Again with the Feminism

I was having a discussion about visual media from the 80s and 90s. I said I had gotten tired of watching “Boys’ stories”. My friend said the gender equivalent of “I don’t think in terms of race” . He asserts that it didn’t (doesn’t) matter to him who is the protagonist of the story, a hero is a hero. so I pointed out that its easy to feel that way when 90% of your heroes are easy to imagine yourself as because they are your gender with your stereotyped gender traits. Labyrinth was brought up. I love Labyrinth but its only barely a heroine’s tale. She still is sexualized and tempted by romance LIKE THEY ALWAYS DO TO GIRLS. The same goes for Legend. It was a lovely story but who was the hero? and what did the female do? I know this is hard to understand for most males but, it gets tiresome never being shown a heroine you can aspire to.

A good heroine story? The Rats of NIMH. Alice in Wonderland (any version). Totoro. Kiki. Actually any female from Miyazaki. Sorsha of Willow. Then when you go look at Sci-Fi there are a few good heroines there. Alien franchise. Terminator franchise.  Hardware. Those are stories of females with fortitude and determination and overcoming obstacles without romance or girly fluff getting in the way. They aren’t just pursued throughout the film (shrieking the whole way) and manage to somehow survive, they are proactive and they WIN.

But you notice something? They are highly fantastical females in highly fantastical settings. Any gritty, realistic, heroines set in modern times?  No, all the female protagonists in 80s and 90s movies were either romance-fodder or they were complete fantasy creations. Because if a woman is going to kick some ass (whether literally or figuratively) she can’t possibly have any connection to the reality WE live in, amirite?

Why is it SO very unrealistic that there would be a female heroine? Even if the story does not require physical altercation, they still couldn’t have a female hero. Why?

 

I do think things are changing, albeit slowly, but I do still tsk-tsk at the amount of fantasy inherent in the idea of a woman being the main character without a man to play off of romantically.  Heaven forfend we have a female coming-of-age story that doesn’t center around romance. The only one I recall was Old Enough.

Does it truly not matter what gender is used to tell the story? I think it does. For one, as I said, its part of having privilege that you don’t notice how prevalent your story is. Boys stories and girls stories are different. Whether its a construct of gender expectations imposed by society or whether its intrinsic doesn’t matter when you are telling the story. What matters is how the protagonist grapples with the expectations and how they emerge from teh conflict. Do boys and girls tackle problems differently? For the most part, yes, they do. But even that doens’t matter, because the important part is how the individual handles the situation. What gender you are does have an effect on your life, whether its in the outright rejection of societal expectations or whether its meek submission, the point is the expectations are different from each other. If I, as a female, want to reject the notion of giving birth and raising a child the pushback from taht choice will be very different in strength and scope than if a male wants to make the same rejection of familial expectations. If I, as a female, want to reject the notion of being able to beat someone up should I be accosted, I doubt that’d even be a story. It wouldn’t “sit” with most audiences. If I wanted to learn to sew and cook how would that be a different story than if a boy wanted to learn to sew and cook? Not even in the expectations of whether they should do so, but in how that will be played out. You know its true.

 

Just as ignoring race is a naive and privileged way of avoiding the dialogue that needs to happen, pretending that female representation in common media doesn’t matter is to ignore the very real experiential differences each gender goes through. And we are talking about the commonality along with the individual – which is what pop media gives us – not the aberrant. Nowadays, the story of a woman choosing to go to medical school could easily be exactly the same as a man choosing to go to medical school the different gendered experience no longer exists. That’s an accepted commonality among people. What’s left to tell is the individual story only.

But let’s not pretend everything in life is accepted as common to both genders. If you give a little boy a pink stuffed animal you will still incur the raised eyebrows of many segments of the population (including the boy himself) and that would be the least of the reactions.  Coming-of-age, heroism and fighting against a systemic problem are all experienced differently by males and females. This cannot be denied. And I believe this is precisely why we have changed so slowly in pop media when it comes to using female heroes.  It is a systemic symptom. Males comprise the majority of the providers of pop content and therefore are uninterested in producing female-influenced narratives.

At least we have good female characters finally.

But think about this simple fact: females do find interest in male-influenced narratives yet males are not interested in female-influenced narratives unless it is framed around a male’s experience or it is fantastical (even then).

What do we have to do to change that?

The Princess Phenomenon

I began the following when my daughter was 2-3 yrs old. I put it aside because I wanted to make sure I still felt this way after time had passed. I do so here it is

Lil Miss just came up the stairs carrying her portable DVD player (we bought it for her second-ever car trip to florida and it was probably the best $30 we spent all that year)

Lil Miss: Hi mom!

Me: hey, wassup?

Lil Miss: I just doing my homework!

Me: uh….

Lil Miss: See dat princess? Dat’s me.

Me: ah, I get it now.

My daughter is very “girly”. Non-PC or not, that’s the term for it and when I use it, everyone knows what I mean; she likes pink, wants to be a princess, loves to play dress-up, likes nail polish, has an obsession for shoes, collects hairbands with flowers on them, prefers to wear skirts and dresses, color-coordinates her clothes, anything shiny or sparkly gets her vote, loves having long hair, draws homey scenes with the family and flowers and rainbows, is always on the look-out for the latest Disney Princess doll to add to her stash, et cet.

I have a very uncomfortable relationship with this. Yes, I am a feminist (first wave trying to move to third wave) and I heartily support women’s equality in all things (duh).

I am also a development wonk. Any time there’s a new article, study or finding of any kind on sociological and psychological/psychiatric issues, I am all over that like white on rice. The things I’ve learned through the years (decades, really) have completely turned my head around, though.

When I was younger, I firmly believed gender was a complete social construct, that men and women were absolutely no different and everything that smelt of gender roles was entirely induced by society. As I’ve grown and become more educated, I’ve discovered (right alongside of science) that this is in fact, not entirely true: men and women ARE intrinsically different in some ways. The sexes are generally the same but there are some key differences that cannot be explained by nurture alone. This has been borne out by the scientific method over and over and in recent years it has some basis in evolutionary psychology as well. We can not only see how men and women are different but we can begin to understand how and why those differences have been fine-tuned through humankind’s descent from the trees. So consider that by the time my daughter was in utero, I had come to a place of understanding about gender and the “roles” of the sexes. I wasn’t pleased about it (who likes hearing that  certain traits are ‘stuck” within you?) but because of my struggle against my behaviorist past I can at least accept this intellectually.

However, the whole notion that “girly” is somehow innate is extremely bothersome to me. In all my readings and study I simply have not come across anything that “explains” how and why the tendency to be “femme” exists in women from a innate standpoint. It remains firmly fixed in my psyche that “girly” is a learned thing. Perhaps some inclination to “girly” things is merely personal preference, but to go whole hog into the world of barbie and pink and frills seems to me just so… forced.

So when I knew I was going to have  a girl, I naturally assumed that MY girl was going to  be a great feminist, nurtured into embracing her “macho” self at least as much as her “girly” self. I will admit right here: I hoped and expected she was going to be a little “tomboy” (I know its an old term, look it up) just like I was. Sure, I was an extreme tomboy but I chalked that up to my lack of maternal nurturing in the early, formative years. So she’d probably like some “girly” things but I was absolutely certain she’d be more “macho” than “femme”. Knowing how society subtly pushes that persona on little girls, I also had a fairly comprehensive plan to help this happen. It involved avoiding the mainstream media, carefully selecting that which I thought to be properly progressive and feminist-friendly as well as exposing her on a regular basis to all things “boyish” with the help of my many mom-friends. Several of my mom-friends have girls too and the more we talked about it, the more I was certain that we were going to have little trouble counter-balancing the outside world’s mantra of “be a girly girl”.

Of course, like pretty much all parenting ideals, this was not going to happen the way I wanted it to.

My daughter seemed to come into the world the femmie-est of the femmes. First off, she was strikingly beautiful, for a newborn. This is not mama pride talking, this is me remembering every comment made about her looks with a lot of SURPRISE in the tone. People expect babies to be cute (most of them) but they don’t expect them to be beautiful. She was absolutely gorgeous from day one. I have pics to prove it. Nurses embarrassed themselves by saying “wow, she sure is pretty! most of the babies around here aren’t really but she is actually pretty!” -followed by a blush and an expression that said “please don’t tell people I think most babies aren’t pretty”   And they were right; most babies pass through a bizarro alien-type phase wherein features are not matching or sized in proportion before they get “pretty” but my daughter? never passed through that.  That was a little jarring, really. I have three sons before her and though they were adorable babies, they took a bit of time to stop looking like overboiled versions of Winston Churchill.

The next thing I noticed was her viewing preferences. Like my boys before her, I did not plan on her watching any broadcast or cable tv that had not been completely screened by me first. In this wonderful day and age, that is a lot easier to accomplish than when my boys were growing up. We found many fantastic kid videos on youtube, many from other countries. Well, before she was a year old, language didn’t matter to her anyway. So lots of Pigloo, Ilona Montricey, babe Lilly, Yo Gabba Gabba!, Elmo – you get the idea. She LOVED watching videos as young as six months when she couldn’t even crawl yet. I’d sit next to her on the floor and we’d watch together. I’d sing along, sometimes translate a little (just in case, you know, she was a language whiz or something) and clap her hands along… the usual mommy-kid fun. Before long, we had a nice collection of cool kid-vids for her. Very convenient when mommy wants a break.

It didn’t take long to realize she had a definite preference for pretty girls. Aside from Elmo and YGG, the girl was nuts for any video featuring “girly girls”. Our first tip was when her father was at the grocery store with her. She saw the DVD rack and leaned towards a video with Abby Cadabby on it. She’d never seen Abby Cadabby before but out of all the videos on that rack, she sure as hell noticed her and made it clear she wanted that video. So her dad bought it and we all watched.  Abby Cadabby is pink. Abby is a fairy (in training) and Abby says things like “hmph!” and Abby laughs all the time, much like Elmo but in a very high-pitched, girly kind of giggle. Specifically, Abby says “hee heeeeee!” Lil Miss, ADORED Abby Cadabby. Don’t get me wrong, she loved Elmo too, but Abby was clearly FOR HER.

Next thing you know, she’s looking at the DVD rack every time she’s taken to the grocery store. Mind you we are talking about a baby who can’t walk yet. She made very clear her preferences. She wanted pretty girls. We held firm in some respects – no barbie vids or bratz or anything remotely fake like that – but how can you say no to Dora? Dora wears pants! Dora is adventurous! Dora teaches sequential logic!

Yeah she barely liked Dora.

Next thing I know, she’s showing decided preferences for her clothing choices. Next thing I know, she’s intentionally coordinating her clothes by color. Next thing I know, she’s drawing nothing but flowers and cats. Next thing I know she’s demanding to have a princess outfit. A princess outfit? How in the world did she even know what a princess was?! I thought I was so careful!

You know where she saw her first princess? Yo Gabba Gabba. They have ONE character on the whole show who is a fairy princess. The entire show has tons of super-cool females doing really nifty empowering stuff like martial arts, rock drumming, skateboarding, marathon racing et cet but the one girl she decides she wants to emulate? The fairy princess with a wand. The princess who appeared maybe all of three times on the show. That’s all it took.

Next thing I know, we’re swimming in Disney princess stuff. We didn’t even have the movies for half the dolls she liked. Next thing I know, I find myself avoiding the “pink aisle” at every store because I can’t stomach another “WanT~! want!! WANT!” of some overpriced pink crap with glitter that catches her eye. How did she get into that aisle?” by noticing it was pink from across the whole freakin store and booking ass into it just to check it out. Why? Because she loved pink. That too, was something we had tried to avoid. Now, pink exists in clothing for kids as surely as all the other colors so its not like I was going to avoid having ANY pink. Truth be told, when she was a baby I didn’t avoid it at all. But once she was crawling age, we moved, of course, to clothing suitable for that phase which means pants and regular shirts. We stopped having pink hardly at all. She stopped wearing dresses or skirts or anything “girly” because it was impractical and most of her clothes were regifted from friends who had boys older than her. But somehow, between the learning-to-walk stage and the running stage (stage? that’s a stage? it ends?) she “discovered the joy of girly clothes.

We gave her pink stuff not because we loved her in pink (actually I like her best in black- it sets off her brown eyes nicely) but because she’d throw a holy hell fit if we didn’t let her dress in pink most times. We didn’t put her in skirts because WE loved her in skirts but because it was a way to make sure she didn’t freeze her butt off in cold weather – leggings or tights under the skirt is apparently permissible but not under a dress so we compromised. Next thing I know we’re drowning in Hello Kitty (which I admit, I like too) not because we’re such huge fans (although I think her father kind of is) but because it too was a compromise foisted upon her to draw attention away from other, less “respectable” commercial fare. (Besides, pink, kitties, what’s not to love?)

Every time I thought we had steered her into more neutral arenas (Minecraft, Duplo, Thomas the Train) she’d veer off into “girly” land again. Truth be told, it was getting ridiculous.

At some point, I really thought long and hard about the whole situation. As always, when you’re a parent, I struggled with the notion of imposing my will upon her. Was it “fair” of me to restrict her choices so much or was I trying to maintain a healthy balance in her life? Was I really working against the societal pressures to be “girly” or was I just trying to cut and paste MY values over her own bona fide desires? How wrong was it to let her indulge in the petty superficial trappings of femininity? She’s a child, barely out of toddlerdom and I’m really sitting here freaking out because of what color she wants to wear?

The turning point came when I got into a fracas on Facebook. A dear friend of mine posted something about this whole dilemma and the doors opened, of course, for internet mud-slinging. I admit to having a certain sensitivity to the accusation of gender-biased parenting, after all, that’s exactly what I was struggling with. But at some point in the throw-down, some stranger I don’t even know in essence told me I was foolish for believing my child was actually CHOOSING to be “girly”. No matter how much I detailed my efforts to avoid putting the pink on my child, I was told it didn’t matter, society was doing the dirty work for me. It didn’t take long before someone was insinuating that I was lax in my feminist duty and had more or less “allowed’ this to happen anyway.

I bowed out of further discussion. It just riled me far too much to attempt to have an intelligent exchange on the matter. After some thought, I realized something important though; the other people, the ones who were so smugly painting a huge “FAIL” on my feminist mommy-card were JUST as angry and JUST as clouded by their own ire to be really having an intelligent conversation about this subject. I briefly wondered why but overall, it didn’t matter. Because I had been busy second-guessing myself for so long and because I couldn’t really find a negotiating meadow for my concerns, it was so easy for someone else’s ire to color my own confidence. Yet their confidence was betrayed by their own volume level. Suddenly, I had every reason to trust my own choices and beliefs and no reason whatsoever to keep accepting the blows from someone else’s feelings of failure. I found it interesting how anger was what clarified the issue for me. As if the darkness of impotent rage created a silhouette for me to trace and the profile was the answer I’d been looking for all along.

And the answer in all this?

Maturity. Children Don’t have it yet.

I know, of course, society pressures us. It pressures children. It pressures adults. It sure as hell pressures parents.

But who is “society” anyway? Everyone but me?

The pressure of society radiates outward. This, I truly believe. There is some strength in numbers, sure, but the truest strength lies in connection. As connections between people moves outward, the ability to influence becomes weaker. The more you move outward in society, away from connection, the easier it becomes to make your own choices. Yes, strength in numbers -having 100 people yelling at you means more than having one person yell at you – but true strength, lasting strength? Is in the connections.

So what’s the strongest connection?

The self.

What is the strongest form of self-connection?

Self-determination.

All along, while I was obsessing over my child’s choices and the options before her, I should have been looking at her ability to make those choices. Her confidence, her self-esteem, her self-trust, all those things are what determine how well we follow our own dreams. All things being equal, the ability to make good choices boils down to the ability to know what you want, understand the options and be brave enough to choose what’s right for you. That means more than anything society yells at us.

First off, my children (at all ages) are going to make mistakes. I love being allowed to watch them do that and learn from their mistakes. It is my honor to be one of the people who can help them back up when they fall and watch them try again. It is one of the greatest pleasures in my life to be one of the people to which my children turn to in times of indecision and uncertainty. Whenever possible, though, I do my best to not give them the answers, but open the doors they need, turn the lights on and let them understand the world in front of them. Sometimes that’s meant I’ve had to pull them away from pitfalls they didn’t understand, turn them back from paths they cannot travel or maybe just warn them against consequences they can’t possibly predict. I’ve even been wrong on some occasions. Happily, joyously wrong. Those are the best times because not only have my children surprised me with their ability to bounce through rugged terrain, they’ve surprised themselves. But falling or bouncing, they’ve always been able to see that the roads are for them to choose.

So where are we with all this?

Again: maturity. choice.

All those times I felt uneasy because my daughter chose things I associate with negative context, SHE was choosing those things. If other people want to believe she was pushed or coerced or whatever that’s their baggage to carry. The whole point of my “job” as a mother has been to make sure my child chooses with the best of options, the best of knowledge and the best of her confidence. So if she chose things that society maybe pushes, those choices were still HERS. And that’s what I should have been “worrying” about all along. Except I didn’t worry about it. Because its a part of what I see as my goal anyway. I wasn’t worrying about it, I was doing it. My job, was to use MY maturity to make sure her choices were as free as I could possibly make them and allow her those choices even if I didn’t like them. Because she is a child and I am an adult. Our preferences are not going to be the same no matter what I do. Even if she was a carbon copy of me she’s still a child while I am an adult. She does not have the same criterion, the same experiences nor the same internal self-regard I do, to prefer the things I do. I like sushi, I couldn’t get her to like sushi if I dipped it in cinnamon sugar and deep fried it. This is how it is. She likes to have tea parties. The only reason I ever sit down to drink watery tea with stuffed animals is because I love my daughter but frankly there are days I’d rather roll myself in cinnamon sugar and get deep fried than endure another minute of the stultifying game she loves so much. The difference between us isn’t that my daughter has been pushed harder than I am (or was) to accept stratified gender norms, the difference is that she is a child and she has different tastes than I do as an adult and as a wholly different person. Maturity. Choice. I have one, she has the other. Between the two of us, I think we can handle her decisions about what color she wears to school.

So lastly, there’s the issue of all those other feminists who want to argue this into the ground. Yes, my daughter has often chosen to enjoy superficial things that society pushes upon girls. She’s a child and she is supposed to like superficial things. I don’t know any child five and under who doesn’t like superficial things. I mean, I tried reading Plato and Lao Tzu to my boys when they were little and it just didn’t go over, you know? Heck I could barely keep them awake with Bob Dylan lyrics.

“deep” stuff just isn’t what kids like. Why is Disney so beloved? Because what they show us is a world that is simple, codifiable and romantic. Children respond to those things because they are, well, children. And superficial things don’t have to stop being attractive either. As we grow, we add to our recreational loves, we rarely subtract. More importantly, we add as we grow, at a pace that matches our maturation. So to expect a child to appreciate adult values and mores is to expect the impossible.  I don’t want to be forever pushing my kids to act like adults because they aren’t. Its something I see people forget all the time.

Children are not looking at Tiana and Belle and Diego with love and awe because they are sharp minds, with a wonderful work ethic and plenty of charity in their souls, children look at them because they are attractive. The deeper qualities are something the children pick up on later, over time. The deeper qualities are what lead us to have long-standing respect and love for a character (real or imaginary) but it is the outward characteristics that get us – especially children – to pay attention in the first place.

This idea that little kids can only respect greatness if its wrapped in a pretty bow with sparkles is as ridiculous as the idea that little kids will only ever want to eat sugared snacks for every meal ever because they like candy. Some people grow up with some overblown expectations but most people do this crazy thing called maturing and it means that they can appreciate subtle, unseen qualities no matter what the surface looks like. This journey from superficial, obvious enjoyment to the deeper, more complex respect is a part of growing. To act as if there is something wrong with little kids because they like pretty sparkly things is to act as if there’s something wrong with them being kids. Kids also prefer stars, hearts, basic shapes, bold colors, smiles, smoothness and sameness as well as flowers and kittens. As they grow their personalities change and they find beauty in other areas they didn’t see before. This is part of becoming an individual. We are putting adult values and perspectives on kids again when we flip out so hard about the princess phenomenon. Its not the princesses versus the GI Joes, its offering everything and showing everything and waiting for their immature minds to catch up.

What matters is giving them all the options, accepting what they choose and always be ready to accept their changes. Because they will change. I doubt my daughter will ever stop loving Disney princesses – I still love Alice from Wonderland – but she will add to that love over time. She will begin to appreciate other, deeper qualities as she matures. I must be ready to accept this slow journey without judging her or myself and trust that over time she will become confident and love herself enough to not need approval from anyone. Not even me.

my daughter is now six. she still loves dressing up, playing with dolls and having an occasional tea party. She also loves Minecraft, Batman, and clashing light sabers or pirate swords

Miley Cyrus dances, sings AND acts… or did you forget?

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/pop_star

Awesome. We’re so post-feminist, aren’t we?

So, the charge is that Miley Cyrus has no talent. Because she’s done some provocative things, she is disgusting and shamefully slutty. Unlike so many other female singers

Obviously what Cyrus is doing is just gross and horrible. She gyrates in a fashion similar to sex workers.  Heaven knows a woman acting in a provocative manner only happens when the woman has nothing else of value to offer. Because female talent exists separate from sexuality. We likes em sexy, yeah, but not TOO sexy, ya unnerstan? Cuz that’s just eww. A REAL talent doesn’t do things like that. Nope.

(remember this song? The one about a girl who disses her ex because he didn’t propose? Although she was quick to let him know she doesn’t care about money or gifts, she’s not “that kind of girl”)

Next thing you know, Cyrus is grand marshall of the outrage parade again. Her new video, “Wrecking Ball” has NUDITY in it. Actual NUDITY.  So I watched it and I didn’t really feel like the smelling salts were necessary. In “Wrecking Ball” Cyrus sings a power ballad -not half bad actually, if you like power ballads – and does her usual sexy posturing and posing. I personally get “pena ajena” during the shots of her licking the sledgehammer but hey that’s me.. I get pena ajena often, actually. Other than that, the video seems to be fairly run-of-the-mill. Just with some nudity. Not that you can SEE it – the nudity – you just know she’s nude. So really? Nothing to get uptight about at all. Rather tame, by my standards.

Then I look at the reactions to “Wrecking Ball”

The comments… dear lord.

http://mashable.com/2013/09/09/miley-cyrus-wrecking-ball-video/

Let’s go back. During the 80s when music videos really took off and young people were watching them  with the frequency that we now reserve for checking our phones, videos nearly always had posturing and posing of young women in barely dressed fashions. Although there was some talk in the more conservative media with occasional pearl-clutching over hyper-sexualization, no one (besides feminists) ever really got heavily riled about women in music videos when the music was made by men. They only ever (and still) care about women in music videos when its the woman making the music. Now, if you put sexually suggestive MEN in the video, that might get people upset, especially if said men appeared to be objectified.

(Spanish version that has SOME of the original footage)

-that video stirred a hornet’s nest of outrage. (before the internet!) and eventually it was remade without the naked men sitting on the floor. As you probably know (or could guess) it was originally made to poke at the trope of music videos always chock-full of near-naked women. Oddly, this was one time when the charge of “no talent whores!” was not levied. Instead, mention was made of the singer’s sexual appeal (of course) or lack thereof depending on who you were reading. It was even posited that the reason they used near-naked men was because the singer herself was probably ugly. So there you are: if you make yourself sexually appealing, you have no talent. If you don’t bother to be sexy, then you must be ugly and talent doesn’t matter.

But, okay what’s got people all aflutter about Cyrus isn’t whether she is sexually appealing,  no, its that she acts sexual. The criticism is that she pushes the envelope in order to make up for lack of talent. Because, the logic goes, if she was talented, she wouldn’t NEED to pose sexually and talented people don’t do that, right?

(I don’t think I need to post ANOTHER video of a talented female musician who acts sexy. Pretty sure you get the drift by now)

It is definitely important to notice that this contradiction is never aimed at male artists. However, think about that… if showing near-naked females in obviously titillating forms translates into a lack of talent then shouldn’t that mean the men who show near-naked females in their videos are also of questionable talent? Watch any two or three heavy metal videos. You’ll probably have 50% of the eye-time devoted to near-naked females posing sexually. Now, if you’re a female musician, obviously there ought to be a lot of camera resting on your female form – after all you are the star – but if you’re male, and you are the star, WHY would you devote even 30% of the video to showing people who do not have anything to do with the making of the song? Isn’t that a way to distract the audience from the fact that you have nothing of value to offer? Yet for all the accusations of Heavy Metal’s unworthiness as a musical genre, the argument of “distraction via sex” during videos was never used.  No one has brought up the presence of sexy girls to prove an artists lack of talent. Not during a male artist’s video.

During female musician’s videos, it is brought up all the time. Because regardless of whether a female is talented or not, there is always a contingent convinced that no female can possibly be “successful” in any realm without sexual appeal replacing actual skill and/or talent. Despite the fact that female musicians nearly always promote themselves through sexually suggestive videos. Because that is what we want, what we expect. But sometimes we don’t like it?

Where is the line? Why is it sometimes Okay for a woman to be talented and sexy but not talented and sexual?

Why does sexuality and talent have to be such a battle in our minds? (and of course it isn’t limited to artistic talent/skill whatsoever http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/07/26/who-gets-to-be-a-geek-anyone-who-wants-to-be/)

We don’t seem to have this struggle when it comes to male sexuality and talent…

Many people criticize Robin Thicke’s talent and some criticized his performance during the VMA but no one yet has put the two together and said “Because Thicke postures in a sexually suggestive manner, he clearly has no talent”  No one’s even suggested that his need for numerous scantily clad females in his videos (and live performance) is a clear indication of his lack of talent. Hell you’d think just his taste in clothes might garner some suspicion as to his merits.

No, for men, talent is measured by output. Occasionally other aspects of the man will be mentioned but generally that’s to explain or bolster a criticism about their talent/skill alone.

For women, talent can be measured against sexual appeal, money, connections and output. There’s so many ways to denigrate and dismiss a woman’s creative output! You might want to study her output alone but you can add other aspects of her femininity as well! You aren’t limited to JUST criticizing her output, no, you can criticize her output AND her body, weight, face, makeup-job, hair, age, spouse or lover, number of lovers, and most importantly HER CLOTHES. Oh heavens there’s so much to criticize about every creative woman’s clothes.

You think that’s ridiculous? Not true? Has justifications?

One of the Cyrus memes going around showed her butt from the VMA and likened it to a frozen chicken. Because her derriere popped out of the bottom of her obviously inflexible shorts. Shoddy workmanship, I say. Apparently I know nothing of musical talent because her “chicken butt” was reason enough to declare her talentless.

Yes, Miley Cyrus’s artistic merit can be divined by how well her butt fits into her shorts. And her dancing. And hell, why not? Let’s add “her hair” to the mix too.

“Hello, welcome to Sport Talk! Today we’re going over the big game in Idaho. John, the entire game hinged upon the last ten seconds of the game. I’m talking, specifically when Bob Baller fumbled, of course”
“Right you are Terry, Bob Baller  has been quarterbacking for the Idaho Potatoheads for barely six months now but its clear that his glory days of college ball are over”

“Too true, John. And of course we all know when this happened…”

“yes, we do, Terry. Here’s a picture of Baller the day of that fateful game”

“OOOOH! Wouldja look at that! Well that seals it. It’s clear that Baller is no athlete”

“I’m afraid not Terry. Its, its just almost disgusting, I can barely look at him”

“I understand John. Unbelievable how  this could happen”

“well when you have no talent, Terry, this is what you get. Obviously the owners of the Potatoheads are just looking to make a fast buck off of Baller’s imaginary quarterbacking. I mean, years of practice, years of playing?… clearly Baller never played a football game in his life”

“clearly, John. I mean, just look at that hair. Makes me want to puke”

“Yes, Terry, I think its safe to say that Baller will never be a REAL football player. Not with hair like that. Baller is clearly out of control”

“Clearly”

Social Media

Look at this Cartoon .

Social Media. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, G+, Reddit, Livejournal – those are only the ones I’m somewhat familiar with. Those are the generalized ones. There’s many more that are specialized too. Videosift, Youtube, dailymotion, Foursquare, Linkedin…

All virtual meeting-places. Forums, communities, groups, hangouts, guilds elists and PMs. We know what they are and how they’re used. Despite different tools, commands and symbols, they all do basically the same thing: bring people together online to share with each other.

The general consensus is that it is sucking up our socializing. We no longer rely on “real-time” or “face time”. We don’t interact on a daily basis in a “normal” way. Social media is making us all strangers. Social media is stealing our potential quality time. Social media is engulfing us in virtual reality and we are letting life slip by unnoticed. Our children are neglected, our work is sub-standard and our interactions are minimized. We are addicted to unreal relationships.

What did we do before social media?

The general consensus is that we actually made plans to see each other. We had conversations, went out and got to know each other. We looked at each other. We acknowledged one  another. We had “real” relationships.  Parents paid attention to their kids, SigOths went on dates, and we had hobbies that didn’t require looking at a screen.

Did we really?

All my life I’ve been fascinated with paucity. I read Lois Lenski and the “little house” series. I imagined what life was like without electricity, indoor plumbing or interstate commerce. Reading by candlelight, sitting on a latrine and relying on a garden for dinner…. not things I romanticized or wanted, but fascinated by nonetheless.  All my life I’ve been grateful to live when I do; no slavery, women can vote, and modern “conveniences” like light, heat and ready food. There’s many thing I remember “the old fashioned way” – stick shift driving, gas heaters without thermostats, fans instead of air conditioners, ovens that had to be lit.

I remember everyone using cash to pay for things. A check was a huge hold-up at the store and a calculator that you could put in your purse was an amazing thing. Credit cards were for emergencies or rich people. In fact, rich people didn’t use credit cards much either; they had “line of credit” at stores and could simply walk in, pick things out, and have them delivered to their home and billed later.

Being billed later… the doctor, the grocer, the dress shop,… that’s what rich people did. Everyone else did “lay-away”  Credit was a luxury.

When you were growing up, what did you think was “luxurious”?

I thought having a house with more than one floor was luxurious.  One of my earliest dreams was to own a house with a master staircase. And have a credit card. And two phone lines.  And being able to buy a new tire for my car. A NEW tire. That was “luxury” to me.

I remember when answering machines arrived. My parents refused one for a very very long time. My parents are not luddites, but they are logical: “if we buy an item, it will be because we NEED it” was their main philosophy on purchasing things. Because of course, we were very poor.  So an answering machine? “Pah! If we’re not here, what’s the point of a machine telling people we’re not here? they can call back later!”

Then “call waiting” happened. It annoyed my mother. But I was a teenager and my penchant for phone conversations that lasted all night forced my parents to rationalize paying for call waiting. They saw the logic in the purchase the same day we got it. But they didn’t buy an answering machine until they became landlords.

I remember car seats for babies. Shoulder seat belts. VCRs.

But what I remember most?  What changed everything for my family?

Programmable calculators.

My father bought one as soon as they were available. My father has a degree in physic engineering. Nuff said, right?

My father loved the programmable calculator so much he bought the next version as soon as it came out and gave me his old one. I was eleven. That was my first lesson in programming. Looking back, what I learned would be akin to what’s called a “script” or “macro” today- a short program that tells the computer to do a series of steps it already can do. Instead of having to input every step individually, the script or macro calls up the series of steps with one button. We thought this was amazing. I’d been to IBM on a field trip in school more than once so I knew what a computer was. And here was something very much like a computer, that fit into my backpack. Amazing.

So of course PCs came out. Of course my father got one. Like most early nerds, he bought a kit and built it himself. He learned rapidly. He taught some to me. I knew basic before high school. I fiddled with machine code. I learned to make pictures with ASCII.  Fun times.

So what were we doing, socially, back then? Were we really a culture of people going outside all the time, walking around looking at each other, making eye contact and starting up conversations with strangers? Were parents paying rapt attention to their kids in the evenings? Did families go out and do all sorts of “organic” fun? Were we all really acknowledging each other all the time? Were we all full of so much social time that we engaged one another constantly? or even continually? did we use the phone to call each other all the time? did we write letters left and right? Were we a nation of hobbyists and athletes and artists producing and creating and generally making life pleasant without gadgetry?

Well yes, we were.

Did we do it so much more than we do now?

Well no, not really.

We didn’t stop doing any of those things. We haven’t retreated into a silent world of screen-gazing and info-sharing while neglecting the real flesh and blood of relationships any more than we used to sit every night around a campfire and sing kum-bah-ya with locked arms and loving glances.

What we did was trade. In some cases, we traded one type of communication that was cumbersome and time-consuming for much more efficient version of the same.

Do people sit down and write letters that they will later mail at the post office later? Some.  Mostly, people write emails. It’s an exchange that actually broadened the scope of communication and made interaction more commonplace.  Because “snail mail” letter-writing required a significant investment of time, money and mental energy, it wasn’t something everyone did. When a person did choose to write a letter, it was an endeavor which could take up much of their resources and as such meant the letter had to justify said effort. Of course, some people didn’t write their own letters to begin with. Many people would hire someone else more skilled to write on their behalf. Because of this, letter-writing was considered something of a talent; one could actually gain a reputation as a “good letter-writer”. Sending someone your thoughts, ideas and questions wasn’t something to be done lightly. So many people didn’t do it at all. Think of all those thoughts, ideas and questions that never got put out. All that information, clarification and interaction that never happened.

Email erased that and gave the power to exchange to everyone almost equally.

I hear the lamentation that grammar and spelling have gone out the window with the advent of social media and the internet. Some think its because the internet has made people stop caring, taking pride in their expression. I think the internet, for all its egalitarian beauty, merely opened the floodgates for those who are not talented or skilled in letter-writing to attempt to interact anyway. No longer is letter-writing an intimidating prospect that could eat up considerable time and energy. Now anyone can do it, so long as the “rules” for exchange have softened.

Do people sit and have conversations via phone or gathering like they used to? Of course they do. But social media has changed that landscape too. No longer does one have to be subject to the influence of whoever happens to be in their vicinity; with social media, one can choose to interact with whatever type and strata of person they like at any time. Barely speak English? Know nothing about current events? Only interested in discussing llama farming? Find your group online and start talking! now!  Introduce yourself – ah remember that? “introduce yourself”  used to be one of the most dreaded phrases in social gatherings. Standing in front of a crowd of strangers, you had to on-the-spot come up pertinent information about yourself that would entice people to want to know you, accept you and validate you.

Strangers you say? Bah! Why waste time with strangers when you could find an online “gathering” of people you share things in common with. Take as long as you need to write your introduction. Read other people’s posts so you can get a feel for how this group functions and whether you are “on their level” or not. If you realize you’re out of your depth, or sailing above everyone else, you can leave quietly and no one will even remember or care that you stopped by. It’s all in your hands. And if you want, at any time the “real world” is still out there, waiting for you to go join it. But now when you do, you can set your stage beforehand using social media. Much of the dreadful, terrifying unknown has been swept away from socializing now. No more standing around with total strangers wondering how to break the ice, present yourself and find out who everyone is. When you get to your meet-up you come armed with important knowledge that allows you to bypass hours of awkward fumbling and guessing.

So what is all this really building to? What are we getting from social media that isn’t being talked about?

Social media gives us one thing we have never had so much of before in our long history of socializing: the power of independent choice.

Social media is so seductive, attractive and wonderful because while it fulfils our need to be social, it also allows us to control everything about our socializing. Even the power to retreat, if we want to. Often with very little repercussions.

Think back… when you first started getting online, what did you do? When you first started dipping into social media (in my case it was IRC) did you make “mistakes”? How long did it take you to figure out “how this thing works”? Once you figured one social media out -the rules, the rituals, the expectations and of course the tools, how hard was it to move on to another type of social media and figure it out?

Social media doesn’t define our culture. It doesn’t supplant “normal” socializing. It hasn’t killed “facetime” nor has it erased the need for relationships. It has expanded our reach, broadened our capacity for inclusion and lowered the price of interaction for everyone equally.  It has also allowed us to reimagine ourselves as social creatures. The person I am when I play an online game is not quite the same person I am when I discuss current events on a forum. the person I am on my public blog is not the same person I am on my friends-only blog, my facebook, my twitter, my emails… who I am is what I want to be, who I think I need to be for each unique online situation.

I have recently learned something new as well: I am not required to stay the same on any social media. I have grown all my life and social media is no different. My growth has included many lessons about myself, people I know and the world around me. But some of my favorite lessons have been about social media itself and how its changed my expectations and my interactions. I realized recently that I do not have to feel beholden to anyone for an explanation unless I am on a neutral-ownership place. If it is MY facebook, MY blog or MY twitter, I owe no one anything in explanation or expectation. But when I am on a forum, an email list, or any other group, I am no more important or less than any one else in that same  group. I have never felt more equality than when in online discussions. Despite the fact that there are still bigots, assholes and patronizing jerks, the general tenor of online groups are egalitarian. We are all anonymous to some degree and yet we all have reputations as well. We gather personality traits over time like any other form of socializing. Yet because of the differences in online interactions and “real life” interaction, those traits are seen more as individual traits than indicators of whatever classifications of humanity I belong to. I may have a reputation for being quick-tempered and mouthy but I am not taken to be the token spokesperson for all white, disabled, female bisexuals. My traits are indicative of ME. Unlike many “real time” interactions wherein any type of noticeable reactive traits can easily be considered hallmarks of “your kind”  The anonymity of the online world is good like that.

Lastly, I want to touch upon the intricate nature of social media’s place in parenting. Obviously, I am a big fan of parenting forums as my recent post about Special Needs Parenting forums clearly showed.  But overall, social media has given parents a gift that has no ‘real life” component: individualized networking.

Before social media, parents had magazines and some books. If you wanted to meet other parents, the best you could do was to join the PTA or church group. If you did, you had to hope there were other parents who had similiar parenting philosophies but more importantly, you had to hope that your philosophies were NOT the type to get you branded as “one of THOSE parents” by the majority of wherever you were. Because if you went to your local school and mentioned an unpopular parenting idea…  you were stuck for the next 12 years. You could be outcast, ostracized, gossip-fodder possibly even harassed through CPS if you said the “wrong” thing. So parents have gained solidarity in social media but they have also gained something more valuable: understanding and acceptance. Which goes both ways. Nowadays, even if you live in backwater USA and your entire PTA goes to church every day of the week, think Jesus rode dinosaurs and women must wear hats everywhere they go, even then, you still have heard of other parenting philosophies. You may not like them, you may think they are weird, but , you’ve heard of them and you know, whether grudgingly or happily, that you must have some level of tolerance.

And that first tiny foot-in-the-door of tolerance? Is better than humanity has had for the last thousand or so years.

Because of social media.

So yes, go out occasionally. Talk to people sometimes. Smile at strangers. Enjoy “real life” interaction. Its just as wonderful as its always been. But I suspect people haven’t stopped doing those things or craving them.

People just need to be reminded once in a while that social media enhances interaction, even as it doesn’t replace it. They live side-by-side, supporting each other. Use them both wisely.

Peeking into another world

I belong to several parent communities, on Facebook as well as LJ and they are all for parents of children with special needs. Some focus on developmental delays, others on mental issues and all of them welcome ANY parents of ANY child to join. The communities primarily exist for the parents to exchange information, give advice and vent or cry to other parents who understand the difference in parenting a child with special needs.

I joined those communities long before Lil Miss was born because I have TWO sons who are on the Autism spectrum. I have been parenting them for a long time now and most of what I have learned and accomplished was on my own, without the internet. I think it is AWESOME to have the internet available now for parents of special needs kids. Parenting a child with special needs can be scary and lonely and painful too.

I remember how scared and alone I felt in my early days. I *was* alone. I didn’t have any groups, real life or online, to go to with my questions or fears. I only had a few knowledgeable professionals I’d see on occasion who could answer my medical and developmental questions. But they couldn’t help me know how to navigate being a parent. When I was raising my boys? There was almost no one to ask for help.

These communities are what I needed back then, what I could have really used when times were dark and I wasn’t sure whether I was doing anything right. Because these communities are created for exactly those times. Members go and ask questions, post doubts, and check for clarifications. I had no place like that to go when I wanted to ask for help. So that’s why I’m in these communities. Because whenever I see a parent crying or asking for help, I want to give them what I needed back then. Whether its real life advice, technical questions (to help clarify confusing situations) or just commiseration, I never hesitate to join in when someone seems like they need help. Or commiseration. There’s a lot of commiseration. A LOT.

Let me explain something about commiseration. When you are the parent of a special needs child, one recurring issue you wrestle with is whether you’re “allowed” to be frustrated or afraid or angry about anything having to do with your child. Parents in general get a lot of guilt trips heaped on them by society but parents of special needs children get an extra helping. People are always telling us cute little homilies that are supposed to inspire us or something, I was never sure but usually all the do is bring us down. Because those cute little homilies (much like the advice we get on a CONSTANT basis) usually make it clear the person giving them has absolutely no clue as to what we are going through. Its much like if you wanted to give a “get well soon!” card to a person dying of cancer. You think that’s sweet but to them, it underscores that you really do not understand the dire reality of their situation. So we tend to be quiet about our struggles and shrug them off in mixed company. If we aren’t getting pithy little saying to lift our spirits (we’ve heard them ALL) then we’re being told that we’re doing everything all wrong, that our children are just horrible little brats who need a good spanking. Or that we’re too harsh on our darling children who only act up because they need attention. Or we’re just trying to avoid being REAL parents (whatever that means) because there’s no such thing as (whatever diagnosis you let them know your child has). We have probably heard every blame-shift saying imaginable. So we tend to shy away from other non-parents and grow thicker skin. But that’s hard when you are lonely. Parents are like anyone else; they need companionship. They need socializing too. But for many of us, socializing is a difficult chimera. Some parents of special needs children can actually leave their child in carefully constructed circumstances but some cannot even do that. For some parents, online is the ONLY socializing they get for long stretches of time. These communities serve us in so many ways. They are precious.

In all my years of being online, I’ve been in many communities for different reasons but I have ended up staying only in the special needs parenting communities. Because in no other community have I ever known a group of people more loving, supportive and understanding than parents of special needs children.  I have made lifelong friends and had some really amazing times with these people – people I have never met in real life and probably never will. Because we share some experiences that NO ONE can really understand without having been there – so we don’t judge. Ever.

We don’t ever tell someone they are doing something “wrong” or “bad” with their children. Never. We believe that “support” means lifting someone up. Even when we feel someone is making questionable choices, we discuss them lovingly, give advice gently and are always ready to step back and accept that we may be the ones who are wrong. Because when you parent a child with special needs, you find out very quickly that no one can possibly really know someone elses situation. So we are there for each other, even when someone is losing their mind, screaming, ranting, venting, crying maybe even shaking their fists in rage at the universe for their troubles.

We don’t care.

We hold them up anyway and wait for the end of the tears. Because we understand that sometimes its all you can do.

We recognize every parent as being fallible and human.

We know that because you are in this community, you care. You love your child, you want to do right by them and you are ready to be helped by others. You’re humble. You’re accepting. You’re loving.

Because if you can’t be those things, you can’t parent a child with special needs. Its part of the territory and we know it.

So if you see me make comments occasionally that seem callous or cold and clinical… if you see me tell someone its okay that they freaked out on their child… if you see me admit to losing my shit or raging against the universe too.. understand, this is who we are. Its how we manage to do what we do day after day, year after year and still keep hope alive. It’s not negativity, it’s honesty and acceptance. Acceptance of what we are dealing with and who we are.

We laugh whenever we can, bite our tongue when we have to and pick ourselves up off the floor more times than you can possibly imagine. Trust me, its not the same as parenting a “normal” child. It’s really not. It’s hard in many ways. It’s joyful in many ways. But it’s our unique journey and we navigate it best for us. If you see a glimpse of it, watch us for a few seconds, you might not understand what we are about.

Just trust us.

how does that make you feel?

I saw a woman drag a screaming child outside, clap her hands around the girl’s face, bend down and yell in her face “YOU LISTEN TO ME! YOU WILL GET IN THAT CAR RIGHT NOW! I AM DONE WITH THIS” then she grabbed the girl by the arm and proceeded to drag her to their car. “Get in there or I will put you in myself!” she yelled at the child then once the girl was inside slammed the door. The little girl was still crying hard and yelling.

Then an old man came running up to the woman yelling at her.

“Hey you!” he screamed, pointing his finger at the woman, “take it easy on that child!”
Then commenced a shouting scene wherein the man accused the woman of hitting her child and threatened to call the cops. Eventually both drove away.

How does that make you feel?

Let me back up.

I saw a woman inside the grocery store, confronting her little girl. The little girl was screaming and wrestling with the woman. The girl was actually large for her age and the woman was having a hard time of it but she managed to get the girl by the arm and begin hauling her to the front doors while the little girl screamed. The little girl decided to take a roundhouse punch at the woman. The woman ducked, stopped and yelled “Don’t you DARE!” then proceeded to pull the girl by the arm again towards the front doors.

How does that make you feel?

Let me back up.

I saw a woman standing in the aisle of the grocery store holding two items heading towards the pharmacy to pick up her medication which she’d been out of for over a month because of financial problems. The little girl demanded the woman stop walking towards the pharmacy and walk towards the produce aisle because the little girl had decided she wanted to eat fruit. The woman tells her  “no, we have plenty of fruit at home, and you had blueberries for breakfast. i’m not buyign anything else, I already told you” The woman turns around and begins to walk away. The little girl screams at the top of her lungs and runs around the woman, blocking her path. Then the little girl tries to strong-arm the woman into not moving.

“No,” says the woman, “I already told you. And if you keep screaming at me I’m going to put back that toy you wanted” She speaks in a testy but even-toned voice at normal volume. The girl becomes enraged and begins screaming again. Then she throws herself into the woman for a nice big body-slam. The woman reels back off balance for a moment but takes advantage of it by snatching the little girls’ toy from her hand. She then places it on the highest nearby shelf. The girl begins howling and screaming “NO! NO! NO! YOU CAN’T!” The woman walks to the pharmacy counter but there is now another customer there taking up the pharmacists’s attention so she will have to wait some more. Meanwhile the little girl runs after the woman screaming and waving her arms. People of course, begin to give them both side-glances. Eventually the woman decides she’ll pick up her medication later and tells the girl they are going home. “I want my toy!” the girl screams repeatedly as the mother walks out and the girl runs after her.

How does that make you feel?

Let me back up.

I saw a woman walking away from the pharmacy counter with her little girl next to her. The little girl was chattering about getting a toy. The woman says “Maybe, we’ll see,” over and over interspersed with “we talked about h ow to behave int he store now. You need to stop yelling at me. If you want something, you have to act nice about it” but the girl continues chattering about how she NEEDS the toy, she REALLY REALLY WANTS the toy and how mom just HAS to give it to her because she NEEDS the toy over and over. The woman rubs her head occasionally as they walk and continues her mantra of “maybe, we’ll see. You need to listen to me first. stop yelling at me” Occasionally the little girl runs in front of the woman and demands that they walk to the toy aisle immediately. The woman tells her, in an even-toned voice at normal volume, “no, you need to stop yelling at me and listen. I told you I would think about it and you are not being very nice to me right now. When you want to talk to me about it nicely, we’ll talk” and continues walking in a different direction. The little girl is getting more and more agitated. Occasionally she stops chattering loudly and smiles at the woman saying “oh PLEASE mom?” to which the woman replies “I told you, I will think about it”

All the while they were walking towards the aisle where toys are kept. Eventually, the child got the toy. But the scene went from “Mom, I NEED the toy” to “Mom, I NEED ice cream too” to which the woman continually replied a simple but emphatic “no. you do not get ice cream”

How does that make you feel?

Let me really back up.

I saw a woman bringing her child to a highly respected child behavioral clinic to make an appointment with a child psychiatrist. The little girl had already been to several play therapy sessions and it was agreed she probably needed a full psychiatric assessment and possibly medication. The medication wouldn’t happen for many months, but the process was in motion. The little girl would be seeing the psychiatrist for the first time in three months. It was the earliest appointment they had available. Prescribing medication for her (probable) condition couldn’t happen until the three-part assessment was finished and she’d had several visits with the psychiatrist. And the parents would have to attend therapy as well.

How does THAT make you feel?

Let me back up even more.

I saw a woman who was saying goodbye to her little girl like she did nearly every day of the week. The little girl cried and begged the woman to stay or take the little girl with her but the mother just said “I can’t” and kissed the little girl with tears in her eyes before walking away again. Like she did nearly every day of the week.

The little girl would sleep at home with her father who was gone all day at work but came home to put her to bed. Then she’d wake up and wait for the woman to come spend the day with her, like she did every day. The little girl could never know who was going to stay with her over the weekend: mom or dad? but it would never be both.

How does that make you feel?

Last back up.

I saw a woman attending a parent-teacher conference. The teacher went to great lengths to describe each and every difficulty her little girl was displaying. The teacher insisted the little girl was not up to academic standards because she refused to do the work and kept disrupting the class. The woman brought from home examples of the little girls’ writing, arithmetic and books the little girl could already read.

“wow,” says the teacher, “its good to know she CAN do these things but if she won’t do them in school, we don’t have any choice but to give her failing marks. Do you have any suggestions about how to deal with her behavior issues?”

The woman was speechless and kept looking at the evaluation papers with nothing but “unsatisfactory” in every column as well as copious notes about disruptive behavior.

Now, how do you feel?

Go back and read the first part again. Still feel the same?

I could tell you even more.