What A Feminist Conversation With A Five Year Old Really Sounds Like

girlsfeminism

 

Little girls can be feminists, too.

A few months ago I saw an article circling the internet. It’s title was something like, “Feminist Talking Points For Your Fairy Tale Reading Daughters”. The only one I remember had to do with Cinderella,

“After reading the story with your daughter, ask her if she thinks Prince Charming will contribute to household chores now that he has married a glass shoe’d cleaning lady. Then impress upon her the importance of never marrying anyone ever and also the necessity of only hiring cleaning MEN. AMIRIGHT, GIRLFRIEND?”

Or something like that.

In truth, the list was a little earnest for me and may well have been some sort of satirical think piece, but I can appreciate its intent. It is important that we teach our girls to think critically, question existing story lines and understand the importance of rising above preconceived roles. Of course, what they read, watch and observe will dramatically influence the people our daughters will become. (Which is why this study is so terrifying.)

I’ve been working on monitoring the media my little girls drink in on a daily basis. I’m the first to admit there is FAR too much TV watching in this household, but goshdarnit, I make sure its empowering to women everywhere before I let it rot out my kids brains. Which is why my oldest daughter’s love of a certain anime inspired Netflix kids cartoon had to be brutally destroyed by her evil feminist mother.

It had been a rough week. We’d all had the flu and Riley was out of town. The girls recovered in front of the TV while I slept on the bathroom tile in between barfing up everything I’d ever eaten since I was two. I let them watch kids shows and threw saltine crackers down to them when I had the strength. By the next day, we were all feeling better and Zuzu COULD NOT WAIT to show me the new fairy cartoon she’d found.

It. Was. Awful.

Leggy girls dressed like extras in Debbie Does the University. Each one breathy and giggly and twittery.  The plot point of the episode we watched had something to do with one of their boyfriends being jealous of the time his twirly-haired girlfriend had been spending with her new professor. His worry may not have been misplaced, a major plot point was that all the breathy girls did EXTRA good work on their assignments because they wanted to impress the dreamy man-professor. Because, like, my gosh, breath, heaving bosom, miniskirt, you know, breath, ooooooooh. I turned the TV off before we got to the rising action. (Thank goodness.)

It was time to “Talk To Your Daughters About The Missing Feminist Themes of Wannabe Anime Made By Italians and Then Viewed on Netflix.”

“Why did you turn it off, Mom?”

“Hey, Sweetheart. We aren’t going to watch that anymore. Before you get too upset, let me tell you my reasons. Okay? Listen. You are a girl. Do you know what that means? It means you are special. It means that you have worth. It means that you are smart and brave and limitless and that you can do anything you want. It means that you are important. It means that your voice has good things to say and that you should say them loudly. It means you are a hard worker. It means you are a daughter of God. It means you are beautiful, sure, but that beautiful isn’t how other people see you….its in how you see yourself! You are a world mover, sister. And anything that portrays girls as being less than those things, isn’t worth your time. This isn’t worth your time. So we’re not going to watch it in this house, okay?”

I waited a beat, proud of the directness and logic of my little speech. Maybe the Fairytale List People were right! Maybe feminist Zuzu starts right here, today!

She looked at me, brows furrowed,

“MOM! YOU DON’T EVEN GET IT! THEY AREN’T GIRLS! THEY’RE FAIRIES! GOSH!”

I really think I got through to her, don’t you?

Breathe It In

breathe it in

Davy – presumably not high.

I’ve been reading a lot about the emergence of science in the romantic age. It was a grand time. An era when hot air balloons were dangerous miracles and man finally began to discover the invisible parts that make his whole. As I’ve swept through the breakthroughs of the men and women that came before us, it can be easy to look on the fundamentals of their research without the proper amount of awe. After all, the world I live in was built on those fundamentals – we now find ourselves reaching for higher things.

Humphrey Davy was one of the leading lights of the romantic age. He contributed greatly, but one of his most notable triumphs was the discovery of the benefits of nitrous oxide. He performed gas experiments on himself – inhaling everything from carbon monoxide to carbonic acid. Of course this kind of guinea pig approach resulted in many late nights, long headaches and bouts of vomiting. His work with nitrous oxide was both the most fruitful and most fun. He documented the effects of the gas on himself during each experiment and in the aftermath. His notes read like a delirious drug dream analyzed with a scientific scalpel. Upperclass men and women volunteered to be his test subjects – each one happy to contribute to science if it meant they got to be as high as a kite without the judgment of their peers. (Okay, there was a little judgment. Some people speculated “sexual indiscretions” occurred during the experiments with each subject a happy participant. I can neither confirm nor condemn this. Get crazy, ya old birds.)

Without really meaning to, I found myself sniggering a bit at this great man and his great discovery. At this knowledge seeking from a more provincial time. Of course, I am only able to do this when my eyes are half closed and my brain disengaged. When in that state, it is too easy to feel superior because of the knowledge we have through no effort of our own. Of course in reality, Davy’s experiments were groundbreaking and dangerous and eventually gave birth to anesthetics – a discipline that didn’t exist before his great find. During his time, pain wasn’t truly something to be avoided, it was something to be borne. His discovery of the pain obliterating effects of nitrous oxide slowly caused a shift in our understanding of the nature and necessity of pain. Anyone who has ever been in surgery owes a great debt to him. When my eyes are fully open and my brain in place, I can see that his discovery still feels new and forces me on to thought and discovery of my own.

Which is truly all a long winded way to say this: Don’t be upset or discouraged by the pace or depth of your own personal insights and discoveries. What may appear provincial to the half-sighted is truly world changing to those willing to see. Sometimes you have to inhale a lot of nonsense to reach one good conclusion. (Note: we are talking in the metaphor here, not actively encouraging drug use.) And finally, there is no higher truth, there is only truth. Any piece of it you can grasp is precious and worthy of you – no matter what other revelations are to come. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be better than. Don’t be afraid. Keep your eyes and spirit open.

Here’s to the Great Experiment.

The Hunger Games: The Katniss Dilemma

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the changing landscape of female representation in the media. For better or worse, I find my daughters looking to the things they see in the movies as examples of what they can and should be in real life. Of course, I work to counteract that with less screen time, more books, more interaction with women who inspire, more time spent on discovering who they want to be instead of who they feel they should be. And yet, at the end of the day, the characters they meet in the movie theater really matter.

When the Hunger Games franchise first debuted I was so excited. I mean, a girl lead! Kicking butt! Righting wrongs! Asking complicated questions about personal responsibility! And then I saw the movies. Listen. Jennifer Lawrence is great in them. The world building is totally convincing.  I even kind have a thing for cute little Peeta. Don’t you want to pinch his cheeks? Both sets? (Ugh. Weird Meg. You’re a grown woman. Pull it together.) Gale ain’t so bad either. Neither of them really seems to move the heroine, there aren’t grand sparks of connection just flickers of circumstance. Despite her relative indifference, Katniss can’t stop thinking about her average men. And yet, you can almost forgive Katniss’ distraction over which boy to love. I mean despite the dystopian circumstances, she is only 17 and kids that age often have their priorities a little skewed. Heck, it can be argued that the lukewarm love triangle made SOME sense when most of the moving action centered around Katniss’ personal circumstances.

But in this latest installment, the war has begun. People are being firebombed. Whole towns extinguished. And the plot’s pre-occupation with whether Katniss kinda likes this guy or kinda likes that one seems pretty superficial. The deep connection that would make such preoccupation valid was never established. I haven’t read the books, but I’m told by my cute babysitter that the story line there is equally obsessed with young love. Which brings up a question we should all be asking of ourselves,

Are we only interested in revolutionary female leads when their story is moved along by romance – even when it is of the tepid variety?

I know, I know. Hey, Meg! It’s a movie. Get over it. And I totally will. Sometime. But until then, I hope to impress upon my daughters that when engaged in the work of revolution – whether its the kind that moves governments or moves their own hearts – they are strong enough to do it without the distraction of that one boy that she kinda likes almost enough to not like that other guy. It’s not much of a lesson…but its more than they’ll be getting from the theaters this weekend.

Hey, watch this parody from Studio C that makes my point in a far wittier (and catchier!) manner.

5 Things Actually Worth Breaking the Internet Over

kimk

Sorry, I left out the interesting bits. But I mean…check out those shoulders, amiright? (But seriously, she has really lovely shoulders.)

If you’ve drawn breath over the past few days, you’ve heard all the furor and fawning over Kim Kardashians spread (pun not intended, she kept them legs together) for Paper magazine. She and the editors of said publication have named the whole endeavor, Break the Internet, because…of course, they have. I haven’t read the profile. I think it could be easily argued that most who have partaken of the pictures didn’t get to the fine print, either. (Not that there couldn’t be A LOT of depth there. Who am I to judge? I LOVED the first season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Confession over.) I won’t be linking to the pictures here because yawwwwwwwn. For those two people that haven’t viewed them, I will just say Kim K is nuded up frontways, backways and all that bare skin is shined with some hybrid of baby oil and autobody finish. For some reason, it seems like a material that would have a lot of application in the space program.

“Houston, the module won’t disengage.”

“Houston here, have you tried that stuff they used on Kim? That will disengage ANYTHING.”

The reactions seem to run the gamut from the superficially deep (what can we learn about society by observing the actions of a woman that society observes while observing society observing) to the superficially self-righteous (That bimbo should be ashamed of herself! God is watching! PLUS! She has a husband! She has children! And cats! Why does no one ever think about the damage done to the housepets!). Of course, there is also a lot of good old-fashioned lust and LOL YOU GO, GIRL! thrown in for good measure.

And I know some of my readers expect me to write about it at length. To analyze the woman and the culture and maybe even the bottom (but seriously folks, you could bounce a whole stack of quarters off that baby). Here’s the thing, though.

I just don’t care.

And you shouldn’t, either. Not really. Not beyond a glance, or a not glance, or a laugh or a not laugh. Because, to use internet terms here, we all only have so much bandwidth. If you use all your care on things like shiny bottoms, you will miss out on the things that really matter. And, may the saints preserve us, there are so many things that matter.

So. Five Things That Are Actually Worth Breaking the Internet Over

1. Last Weekend 12 Women in India Died After Being Given Tainted Medicine At A Sterilization Fair.   In rural India, most women do not have access to birth control. In a bid to control the size of the population, the Indian government goes into these rural communities and pays women $10 (two days wages) to become sterilized. Doctors perform up to 300 sterilizations a day in abandoned clinics. In this case the women were sent home immediately after the surgery with drugs that killed them within hours. The tainted drugs are a huge problem. I would argue the deprivation that led to their use is a bigger one. You want to be sterilized? Great! But its only great if that is something you’ve chosen. It is not great if poverty and a lack of options for other methods of contraception forced it.  Hey, here’s an idea. What if we all decided to make the effort to get these women cheap (or even FREE!) birth control something we shouted about? Wouldn’t that be a worthy way expenditure our voices, clicks, deeeeeep thoughts and cash?

2. The UN is discussing whether or not it should challenge the United States’ right to legalize pot.  Okay, okay. You got me. I don’t do drugs, so why should I care? Well, it is interesting isn’t it? The clash between a world body and a world power. Should outside sources be able to tell us what goes into Mike’s special brownies? And if we answer “YES!” simply because we don’t like pot, then what else are we answering “YES!” to in the future? The future is based on precedence and it is very possible that in defending a lil toking up now and then we are also defending greater, more personally important rights.

3. Breast Ironing is a real thing. And no one is talking about it because, like, who wants to talk about breasts that aren’t all bouncy and giggly and make you feel good inside, you know? (Okay, breasts don’t giggle. But you know there’s a few pairs that wanna.)

4. What about this fun study from the Geena Davis Institute on female representation in film?Girls and women are missing. There are 2.24 male characters for every female character. Only 30.9% of the speaking characters are female. China, Germany, Korea, and the UK have the highest depictions of female characters. Korea has the highest percentage of female leads or co-leads. UK films that are not co-productions with the US have a much better rate of gender parity. As the study notes, “as U.S. studio money comes in, females are pushed out.” Hey. Our girls can’t become what they don’t see. Wanna talk about that?

5. As our government agencies become more and more isolated from the voice of the people, brutality and corruption begin to rage. The first hurt are the underprivileged, but they will not be the last. (And why aren’t we shouting for the first???)

Okay, And then one as a freebie because not everything has to be the serious all the the times….

This guy’s rendition of I Will Always Love You. And yeah, this video is about a million years old. And no it never gets less dreamy. And yes we should all be talking about it always. And, of course, you’re welcome.

Now, let’s get out there and make sure that when we break the internet we make it count.

Bam.

A Week of No Time-Outs

A Week of No Time Outs

 

My oldest daughter is the kind of kid that is interested in color theory, other people’s emotions and the point of our existence. She’ll sit in front of a sheet of math problems while happily tapping her toes through each formulation. She is so much fun and so much depth. She is also still so much five year old, her imaginary games are rich and usually feature time travel, assumed scientific theories and inventions along with some sort of princess and cackling witch. She is a real, true joy.

My oldest daughter is also the kind of kid that falls apart in the face of the unexpected. She reacts with quick and loud anger to real and perceived injustice, her righteous indignation ringing against the walls of our house and my tired heart. I’m not without perspective here. I’ve been around other kids, she is neither as extreme as some or as measured as others. She is squarely in the middle, not easy, not difficult, just herself. Unfortunately, comparisons and the knowledge that “this is normal!” rarely help mediate our reactions.

When she would begin to lose it, when her eyes got wild and her fists clenched, I would start to lose it, too. Oh, no. Here we go. How long will this last? Will it become hysteria or settle before its peak? If we were in public, I dreaded the side eye of other moms. If we were at home, I looked quickly at our windows to see if they were open – imagining the shrillness of her discontent bouncing against my neighbors houses. And then my panic would begin to match her own. I said mean things like, “You are being ridiculous.” and “It doesn’t matter.” and “You are being so embarrassing.” I reasoned unreasonably, angry whispered and, on occasion, yelled.

I started putting her in time-out. It seemed the only way to protect one another from spitting words. I thought it would give us both time to calm down, reflect on what we’d done (or not done) and start again. It was the perfect solution, except that it made our lives so much worse. She cried out and slammed her hands into the door of her room. She yelled and begged and then would quiet down just long enough to say things like,

“I wish you liked to be with me when I am sad.”

Ugh. Damn. Kids. Am I right?

In between the ever increasing time outs, we were wary of one another. We escalated to frustration more quickly and Zuzu didn’t come and talk to me in the quiet moments of the day like she used to. We were spending more time apart physically and emotionally, and not just when we needed to cool off. My plan wasn’t working.

It was a particularly desperate day, I’d carried her lengthening body to time-out three times and cried twice myself. I turned on my computer and tuned out her tears. Somewhere between Facebook and my fifth buzzfeed quiz, I found an article on Time that claimed time-outs were hurting our children. I laughed a little….there’s a new guru every minute. But then, after I put away my smugness, I realized that while I couldn’t prove the time outs were hurting Zuzu long term, I did have circumstantial evidence that they were harming our relationship now. And if there was a way I could shape her and remain close to her – well, it was worth a try. I was so converted to the effort I even bought the book the article was based on, No Drama Discipline. It took me a few hours to read it and a few more to settle on attempting a little experiment. For seven days I would follow their recommendations to the best of my ability and see if it made a difference. If it didn’t, I would always have the option of a shot of whiskey at the end of every day…naptime….snack break. (Kidding! Totally! I would never. Probably.)

The Experiment

The rules were pretty simple.

1. Taking time to connect before taking time to react. When she was freaking out because she didn’t want to clean her room, hated the way dinner tasted, had her feelings hurt by the kid next door or just generally lost her bleep for no apparent reason, my first move had to be to go over and hug her. Let her know that I was there and would be there no matter what crazy antics ensued. Create a place of safety. Establishing connection would help establish more productive communication, even when the communication had to mean consequences.

2. Work to discipline, rather than punish. As the book pointed out, “discipline” comes fromt the Latin “disciplina” which means instruction, knowledge. Another word that comes from that Latin form is, “disciple” , one who is instructed, who follows. When Zuzu stepped out of line, I needed to put my focus on instruction and change of direction rather than carte blanch punishment. After connecting, move forward with instruction. Sometimes this meant consequences, cleaning up after intentional destruction, repairing relations with her sister, saying sorry, taking away tv after she lied about cleaning her room so she could watch one more show. Sometimes it just meant a really long hug and words of understanding, because don’t we all just have bleep days and bleep ideas sometimes?

3. Switch Time-Outs for Time-Ins.  This was the hardest and, perhaps most important, change. The theory goes that isolating your kids when they are at their worst teaches them that people will only want them when they are at their best. I can see both sides of this coin and understand that for many kids this would not be the psychological effect of time outs. I can also say this was EXACTLY how they were affecting Zuzu. I suppose her girlhood makes me especially sensitive to this topic – girls tend to be so predisposed to issues of self-worth and an unwillingness to make their voices heard. I wanted her to know I want her always and respect her voice enough to train it rather than silence it. So, when she acted out I would pull her closer. A bout of hysteria would mean a long walk together, reading a few stories or an invitation to help me with dinner. I guess it is the loving version of “keeping your enemies closer”. (Oh, your kids have never felt like your enemies? Interesting. Tell me more about your amazing life.)

I set the rules into place, breathed in some courage and got down to work.

The Results

I’ve always said I could never be a scientist because I have no sense of consistency. That was a true statement in the carrying out of this experiment. I was the parent I wanted to be some of the time, better than I had been most of the time and just really backslid a little of the time. I will say that the days I clung to my rules we had more peace, more understanding and less chaos. It wasn’t until four days into the seven that I realized she hadn’t pounded on one wall yet and I hadn’t yelled once. She was more thoughtful in her apologies and more thoughtful in her actions. When I sat down she started sitting next to me again and the questions that have always so entertained and instructed me started bubbling out of her mouth once more. She wasn’t defensive anymore and I found myself saying the things I wished I said rather than the things I wished I hadn’t said. Slowly, she began to seek alone time as an act of calming and meditation, a thing I had robbed her of by imbuing it with the colors of punishment.

By the tenth day our social experiment had turned attempted lifestyle. It was then that I finally took the time to acknowledge I needed the change as desperately as she did. When I think of ideal parenthood, I think of our Heavenly Father and Mother. When I am at my worst, they draw me in. When I am angry, they offer joy. When I am heartbroken, they succor me with the balm of infinite understanding. They would never make me weep, wail and gnash alone. They would never tell me I was unreasonable, ridiculous, acting as if I was too young. They guide, teach, heal and sanctify through the Holy Spirit. They lead and walk back to pick me up when I cannot follow. I mean, my goodness, when my mortal, mistake ridden, imperfect nature made reunion with them impossible, they did not throw their hands up in despair. They asked their Son to bleed alone in an empty garden and die, nailed to a cross, alone in a taunting crowd. They have never, they will never, shut a door in my shouting face. I’m trying to follow Their example.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend this has solved all our problems. I still find myself yelling at times. She still deals with anxiety and bouts of hysterical and regular old five year old fits of anger. We are a month past my little experiment and she has been put in time-out several times since then despite my best intentions. Hell, I put her in time-out this morning. I would still argue, despite everything I’ve learned, that once in awhile those time outs are absolutely needed and the only thing that saves us from each other. But, when we are at our best, when I am at MY best, I can feel us more closely emulating the relationship I know she already has with her Heavenly Parents. And while I am nowhere close to being able to even speak their names with complete understanding, I CAN see the worth they see in my little girl. And hopefully, in treating her as closely to how they treat her as I possibly can, she will begin to see that worth, too.

Amen.

 

© megan conley 2012

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