m getting afraid to smile a people, men in particular. I don’t want to make assumptions are stereotype anyone but, in general, I haven’t had this problem with women although there have been exceptions. Mostly however, members of the opposite sex tend to take my politeness as a free pass to bad behavior or as some sort of confession that I want them sexually.

I just don’t get it! It inevitably happens when I’m dressed up or have my hair down. I think as a result the norms of our sexist society most women typically expect to be looked at as a sexual object when they look nice so, although it’s still disconcerting, we aren’t really shocked. But I think what gets me the most is when it’s a day when I’m in sweats or I’m commuting home from work exhausted with my daughter and accompanying baggage in tow.

Seriously, stop subscribing to hegemonic masculinity and realize that women are not here for you personal entertainment, pleasure, or servitude. Moreover, you don’t have “conquer” every woman who smiles at you to prove you are a “man.” Politeness does NOT equal a gesture of sexual desire. Just get over your  “manhood” and leave the sexual connections out the first 30 seconds you know someone (and I’m specifically leaving this gender/sex neutral because I can’t count the times I’ve heard a man get called  “gay” for smiling at another man). Not everyone wants you and you seriously need to reevaluate yourself if you want them to?

What is feminist parenting?

December 4, 2009 2 comments

In order to develop a working definition of feminist parenting, I have combined the findings of three studies on feminist parenting with definitions of feminist parenting found in edited volumes and other scholarly works on the subject. Much of the research I used to form my definition of feminist parenting was found in sources on feminist mothering and needed to be appropriated by applying to them the gender neutral term parenting. What I eventually developed was a list of characteristics, values, and behaviors found in families that practice feminist parenting.***

Characteristics, Values & Behaviors
Several studies indicate that neither sex nor biological relationship determine what makes a good or appropriate parent. Likewise, the number or marital status of parents, or sexual orientation of parents are equally inadequate in determining the capability of a parent. What does matter is the quality and type of parenting performed by whatever parents are available.*

The first characteristic of feminist parenting is that it can be done by any person who takes responsibility for a child and that it will promote the acceptance of a diverse definition of what constitutes a family. Therefore, for the purposes of defining feminist parenting, the word parent should not imply gender or genetic relation. Similarly, when used in the plural it should not imply a specific relationship (i.e. married, divorced…), romantic or otherwise, between the parents.

When more than one parent is present, all parents in a feminist family will share equally in the physical and emotional work of caring for children regardless of sex or gender identity. Children also share in household responsibilities at an age appropriate level so as to teach them responsibility, fairness, and practical skills for self-reliance. Both children and parents perform domestic duties that are atypical for their sex in a conscious effort to challenge traditional gender roles.

Feminist parents encourage open communication between all family members. Decisions are made as inclusively and democratically as appropriate to the child’s age and level of understanding. “It is inevitable that parents have more power than children” because they “have more knowledge and skill, control more resources, and ultimately have the physical power (at least when the children are young) to pick up…or physically restrain” their children. In instances when a parent must make a decision based on their parental authority (i.e. physically restraining a child to prevent them from harm or refusing to buy a coveted item), feminist parents communicate their reasoning for these decisions to their children. Despite the inevitable necessity for a parent to make some decisions despite their child’s wishes, parental authority is not taken for granted and children are not discouraged from questioning excessive or unfair use of adult authority. This open and inclusive communication and decision making allows for a warm and intimate parent-child relationship.

Children of feminist parents learn to challenge not only patriarchy and sexism but the idea of hierarchy itself. Parents encourage and model acceptance of diversity. Parents engage children in discussions about imbalances of power between groups of people based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation and other discriminating characteristics and teach them to recognize discrimination. Children are taught to view the world through a feminist lens and to think critically about the dominant culture.

Because children are taught to think critically and parents include them in decision making processes, children learn to be self-reliant, have self-governance and mutual respect. These skills allow parents give them appropriate levels of autonomy. Having children participate in household chores, allowing them autonomy and an open communication process is empowering to all members of the family. This also helps prepare children for interaction with the world outside of the family which may not hold the same values as they or their parents or where they may encounter discrimination.
Styles of Parental Control

The field of developmental psychology has developed four styles of parental control. These parenting styles have been researched extensively and produce differing outcomes. Because feminism is based on an understanding of power and control, it is useful in understanding and defining feminist parenting to understand the power and control dynamics associated with it. It is additionally beneficial that there is research on the outcomes of the parenting styles put forth by the field of developmental psychology because this research will be useful in deriving outcomes of feminist parenting later.

… Each of these four styles of parental control (authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent & neglectful) has an associated level of parental involvement, acceptance and warmth. …

The authoritative parent accepts that they have some authority over their children but encourages negotiation of rules and standards, prefers open communication and reasoning with children rather than punishment, is judgmental, allows appropriate levels of autonomy, and encourage free thinking and expression of feelings. These parents are described as very involved, displaying high levels of warmth toward and acceptance of children. Although the parent has slightly more power than the child, there is more of a balance of power between them. [This slight power imbalance is due to the parents’ inevitable control of access to resources and societal responsibility. It is important to note that authoritative parents intentionally do not use this inevitability to control the child].

…[This] authoritative style of parenting control is most similar to the feminist parenting style. Feminist parents use as little authority as necessary to parent and encourage their children to actively engage in decision making processes similar to that of the authoritarian parents described by the developmental psychologists. This is an interesting correlation since feminists refute the idea of hierarchy and fight for equality of power.
Joint parenting

Another type of parenting developed by the field of family studies, although inspired by the feminist movement, is joint or shared parenting. Joint parenting involves the sharing of household and childrearing responsibilities. This form of parenting does help to level the amount of work that each parent performs and encourages equal participation in work outside of the home. The main goal of sharing the work of parenting is to empower both parents, particularly the mother, which is also an aspect of feminist parenting.

Conclusions

Simply combining shared-parenting with authoritative parenting does not equal feminist parenting, however. In order to practice feminist parenting the parents must identify as feminists. They must consciously instill in their children an awareness of intersectionality and other feminist values as well as the ability to view the world critically through a feminist lens.

Feminist parenting provides significantly positive outcomes for children and studies show clear evidence of transmission of feminist values down the generational line. Children of feminist parents are more accepting of diversity, recognize discrimination, “have a willingness to challenge oppression” and a desire to change society. Children are also more self-reliant, autonomous and have the ability to think critically.

Parents also benefit from feminist parenting in that all parents regardless of sex are empowered and respected by their co-parents and children. Relationships between feminist parents in romantic partnerships are more equitable and satisfying to both sexes. Parents also benefit from their children’s heightened political awareness and feminist consciousness. Because children are allowed to openly communicate and debate with their parents the transmission of feminist values becomes reciprocal.

If we take a moment to extrapolate from the proven outcomes of feminist parenting the possibilities for social change and the feminist movement it becomes clear that this is a significant step toward the goal of equality. Patriarchy and other oppressive structures have gained their power in having been naturalized through patriarchal ideas and practices of family. Just as patriarchy and power imbalances have been naturalized by the patriarchal family, so to must we naturalize equality through feminist parenting.
In order to accomplish this, we need more literature on feminist parenting methods with inclusive language and better readability that is readily available for consumption by anyone looking for parenting information. It is important to develop practical methodologies of feminist parenting that enable us to move from theory to praxis.

*** This is an excerpt from a research paper I wrote. Citations have been removed for increased readability. If you are interested in the full paper with reference list, please contact me and I will gladly send you a copy to review in exchange for comments. I plan to continue my research in graduate school and welcome as much “constructive criticism” and feedback as I can get.***

No Y chromosomes in this womb

It’s a girl.

Since I was 3 months pregnant, people have been asking me:

— “What are you having?”
— “Um a BABY. I didn’t get knocked up by a poodle.”

Of course, after that exchange, I get some disgusted response where I’m called a smart ass.

There are also those that assume I want a girl and try to convince me so. Truthfully, I don’t want a girl. I don’t want a boy either. I want a baby and that’s exactly what I’ve got.

Eventually, as people realized I was getting closer to the time I would actually be able to know if indeed I was having either/or, the question became: “Are you going to find out the gender?” or “Do you know the gender yet?” Most of the time, I’d just gently correct them and say “No, we don’t know the SEX yet, but yes we will find out.” Other times, I was my usual smart ass self. “Babies don’t have a gender, but we will be finding out the sex.” If I was in a particularly bad mood, I’d say, “What difference does it make?”

After asserting several times to people that indeed it didn’t matter to us what the sex of the child is, I would often get questioned about why I chose to find out in the first place. “If it doesn’t matter then why find out?” Of course, they think they have me at this point. I have 3 reasons for wanting to find out the sex of my baby:

1. My partner wanted to know. He has a little girl and was hoping to have a boy this go ’round. His daughter also really wanted a little brother. I could have let him find out but that would have drove me crazy. Especially since he’s the type that likes to joke around and he’d certainly taunt me with his knowledge.

2. I’m curious (read: nosy). Hence the reason him knowing and me not knowing would have drove me up a wall.

3. I wanted to be able to prepare myself to some small degree for how to approach parenting this child.

Granted, I believe that boys and girls can do the same things and should be allowed the same privileges, opportunities, and support. That’s not the aspect of parenting I’m talking about. I’m talking about preparing my child for the pressures of society. Society treats children differently based on their sex and I need to prepare my child for that. I need to prepare myself for it. How would handle it if my little boy says he was called a sissy? How would I handle my little girl coming home and telling me someone called her fat or ugly? How about when they want to do something not usually associated with their gender and face resistance? These are all concerns of mine and having this pre-birth opportunity to prepare myself is critical to me.

I don’t care about what color to paint the nursery or what color clothes to buy. Those things are irrelevant. I’m concerned about the challenges my child will face as a result of this social construct we call gender. I’m concerned about my own emotional reaction to those challenges and my ability to response intellectually and NOT emotionally.

Why do we feel the need to gender children? Why do so many confuse gender with sex?

There is this idea that the dominant culture is the yard stick against which we must all be measured. We have made strides toward (although have not by far conquered) the acceptance of ethnic, racial and religious differences. But, gender/sex stereotype seem to cross all boundaries. It is easy for us to believe that it is OK for one to be of a religion that differs from the dominant Christian culture we live in. It is much more difficult to believe that little girls aren’t fragile and dainty or that women are not emotional because of our hormones, but because of the way we were socialized.

Socialization is such an unconscious process that most people cannot accept that its results are not natural/biological/innate. It baffles people that I intend to intentionally socialize my child in such a way that she will be aware of and capable of taking advantage of all options available to her. She will be conscious of society’s idea of “appropriate” gender and sex roles, aware that she is not bound by these so called “appropriate” roles, and equipped to handle the backlash she will undoubtedly recieve when she goes against them.

So, this battle with people about buying my child pink or blue gifts isn’t really about pink or blue; it’s about realizing that the rainbow is not a dichotomy, nor is my child’s gender. I have no doubt that she will have some pink in her wordrobe, but she will also have an array of other choices. I don’t feel the need to bombard her with society’s idea of what’s appropriate for a girl child. I don’t think she should only have dolls and kitchen sets to play with. She’ll have Tonka trucks and a chemistry set, and a basketball too.

As much as she’s been kicking lately, I think we should give her room a soccer theme. Maybe she’ll play professional soccer someday. It would justify all these kicks to the bladder (and the resulting trips to the bathroom). I could say it was just practice.