walking the walk, social justice through parenting

Reading a “facts of life” book last night with my almost-7 year old daughter, she stopped me after I read about what makes boys boys and what makes girls girls. She said, “That’s in the brain. It’s not there [pointing to the genital areas].” She was talking about the fact that there are people whose bodies are biologically one sex, but their identities are another gender. I’ll admit I felt a little proud of myself that I’ve been mothering my daughters to understand that gender is much more complex than biology alone.

A couple years ago, my older daughter called out, distressed, when she realized — admittedly after years of playing with them — her playmobil figures had only one person of color among nearly fifty people. We searched the website and found one brown skinned figure with what looked like a Native American set among hundreds and hundreds of characters. Looking at the site this morning, I see they have new figures that look like people of color in the top banner. Scrolling through the characters, I don’t see that much else has changed. The point I’m making here is that I felt glad when my daughters noticed the playmobil set was made with a foundation of racism. We talked about not playing with the set, what is our responsibility? How can we help? We talked about different things we could do (color with markers?) to make the set have a wider range of people figures. We ended up writing a letter to the company complaining about the issue. That’s not nothing.

There will be people who think these kinds of smaller exchanges are not as important or valid as participating in a drastic overhaul of our entire system. And, indeed, we need to change our whole system. We need to do more than have conversations in our own families. Personally, I am doing more. But there are times when “all I’m doing is parenting.” During those times I’m not missing my opportunity to help my children know more than I did about injustice. I want them to notice problems and think critically about solutions. I want them to practice responding to injustice with action. I believe these smaller steps count. They matter. They are more than “better than nothing.” My children and many like them are people who know that just thinking about and talking about changing the world is not enough; they want to walk the walk and, as my daughter said (she’s sitting on my lap and I asked her how I should finish this), “make the world a better place than we found it.”

vulva. vulva. VULVA (not vagina!)!

In my late 30s (in the early 2000s), the Houston Press hired me to write a review of a play showing in Austin, The Vagina Monologues. By now, most people have heard of the play, I’d imagine.

Guess what I found out as I watched the play? I found out that my vagina isn’t my vagina. That is, the vagina is actually the soft tunnel that leads from the outside of a female’s body up to the cervix (which leads to the uterus).

A vagina is not, it turned out the whole squishy area on the outside. That, I learned, is called the vulva.

Did you know that?

A lot of people, full grown adults, don’t know that. In fact, I’d venture to guess a lot of people will find the word “vulva” very silly sounding.

I was in my 30s. I was an adult. I didn’t know the name of my own body parts. I was not alone.

Why does this matter? Why am I writing about it?

I’m writing about it because this kind of knowledge is power. I saw an article recently advocating for using proper names for body parts when teaching children. You know, instead of hoo-ha or pee-pee, use the correct language. It was a good piece. But, guess what? It referred to the female parts as “the vagina!” Even an article stressing the value of naming body parts correctly got it wrong!

It winds me up because we women (cisgender) are encouraged to live in ignorance. How can we accept ourselves unconditionally when we don’t even know ourselves?

I’ll end with this post I saw recently that I think illustrates my point well:

“Imagine if male genitals were treated like female genitals? Like testicles weren’t even referred to as testicles and some men didn’t even know what they were actually called and the general area was just called “penis”.

Imagine if boys were told that their prostate doesn’t exist. Imagine if hairy genitals on men were called “bearded snakes.” And they don’t know how many different holes they have until adulthood. Imagine.

imagine if men were flocking en mass to get “testicle tightening” surgeries.  imagine if men weren’t taught that they could have orgasms.  Imagine if it were considered rude to say “penis” even in debates regarding legislature involving medical care about men’s penises.  Imagine penis was a word that was considered too “dirty” to be said on television. Imagine if penis’s were depicted only as meat-sticks that fit in vaginas with no other value.  Imagine if teenage boys heard joke after joke about how all dicks smell terrible no matter what

Imagine if people thought the more a penis was used, the smaller and more useless it became.

Imagine if people didn’t understand how penises ‘work’ and therefore their orgasms didn’t matter.

Imagine if having a penis meant you were paid less money.”

Valentine’s Day traditions

Being single on Valentine’s Day is meh. As any of my exes will attest, I’ve never been sentimental about the holiday. Despite the long, interesting, and muddled history of it, I have always associated Valentine’s Day with “just another excuse cooked up by mega-corporations for people to feel like they should be consumers of stuff they don’t actually need.” Still, as I said, being single on this day is meh. Not awful, but not wonderful.

In the last few days, I found myself looking forward to the day. I decided I’d make a special breakfast, do some fun stuff with the girls during the day, and we were supposed to go see the movie Babe at the Friends School of Portland (but the snow cancelled that). Planning with my younger daughter, we decided on heart shaped pigs in a blanket for breakfast, and chocolate dipped strawberries during the day.IMG_0083IMG_0082

As I set out the plates last night, knowing I’d be dragging myself out of bed a lot earlier than I’d prefer (my children have not mastered the concept of sleeping “late”), I started enjoying myself. I’ve decided to throw myself into the holiday, doing some things that will hopefully become traditions. I love the idea that my daughters can associate Valentine’s Day with not-romantic love memories. Then, when they are adults, if they find themselves without a love interest on Valentine’s Day, they may not feel the day is “meh.” Maybe they’ll start their own Valentine’s Day not-romantic love traditions. And maybe they’ll give their dear old mum a call because it’s a day we always celebrated together when they were little.

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what I rarely admit about how I parent

When my children have a lot of screen time, we all feel cluttered and cranky. I can’t talk about this much, though, because it’s a loaded topic. In the past, I’ve brought up my preference that our children don’t spend much time in front of screens (television, computer, other) and I’ve found people defensive. More than defensive, I find people want to tell me I “shouldn’t feel so bad about it” if I let the girls have screen time so I can take a break for myself.

People really want me to feel less bad about it. That probably comes from good intentions. But, it misses the point. I feel gross when they have a lot of screen time because we all feel gross. I feel bad about it because the effects are heavy. I don’t feel bad because I’m some kind of monster as a parent. I simply feel bad that I’ve come to a point where the easier answer is screen time, knowing the consequences will be more hyper-stress energy than if I wait it out and we stay screen time free.

What “a lot of screen time” means for me is more than an hour and/or two days or more in a row. When we have the screen going for more than an hour or two, our home feels crowded, tired, and too busy and loud. When that happens for a couple days in a row, we might as well’ve had no sleep the night before. It’s a mess.

All that said, tonight the girls watched Frosty the Snowman, and Curious George’s Very Monkey Christmas. (More than two hours.) And, we had screen time last night (the 2nd half of Rudolph and, for the older one, the American Girl holiday movie (Samantha?)). It’s fine, yes, yes, I know it’s fine. But, it also leaves me feeling like we’ve got a layer of sediment coating our lives that won’t clear way until we’ve had several days in a row where they don’t zone out in front of the screen.

When our older daughter was little, she had zero screen time. We used to leave restaurants if there were televisions being forced on us. I appreciate our zealous commitment to the value of simplicity through limited screen time. When we started adding screen time into her life, it was limited almost exclusively to nature programs and some preschool programming (Franklin the Turtle, Little Bear) even though she was four and five years old. Life is different now. The electronic childcare option is a reality for me. Plus, my daughters aren’t always with me (so their time in front of screens isn’t up to me).

It’s difficult talking about not using much screen time in our lives. It’s telling to me that the topic is so fraught with judgments and misunderstandings. It would be nice if I felt I could say “I feel gross and awful when I let the girls watch show after show…” without people trying to tell me to relax about it. We seem to be in such a minority that my distaste for screen time feels more comfortable as a secret than as something I would discuss freely in a casual social context.

Y’know, except for writing about it on the Internet.