I’ve been seeing this post about a daughter’s questions about her mom’s makeup in my news feed recently, and it’s made me think. Christine Burke describes how her daughter’s simple question made her see herself through a 7 year-old’s eyes and examine why she spent so much time and effort contouring, highlighting, plucking, cleansing, and otherwise enhancing her looks.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
What a short, strange trip it’s been! I had my first ever viral post this week when the news of North Ward School in Paris banning Halloween costumes broke. I was *almost* on Canada AM but was bumped at the last minute for a “breaking news story.” (My guess was something that started with “J” and rhymed with “misogynistic creep-omeshi” but, y’know, we’ll never know for sure what really happened, right?) Continue reading
Here’s one for the “What is the world coming to?” files.
This gem scrolled through my Facebook feed yesterday: A friend’s children’s school has decided to forgo Halloween this year in favour of…I don’t know…Friday, I guess. The decision was attributed to the “staff” and the reasons behind it were given as follows: Continue reading
Good news, everyone! I’ve decided to feature an occasional anonymous feminist advice column. Please feel free to send along your submissions and tell your friends!
I just read this article in an online newspaper, and it left me deeply troubled. It called itself an “ethics column” but really seemed much more like a “patriarchy judge-o-matic.”
A concerned party wrote in with a question about a 7 year-old girl involved in competitive dance; apparently this person’s colleague showed him/her a photo of the colleague’s daughter in dance competition costume. Rather than respond with a socially acceptable, “That’s nice,” the letter-writer, judging that in his/her opinion, the girl in the photo was made up to look like a sex-worker, said something along the lines of, “Hey, I don’t know much about you or your family, but based on this single picture of your daughter about which you were obviously excited enough to show me, a work colleague whom you clearly don’t know all that well or you might have expected such a tirade, but I feel that your parenting skills are inadequate, your judgement is lacking, and if left unchecked, your daughter will probably grow up to be a whore. You should be ashamed.” Continue reading
When I was in high school, I was the goodiest of all two-shoes. My marks were in the high 80-90s across the board. I sang in 3 choirs, if you count the children’s church choir I assistant-directed. I played 2 instruments in 3 orchestras, including my school’s professional double quartet. And by professional I mean we played actual paid gigs; the school hired us out to play functions on our own time, earning $500 a pop which went straight into the school’s bank account. But, y’know…happy to oblige, right?
I didn’t go to parties. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t even know what a mary-ju-wanny cigarette looked like, and I didn’t even round first base until I was in university.
When you consider the external pressure of a high-achieving family and an expensive private school education, combined with the internal pressure of a type A perfectionist personality, something’s bound to give, right? On top of that, there were a lot of shitty things going on at my school, some that I was just witness to and others that impacted me personally, and there comes a point when you have to do something to push back.
I directed the majority of my aggression internally, as many of your teenage girls do, but I had one small form of outward rebellion – just one. Every morning I woke up and put on a dark-coloured brassiere before I buttoned up my white oxford shirt. It was my way of subtly flipping off the entire institution. I was well aware that my snazzy undergarments were visible through my uniform shirt, and I loved it.
I wasn’t the only one. There were hundreds of us with our little micro-rebellions – rolled up kilts and rolled down socks; hiding friendship bracelets under our shirtsleeves and concealing polished fingernails in our fists. One student wore a band-aid over a nose piercing for months, ripping it off every day at 3:45 and letting her silver ring breath free. We weren’t trying to impress any boys. There weren’t any boys to impress, unless you count the maintenance guys we used to bum cigarettes from or that computer tech who offered to split a joint with me at a club.
It seemed fitting – the ways that they were screwing me over were well within their framework of rules and policies, and so was this. Trust me. I checked.
By all accounts though, my choice of attire was “unprofessional.” Shouldn’t the school have put a stop to this? Isn’t it their job to teach me to maintain proper decorum? How would I one day find gainful employment if I didn’t even understand how to dress the part?
The thing is – I did understand. Completely. I understood that school was not, in fact, a job. I understood that school was a place where I was expected to study and learn so I could get good marks and go to a good university. I understood that school was a place where I was expected to treat my teachers and fellow students with respect. School may have been a lot of things, but a job it was not; a job, you see, pays you money.
Of course, it being a private school, I also understood that I was required to follow certain standards of dress and accessorizing (uh…none), so I wore all of the uniform pieces that were required of me. I carefully noted, however, the lack of supportive undergarment-related parameters in my school’s Code of Conduct – Uniform Policy, and smiled to myself as I hooked together my navy and white gingham bra.
I also understood jobs. My job at the time was babysitting, of which I did rather a lot, and for that endeavor, I dressed differently – appropriately, one might say, if by appropriately one meant, “Wearing stuff that wouldn’t be damaged while playing with children and was easily laundered.” Obviously, this ruled out my uniform since that blinking kilt had to be ironed within an inch of its life. Word to the wise – if you’re choosing a private school for your daughter, the wider the pleats, the easier the care.
And interestingly enough, I figured all this out by myself. My school didn’t educate me in how to dress appropriately for babysitting. Or for being an auto mechanic. Or a flight attendant. Or a swimming instructor. Or a lawyer. Or a professional beach volleyball player. When I hear people say that students need to dress appropriately at school to prepare them for the standards of dress they will encounter in their workplace, I always wonder, “What kind of workplace?”
At school we sit at a desk and write stuff and sometimes we use computers, so I guess we equate it with an office job and impose or encourage standards similar to what you would find in that environment. But if school is supposed to prepare students for entry into the workforce, why can’t we think outside the cubicle?
Or is it less about clothes and more about teaching students that in the workplace they will be expected to follow instructions, including but not limited to standards of dress. I guess that makes a little more sense, but aren’t there enough rules for them to follow already before clothing even enters into it?
All right – let’s accept for the moment that it *is* the education system’s job to prepare students for the workforce, and that setting and enforcing clear dress codes are one way to do that. The next issue that we arrive at is the fact that school dress codes are inherently discriminatory, disproportionately singling out women and girls.
With the help of my friend Google, I’ve had a look at some school dress codes in Ontario – elementary and secondary schools in both the public and Catholic boards, and here is what I’ve come up with:
We are fortunate that school dress codes contain helpful, concrete descriptions that can in no way be misconstrued, like “modest,” “respectful,” “respectable,” “inoffensive,” “non-distracting,” “neat,” “appropriate,” “proper,” and “decorous.” Clothing should not, on the other hand, be “distasteful,” “revealing,” “distracting,” “offensive,” or “sexually provocative.”
Well, that should be easy to figure out and to follow, right? No margin for error there! On the off chance that you do have difficulty interpreting the guidelines (or *cough cough* happened to stumble upon a loophole), they often include helpful summary sentences like these:
“All clothes are to be appropriate for the learning environment as deemed so by the staff at the school.”
“The Administration reserves the right to decide on appropriate attire.”
Perfect! No matter how iron-clad the rules are, there’s a leetle space for wiggle room in the form of arbitrary judgement.
This one actually acknowledges that different attire is suited to different settings:
“Clothing that may be appropriate at home, at the beach, or at a nightclub may not be appropriate at school.”
Unfortunately, that sentence is preceded by this one:
“All members of the school community must dress in a way consistent with a scholarly tone: dress that reflects personal pride and respect for others.”
A scholarly tone? I’m not sure what that means. Can you elaborate? “Members of the school community are required to be adequately covered to be consistent with a scholarly school tone.”
Scholarly tone = adequately covered = reflecting personal pride and respect for others.
Gotcha. I do apologize to anyone my bare shoulders ever disrespected. Totally my bad.
Not wanting to leave anything up to chance, it gets even more specific: No clothing or accessories which “are unduly distracting, including but not limited to, dress which is sexually provocative, torn or ragged.”
Ah, there’s the rub, right there in black and white:
Sexually provocative = unduly distracting.
This one includes a rationale . Apparently, the dress code contributes
- to a safer and more secure school policy;
- to the development of an educational learning environment;
I had no idea that modest dress was safer and more educational. You learn something new every day. Oh, but wait…Something’s coming back to me…Now that I think about it, I do recall hearing something about that back in “How Not To Get Raped 101,” otherwise known as a day in the life of a girl in rape culture.
That very same school concludes with a catchy little slogan just to drive the point home: “Remember: If we can see up it, down it, or through it, then it shouldn’t be worn at school!”
But I’m sure that’s directed at both genders equally…
I’m happy to report that my school took my rebellion in stride. While I happen to know that there were several changes made to the uniform policy after I left, it was never addressed with me, aside from the one teacher who, her clipped English accent dripping with sarcasm, “That’s a very nice checked brarr, Kahryn.”
The lack of reaction was a surprisingly feminist response. They had certainly come a long way from the lines of girls kneeling in the hallways to face the yardstick kilt-measure of my middle school years, and even farther from the “line up and bend over,” bloomer-checks that were rumoured to have been conducted not long before my time.
Why am I telling you all this?
I’m telling you this because it is important to understand that there is a person in those short-shorts or wearing those visible bra-straps, and she doesn’t necessarily lack self-respect or an understanding of appropriate attire.
She may have a stable father figure, or she may not. Her parents probably raised her just fine, or maybe they didn’t, but her clothes don’t tell you anything about that.
She’s not “asking for it.”
She’s not necessarily wearing the only thing she can afford, or she might be, and she might have chosen to wear it anyway, or maybe she wishes she had something different.
She’s not doing it because she enjoys the attention from most of the boys and some of the girls. Or she might be, and that’s her business too. Me, I enjoy attention, so I dye my hair purple, because sadly, the attention I get for showing parts of my body is not what it used to be – “Mommy!! Your breastses are HANGING DOWN!!”
She’s not showing disrespect to her teachers or to her classroom, because how is showing her own skin, or a half-inch wide strip of elasticized fabric, being disrespectful, unless of course we are operating on the premise that a woman’s body or undergarments are somehow offensive?
She’s Just. Wearing. Clothes.
And maybe if we stopped getting our granny panties in a knot about it we could get on with dealing with the far more serious things that teenagers today are dealing with.
Perhaps our outrage and our measuring tapes could be put to better use.
‘Tis the season!! As the ground turns snowy and swathes of red and green appear in the dollar store, our thoughts turn to the joyous season of giving.
To help you with that giving, I have been carefully poring over toy catalogues to compile a list of my top 10 essential Christmas shopping tips. I really hope that you find them helpful!
Top 10 Christmas Shopping Tips
(according to a national retail toy catalogue)
For the little boy in your life, pirate, castle, race car, tool kit and train play sets are always appropriate choices. Don’t accidentally buy one for your little girl, though. She would much rather have a pretty pink purse, baking set, realistic shopping cart, or vanity unit with light – the 5-minute auto shut-off means she won’t get into the habit of primping for too long, and her future husband will appreciate that, amiright? Pair that with her very own vacuum cleaner and cleaning trolley and look at her go!
Boys love science, so look for a telescope, chemistry set, microscope, or any of many other assorted science kits with only boys on the boxes. As I’m sure you realize, girls aren’t really good at that sort of thing but they do like to make pretty stuff, so you could try the rock-tumbling kit; maybe she’ll even learn something while creating earrings, necklaces, or keychains! For even more creativity without the distracting science focus, consider any of a wide variety of craft kits.
Looking for something a bit bigger? Little girls really like to sit and draw, or even just sit passively and look pretty, so consider a art desk or a pink princess castle playhouse for her. For her brother, how about an activity gym or superhero-themed real go-kart? Those boys really like to get active while their sisters watch! Remember, they’re never too young to start internalizing appropriate gender roles, so consider an infant-sized kitchen play-set for Baby Susie or sports centre for Little Johnny.
For toddlers and preschoolers, you can’t go wrong with a classic child-sized kitchen play set. It used to be that these were only for the little girl in your life, but we’ve come a long way, baby! Now you can get realistic-looking toy kitchens so that boys and girls can play together – think how much fun your kids will have reinforcing gender stereotypes when she washes dishes while he barbecues, or even better, as she fixes him another sammich while he scarfs down the first!
Little girls love to play dress-up and then look at themselves in the mirror, so the only question is: Table-top or full length? (Or how about both?)
Outdoor toys like sleds, battery-operated cars and other ride-ons are always a hit! If you want your daughter to participate make sure she has a brother or little boy friend who can take the controls because you know what they say about women drivers…
Building sets are also an excellent choice for both boys and girls. The manufacturer makes it easy for the consumer to ascertain which sets are appropriate for boys or girls by selectively gendering the character figures that are included. Your daughters will love building the sets and then grooming horses, pampering pets, hosting sleepovers, or running a bakery with Andrea, Emma, Stephanie, Mia, and Olivia, while your sons will enjoy flying planes, fighting bad guys, and performing open water rescues while identifying with male pilots, lumberjacks, forklift operators, police officers, superheroes, and coast guard members!
What little girl wouldn’t love a baby doll to cuddle and care for or a little girl doll to be her best friend? With a wide variety of doll furniture and other accessories available in a vast array of shades of pink, your little mommy can dress, change, bath, and feed her little baby to her heart’s content. Since statistics show that the vast majority of little girls are white or just slightly tanned, you will easily be able to find a doll that your daughter can relate to. As the catalogue suggests, “Celebrate her uniqueness” with the gift of unintentional irony! Playing with dolls develops nurturing, caring, and empathy, which is wonderful for girls, but of course we don’t wish to encourage those traits in boys, which brings us to our next tip –
Boys love violence! Luckily there is a wide variety of toys available to feed those urges, including boxing sets, guns, and ammo. For your little Katniss, consider a pink/purple gun, bow, or crossbow – and so you don’t have to say it, the little “Rebelle” logo will remind her every time she sees it that it’s not quite socially appropriate, now, is it?
Finally, if toys aren’t really your game, consider furniture. Is your little one outgrowing his crib? Why not get him an awesome toddler bed that looks like a sports car, train, or pirate ship? If you have a daughter, you’ll have to think of something else since a hollowed out fairy princess would be kind of creepy. (Aside – How is it that no-one has made a disemboweled tauntaun toddler bed yet?? Mattel? Little Tikes? This is cross-branding GOLD. You guys will definitely want to get on that. I expect a 10% royalty on every unit sold.)
Special bonus tip #11:
Be aware of the way that toy marketing influences as well as reinforces gender roles. Don’t buy into the marketing gimmick that tells you that you have to go to the separate “girls” section to get a pinkified version of the same familiar toys. Companies aren’t doing it because research has shown that there is a qualitative difference between “boy” stuff and “girl” stuff. They’re doing it because they know they can get you to spend your money twice on the same damn thing.
Listen to your children. Let them develop their own likes and dislikes – don’t let the toy companies do it for them. If your daughter asks Santa for a 44-piece tool kit while your son wants an Easy-Bake oven, congratulate yourself on doing parenting right. (I still use that tool kit – thanks again, Santa!).
The social construction of gender is a cyclical process – advertising doesn’t create those constructs, but it doesn’t try to undermine them either, because retailers make money by giving us what we want to see: Little white girls playing with dolls and boys driving racecars. They think that we won’t be as likely to buy it if they catch us off-guard with something that doesn’t seem quite right, so they (and we) continue to force our hockey-playing girls and our Strawberry Shortcake-loving boys back into those boxes that society has built for them over and over until eventually they decide that they might as well just stay there.
Let kids be kids, not gender constructs. The next time you see a toy catalogue with 9 pages of little (white) girls playing with doll stuff and not a boy in sight, take a cue from Santa Ben and shout it out, loud and proud:
“That’s a STEREOTYPE!!”
Please Note: This is not a sponsored post. All artwork, unless otherwise noted, remains the property of the original photographer. My observations are based on my analysis of trends seen in toy catalogues and do not refer to any specific retailer or manufacturer pictured.
The High School Reunion: Words to strike fear in the heart of some and instill joy in others, and for me evoking a confusing combination of anticipation and dread.
I agonized over whether or not to go to my high school reunion this weekend. From a purely logical perspective, there were compelling reasons not to bother. Most of the people I was close to then I’m still in regular contact with now. The rest of my graduating class are for the most part very nice people but as we were fairly indifferent to one another in high school, I can’t imagine that having changed now…and in the cases where that has changed, it feels vaguely disingenuous – You’re hugging me? We hug now? Okay... <awkward>
I know I’m being unfair to the many of my classmates who actually are genuinely happy to see me and catch up. The bigger issue is that this whole reunion thing, in my irrational and emotional brain centre (let’s call it the “emoshgula”), is all tied up with all the internal and external markers by which we measure “success” in life.
I went to an all-girls’ private school that prides itself on its students’ measurable achievements both during high school and after graduation. The currency of success during my high school career was high marks, and with those I was flush. Much to the chagrin of my math and physics teachers, I took my academic prowess and poured myself heart and soul into Bachelors’ degrees in Child Studies and Social Work (Click here for appropriate sound effect).
As if that wasn’t bad enough, I then turned down early acceptance to an MSW program in order to become…horror of horrors…a stay-at-home mom (again, this requires a sound effect). In that world of titles and initials – Dr., Esq., M.Sc., Ph.D., Patron, Benefactor – Karyn Pickles, SAHM doesn’t feature highly in the alumni communiques.
***I’m going to interrupt myself for a moment for a very brief discussion of privilege. In this post I am describing, from my own perspective, the world that I inhabited in my middle and high school years and that, to a lesser extent, I still inhabit. It is a world of enormous privilege in which each and every one of us carried a huge invisible backpack containing, among other things, the knowledge that 1. We had the means to attend the university of our choice, as long as we produced the necessary grades; 2. Those grades would be reasonably easy to achieve with the extra help and tutoring available to us; and 3. Our university applications would be supplemented by the rich extracurricular offerings the school offered, ironically bolstering our chances of earning the scholarships that most of us didn’t actually need. It is a world that is unfamiliar to the vast majority of the North American population, let alone the world. This is not to belittle my fellow graduates’ hard work in earning those prestigious titles, but to acknowledge that we were very fortunate to have the head start and freedom to choose the paths that we did.*** <climbs back off soapbox>
Where I have found myself in life is for all intents and purposes the antithesis of everything that my high school prepared and expected me to do. It doesn’t even register on their scale of success because they have no rubric for joy and self-fulfillment.
The trouble is that while I know that I wouldn’t change a thing, as soon as I walk through that high arched doorway, all my self-confidence drains away like Bastian passing through the gateway to the Fountain of the Water of Life. (This is a obscure reference but it’s oh so very fitting. Here is a link to a really trippy website where you can clear up any confusion or just close your eyes and be transported straight back to the 80’s. You’re welcome!). I passed under that archway and was immediately once again the introvert who used cutting humour to hide the fact that she had zero self-esteem, and I giggled self-effacingly in response to questions, and answered, “Well, y’know, I have my 2 kids and I’m kind of a mommy-blogger…” twirling my hair like Cher in Clueless (okay, if we’re honest, I was more like Tai, pre-makeover).
Afterwards, as I exited the highway and head for home, that confidence came rushing back and I regretted the lost opportunities to reconnect as my authentic self. Even more than that, I was furious with myself for being so dismissive of my life choices when what I should have said was,
“I’m doing great! I have the two most amazing kids. I’m on a couple of boards of directors and I’ve really gotten into community theatre and music. I work from home and write a parenting blog (here’s my card!) and I’m just venturing into selling some of my handmade clothing and accessories (you should definitely check them out)! Funny, eh? It sure isn’t the path I would have imagined for myself [an undisclosed number of] years ago, but I couldn’t be happier. So what are you up to these days?”
I included 3 quotes in my graduating yearbook comment:
“Love is something if you give it away…you end up having more”
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less trodden by, And that has made all the difference.”
and “Second to the right, and straight on ’till morning.”They may have been cliched****, but at the risk of sounding sappy (TOO LATE, SCREAM MY LOYAL READERS!) boy howdy, did they all prove true.
I’m going to take one of my rare serious turns for a moment:
I am not Trayvon Martin’s mother.
Ian is not Trayvon Martin’s father.
And Ben will never be Trayvon Martin.
Ben will never know the feeling of being looked on with suspicion as he walks down the road at night (or any time).
I will never worry, when wondering why Ian isn’t home yet, that he has been stopped without cause and shot by police while reaching for his license.
Unlike actor/director of Roots and ST:TNG fame LeVar Burton, Ian won’t have to teach Ben the fundamentals of how to avoid being killed by police when stopped for the offense of driving while black:
Listen, I’m gonna be honest with you, and this is a practice that I engage in every time I am stopped by law enforcement, and I taught this to my son who is now 33 as part of my duty as a father to ensure that he knows the kind of world in which he is growing up. So when I get stopped by the police, I take my hat off and my sunglasses off, I put them on the passengers’ side, I roll down my window, I take my hands, I stick them outside the window and on the door of the drivers’ side because I want that officer to be as relaxed as he can be as he approaches my vehicle. And I do that because I live in America.
– LeVar Burton, 2013
We will never have to worry about Ben being shot by a stranger, not because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but because he was in a place he had every right to be, at a time he had every right to be there, but was born with the wrong colour skin to be able to safely assert those rights.
And if, God forbid, and I’m having trouble even typing this out, one of my children ever was murdered, it wouldn’t even cross my mind that the person responsible would walk free, smiling smugly, his or her supporters celebrating with fireworks displays, with the story of the verdict relegated to a tiny square below the (virtual) fold while the lead news story bemoans the untimely death of a troubled young (white) TV star.
Because we are white, we don’t live those realities. Our reality is very different. Heck, if I decided to steal a bike and freely admitted to it when questioned, people would probably offer to help me do it.
So what I am going to do about it?
I’m going to name my privilege. I’m not going to hide behind, “But I’m not a racist,” because that’s not good enough. The world I live in is oppressive, and I benefit while others are oppressed, and if I don’t recognize that and call it out, I am complicit.
I am not going to teach my kids colourblindness, because that’s not good enough either. They need to know that actually, we’re not all the same regardless of the colour of our skin. The way we are treated by the world is different because of the colour of our skin, and that is not okay.
I’m going to name privilege and oppression where and when I see them, and teach my children to do the same, because although it may make me uncomfortable, it’s nothing compared to what Trayvon Martin’s mother and father had to do.
Here are some resources for talking to your children about race:
Please feel free to comment with any more resources that you know of or have found helpful.
Wow. This parenting thing is complicated. Every time I sign Ben or Molly up for an activity I have to ask myself:
1. Am I doing this because they like it, or because I like it?
2. Am I choosing this activity to conform to some outmoded gender stereotype, like “girls are supposed to do dance, and boys are supposed to do hockey?”
3. Am I choosing this activity to deliberately DEFY some outmoded gender stereotype, like “wouldn’t it be SO COOL to be the parent of the ONLY boy in ballet class?”
4. Can I even afford the fees, let alone the equipment?
5. What if they don’t like it? Will I make them stick it out, or let them drop it?
I have no coordination. Zero. In fact, less than zero: I have negative coordination. When the good lord was handing out coordination, ze not only skipped me, ze came back and took extra away from me and gave it to Kerri Strug. When I tell people that, they always laugh and say something like, “Oh, yeah, I totally know what you mean, me too, like back when I did my twelve years of dance and gymnastics I was totally awful…” and I think to myself, “I don’t think you quite ‘totally’ know what I mean.”
When I was in Godspell, our Judas, who was also a choreographer, bravely tried to teach us a simple dance number and I had to take him aside and explain, “I need you to understand that when I say ‘I have no coordination and I’m not going to be able to do this,’ I’m not just being self-deprecating – I can try my very hardest to learn it and I can practice it for months but when it comes down to it, I will get up on stage and I will %$&* it right up.” In the end, I got to stand in the back on a sawhorse playing rhythm sticks, and damn it, I nailed it!
With this lack of coordination both coupled with and contributing to my lack of interest, I was a dismal failure when it came to athletic pursuits. I hated every minute of ballet as a preschooler, loved swimming lessons but despised competitive swimming, and never went back after one brief season each of soccer and softball. Skiing was the only exception. Artistic endeavours were more up my alley and I sang in multiple choirs and played in multiple orchestras through my school career and recently discovered a love of acting. I am also amazed by the seemingly effortless skill of dancers, gymnasts, and figure skaters and love watching them. Ian brings the love of competitive and team sports to the equation, with childhood success in swimming and judo and an adolescent and adult rugby and soccer career under his belt.
So when it comes to Question 1, things get pretty complicated. I would LOVE to sign up Ben and Molly for everything under the sun, especially those things I would have loved to do but couldn’t – Wouldn’t it be amazing if Molly became a champion gymnast? A pro hockey player? A prima ballerina? If I get Ben into lessons early enough, he could be a concert violinist! A pro baseball player! A musical theatre triple threat! All of these things that maybe I could have been if only my parents had started me in lessons when I was 2 and forced me (for my own good, damn it!!) to continue!
And then Question 2: When Ben was 3, we signed him up for hockey, but we’ve got Molly in dance. What if Ben would like dance better? Are we pigeon-holing him? What about Molly? She seems to like dance, but am I just seeing that because she looks so cute in her pink dance outfits? What if her niche is actually judo? Am I selling her short?
Then there’s the flip-side, Question 3: I’m a liberal-minded, enlightened, feminist mom, and I should make sure everyone knows that! Am I letting down the cause by dressing up my daughter in her pink leotard and packing her off to dance class with all the other girls every Saturday? Maybe I should sign Ben up – PEOPLE need to SEE that boys can do ballet too! Ian is really good about calling me on that one. Having grown up as one of four brothers in a fairly traditional family, he leans towards being more comfortable with Ben in gender-normative “boy” activities while being happy to consider trying Molly in anything; and in my “enlightenment” (and those are deliberate air quotes) I am biased towards putting Molly in gender-normative “girl” activities (because SHE LOOKS SO DARN CUTE!) while wanting to push the conformity envelope with Ben. Together we meet in the middle and make a pretty good team.
And of course Question 4: How privileged I am to even be able to ask this question, and to have it so far down on the list, when for so many families this is Question #1 and none of the other questions even factor into the decision!?! I have to be mindful of just how amazingly lucky we are that we have these opportunities available AND that we can afford to provide Ben and Molly with at least some of them.
Finally, Question 5: What will we do? I don’t know yet. My parents were really good about making us stick things out for long enough to know for sure that we wanted to quit, and I’m thankful for that. I think I’ll have to play that one by ear, and activity by activity. It kind of links back to Question 1, doesn’t it? We will have to make sure that in making that decision, we’re focusing on what Ben and Molly want or don’t want and not what Ian and I want.
With that in mind, of course, I’ll sign Ben and Molly up for violin, piano, hockey, tap, ballet, t-ball, soccer, swimming, acting, gymnastics, ringette, curling, skiing, tuba…or maybe not! I’m trying my best to provide them with a variety of options to see what peaks their interest (so far DEFINITELY dance for Molly, but we haven’t hit on a real love yet for Ben) while not falling into the trap of signing them up for something Every. Single. Night!
Of course, when Molly is a pro tennis player and Ben a Broadway star, I’ll let you know so you can say, “I knew them (or at least read their mom’s blog) when…!”
How do you navigate the crazy world of kids activities?
A good friend posted this article to my Facebook timeline the other day, asking what I thought of it:
According to the article, Arklu, the company that makes ‘Lottie dolls’ “worked with two academics to work out the exact proportions of an average healthy 9-year-old. The scaled-down dolls don’t have breasts or super skinny waists, although their heads and eyes are enlarged.”
I had skimmed the article when I first came across it and remember thinking “Meh…cute dolls, nice concept, good price, but it’s been done,” but being asked specifically for an opinion compelled me to look a little deeper and I wound up tossing and turning all night thinking about my response, which was this:
As options for young girls go, I don’t hate them. I don’t think they will do any harm (or any more harm than any other doll, but I’ll get to that) but I don’t know that they’ll do the good the creators are hoping either. I know we as a society have heaped a lot of vitriol on Barbie, but I believe she is a symptom of our warped ideal body image, not the cause. When I was a little girl playing with Barbie, I saw her as a doll, not an image of an ideal woman. I never thought I would grow up to look like Barbie…I also never thought I would grow up to live in a Dream Castle (TM) or drive a bubble-gum pink motorhome.
Aside from the weird physical proportions, Barbie (bearing in mind, I haven’t actually seen any of the movie/TV tie-ins, so I’m basing this solely on the commercials and characters from when I was a kid) is actually not unempowered, as female characters go. Except for that “Math is hard! Let’s go shopping!” talking Barbie debacle, Barbie usually represents an independent and successful woman – she has been a doctor and teacher, owns her own home, car, and motorhome, and though Ken shows up occasionally, he’s generally an unnecessary add-on. Yes, there is plenty of gender stereotyping (ie. Dr. Barbie spends all her time delivering cute babies and clearly has a weakness for short skits and pink stethoscopes , but the Lottie dolls obviously have not made clear inroads there either.
On the other hand, these dolls do fill a void in the market – there are lots of baby dolls and lots of grown-up dolls (Barbie), but the only in-between little girl dolls traditionally have been TV characters like Dora or Doc McStuffins, or are prohibitively expensive (American Girl dolls, china dolls) so it is nice to have an affordable option that kids can personalize and relate to. In terms of the not wearing makeup, heels or jewelry, it’s a nice hook but to me the faces still have that same “glamour” look that defines all of these giant-headed, small-bodied dolls: Huge eyes, long straight hair, and perfect skin. Conclusion of the body-image section of my comment: I don’t think that these dolls are going to solve any problems, but they aren’t really going to create any new ones either.
Putting the body image piece aside, further study of the Lottie dolls brings up several other issues for me. First, on reading her website, we see that “Lottie” is clearly not suffering from any lack of funds, since her favourite activities include “pony flag races” and walks in “English country gardens” with her (presumably pedigreed) dog, “Biscuit the Beagle.” Lottie may be shaped like the average 9-year-old girl, but she seems to enjoy a very different class of leisure activities than the average girl who will be playing with her.
Second, and this is common to the whole “fashion doll” and for the most part the “doll in general” market – where are the boys? When are we going to meet Lottie’s brother Larry, who, I don’t know, loves playing soccer with Lottie and her friends when they’re finished with their English country garden picnics and fox hunts?
And third, and this is my very biggest issue – Traditionally, dolls are white. This is a HUGE problem for non-white children. There was a study originally done in the 1940’s and then re-created in 2006 by a high school student that demonstrated that when given 2 baby dolls, one black, one white, black children (boys and girls) overwhelmingly preferred the white doll and attributed positive attributes to it (“pretty,” “nice”) and negative attributes to the black doll (“bad”), and also identified the black doll when asked “Which doll looks the most like you?”
That bears repeating – the study was done first in the NINETEEN-FORTIES and repeated in TWO THOUSAND AND SIX and showed NO CHANGE in attitude. Please take 7 minutes and go and watch the extraordinarily powerful documentary by Kiri Davis. I’ll wait.
When I was about 3, Cabbage Patch Kids came out, and they were the first mainstream, popular manufacturer to actually offer a selection of black dolls.
Now manufacturers are offering more selection when it comes to non-white dolls (or at least, black dolls – there is still very little out representing other ethnicities) but even those options only change the skin colour – they still have idealized, typically “white” features such as small, pointed noses, and long, smooth, glossy, straight hair, and these Lottie dolls are no exception (here’s that picture again). Does this look to you like the “average 9-year-old girl”?
Consider the fact that a black meteorologist named Rhonda Lee was fired this November for responding – politely – to a viewer’s FB post saying that her short-cropped hair made her look like a “cancer patient” and she should wear a wig to avoid upsetting viewers (the viewer than continues on to say that while he is not racist, the world has “certain standerd [sic]” and asks, “if you come from a world of being poor, are you going to dress in rags?”);
while at the same time a white news anchor, Jennifer Livingston, was hailed as a hero worldwide by responding to a letter saying that she should lose weight in order to be a better role model with a 4-minute on-air segment (she was interviewed by, among others, Ellen, Katie Couric, and Glamour magazine).
Rhonda Lee’s viewer is right – our world does have certain standards which have been set by public opinion and which are reinforced every day by, among other things, the dolls that are available for our children to play with. If Arclu wants their Lottie dolls to help to dismantle and reinvent these damaging standards, they have a little more thinking to do before they get to the heart of promoting positive self-image in the young girls (and boys) who are really at risk.
Do you like or loathe Barbie? Would you buy a Lottie doll?