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Archive for the ‘raising daughters’ Category

It took her an hour to write “Mississippi Goddam.” A freewheeling cri de coeur based on the place names of oppression, the song has a jaunty tune that makes an ironic contrast with words—“Alabama’s got me so upset, Tennessee made me lose my rest”—that arose from injustices so familiar they hardly needed to be stated: “And everybody knows about Mississippi, goddam!” Still, Simone spelled them out. She mocked stereotypical insults (“Too damn lazy!”), government promises (“Desegregation / Mass participation”), and, above all, the continuing admonition of public leaders to “Go slow,” a line that prompted her backup musicians to call out repeatedly, as punctuation, “Too slow!” It wasn’t “We Shall Overcome” or “Blowin’ in the Wind”: Simone had little feeling for the Biblically inflected uplift that defined the anthems of the era. It’s a song about a movement nearly out of patience by a woman who never had very much to begin with, and who had little hope for the American future: “Oh but this whole country is full of lies,” she sang. “You’re all gonna die and die like flies.”

From “A Raised Voice: How Nina Simone turned the movement into music” by Claudia Roth Pierpont in The New Yorker.

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I won’t lie; I miss you. Well, since we only met seven or eight times, I miss the fantasies of you I used to create. You were a career Air Force officer, so I used to make up all kinds of missions for you. When asked, I’d say you were over in some devastated pocket of global real estate, fighting bad guys. I mean, why else wouldn’t you be around? I’m smart, funny… I am a good son.

Once the fantasies stopped, the pain and the hurt crept in.

Hell, it didn’t just creep in, it moved in—it took up residence in my heart. During certain moments it was nearly impossible to breathe because of the amount of hatred I felt for you. There were times I scared myself because of the sheer awfulness of the things I wished upon you. I felt so cheated. You weren’t around physically and Mom was ill equipped to be a parent; not to mention that every dude she dated knocked us around.

I didn’t really begin to date until college, because I was afraid I’d become one of the monsters Mom decided to invite into our home. Whether it was Brooklyn or Minneapolis, she seemed to have a nose for hooking up with pugilist man-children.

And I blamed you for this.

If you were there, she would have felt worthy of being loved, and we both would have been safe. I write these things not to pile on you, but to get them out and keep them out. I no longer want to hold onto my negative feelings and memories of you. I’ve come to understand that my holding onto all these adverse emotions has severely limited my ability to parent like I want. That is changing.

From Shawn Taylor in Ebony.

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Eminem’s anger with his mother has always been so incredibly public and so incredibly visceral. I always wondered how that fury towards women, including his ex-wife, would be resolved in him given he is primary carer for his daughter. Creating a woman while hating them would surely eventually be an unsustainable dissonance.

So I was fascinated to see that Eminem has just released a new track, Headlights with a video clip depicting an apology from him and an imagined reunion with his mother. The lyrics for this song are every bit as broken-hearted about mothering and trauma as the vengeful Cleanin’ Out My Closet was, but this time with the generous acceptance that comes from been-around-the-block parenting maturity.

You’re kicking me out? It’s 15 degrees and it’s Christmas Eve (little prick just leave)
Ma, let me grab my fucking coat, anything to have each other’s goats
Why we always at each other’s throats?
Especially when dad, he fucked us both
We’re in the same fucking boat, you’d think that it’d make us close (nope)
Further away it drove us, but together headlights shine, a car full of belongings
Still got a ways to go, back to grandma’s house it’s straight up the road
And I was the man of the house, the oldest, so my shoulders carried the weight of the load
Then Nate got taken away by the state at eight years old,
And that’s when I realized you were sick and it wasn’t fixable or changeable
And to this day we remained estranged and I hate it though, but

‘Cause to this day we remain estranged and I hate it though
‘Cause you ain’t even get to witness your grand babies grow
But I’m sorry, Mama, for “Cleaning Out My Closet”, at the time I was angry
Rightfully maybe so, never meant that far to take it though,
’cause now I know it’s not your fault, and I’m not making jokes
That song I no longer play at shows and I cringe every time it’s on the radio
And I think of Nathan being placed in a home
And all the medicine you fed us
And how I just wanted you to taste your own,
But now the medications taken over
And your mental state’s deteriorating slow
And I’m way too old to cry, the shit is painful though
But, Ma, I forgive you, so does Nathan, yo
All you did, all you said, you did your best to raise us both
Foster care, that cross you bear, few may be as heavy as yours
But I love you, Debbie Mathers, oh, what a tangled web we have,

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My latest column for Fairfax newspapers is here:

Go ahead and brainwash your baby. There are few enough privileges as a parent, you might as well seize this one. If you want to change the world and make it a less sexist place then this little human sponge of yours is the best chance you’ve got. Because truth is, the world is going to try to brainwash your baby right back. I’m wary of anyone being too prescriptive about either parenting or feminism these days, I’ve made my share of compromises with both, and I’m not much interested in perfectionism. But in case you’re after a starting point with anti-sexist parenting then here’s three general tips from my own experience.

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I have a co-written article with the very clever Lori Day in the Huffington Post today about the four reasons why parents buy into the culture of gender stereotyping.

 

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Deborah: Tell us a bit about your book that’s coming out next fall, The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years (Source Books, 2014). Is there any way in which you think girls can be active agents in princess play? In what ways do you hope your book will steer popular debate? And what do you most want to change?

Rebecca: Thanks for asking. The Princess Problem is really a handbook for parents to raise media-literate daughters–girls who are able to think critically about marketing, the beauty ideal, gender stereotypes, and race representation. This is an important task for 21st-century parents: We must coach our children, guiding them to become critical viewers of media culture in general. And yet media literacy is not something that’s a mainstream concept yet in the U.S.; many other countries include media literacy in their K-12 curricula, but that’s not the case here. I’d like that to change.

I focus in my book on princess culture in particular because “princess” is so pervasive–it’s THE defining pop culture phenomenon in early girlhood. And it’s the perfect example to use in a text on raising media literate girls because the issues we need to discuss with our daughters so often differ from than the issues we would discuss with our sons. (For example, body image issues are a very different beast when it comes to girls and boys.) But the principles I teach in The Princess Problem could easily be extrapolated to raising media-literate sons, too.

And yes, I absolutely believe girls can be active agents in princess play. Kids are not passive victims of media and toys; they’re active consumers who regularly defy our assumptions. That’s a position I’ve espoused in some of my earlier work–for example, my study of girls and Bratz dolls.

It’s important to note, then, that in The Princess Problem, my goal is not to persuade girls that princesses are bad or to “de-princess” them; rather, it is to help parents help their girls reason become critical viewers who can see that there are many, many ways to be a girl.

From Girl w/ Pen! with Deborah Siegel interviewing Rebecca Hains in “Girls, Boys, Feminism, Toys”.

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Needless to say, hair ish is exhausting for the entire family. I’ve been seriously considering creating a set of business cards for her to hand out to the overly inquisitive. On one side of the card would be several images of the amazing versatility of Black girl’s hair. On the other, there would be these simple sentences: To paraphrase Prince, “my hair is something you will never comprehend.” Just let it go.

From the wonderful Shawn Taylor in Ebony on teaching his young daughter how to deal with constant, invasive curiosity about her hair. I think Shawn is spot on about there being a problem with putting the onus on his daughter to accept rude attention rather than on white parents and schools’ to educate kids better about racism. And I love the use of that Prince line.
For more feminist fatherhood you can follow my friend, Shawn at @reallovepunk.
 
 

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This – 5 Ways to Avoid Implicit Sexism – over at Everyday Feminism is good.

I don’t blog much about the How To’s of feminist parenting anymore, I used to, but I’ve talked myself to death on some of that stuff. But for those looking for some fresh, practical thoughts on this topic I thought that piece by Paige Lucas-Stannard was a good one.

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If you wondered about whatever happened to that cute little baby called Storm who was being raised gender neutral there’s an update here. And Demeter Press, one of the best publishers for parenthood has a book being launched about gender fluid parenting practices which includes an essay by Storm’s mother. The book is available from here.

 

 

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Amazing Babes: A Picture Book for Kids & Adults by Eliza Sarlos and Grace Lee, and published by Scribe, is a truly gorgeous picture book. Reviewing this book with my two children, a girl and boy aged eight and four years respectively, was a complete delight.

The hard cover picture book features twenty feminist icons. Each icon is beautifully drawn by Grace Lee and their picture is accompanied by a simple statement highlighting a personal trait of theirs that will most inspire children. These statements express charming wishes like, “I want the curiosity of Hedy Lamarr” and “I want to find ways to explore like Frida Kahlo”.

The range of women included is impressively broad and crosses from the most contemporary, like Tavi Gevinson and Malala Yousafzai, to others from history such as Emma Goldman. Notably for me, the book also includes a couple of Australian figures (eg. Mum Shirl and Miles Franklin).  Amazing Babes manages to avoid the disappointment of so many other feminist texts which all but ignore women from outside the Anglosphere, so women like Vandana Shiva and Aung San Suu Kyi are also here.

There’s a fair bit of diversity in terms of age, race, nationality and area of expertise across the icons profiled but no list of feminist icons is going to meet everyone’s approval.  I am sure some readers will wonder why particular favourites weren’t included, though the book encompasses big stars like Gloria Steinem and Audre Lorde, and given the age of mothers with young children, Kathleen Hanna is certain to be a popular inclusion.

The style of illustration greatly appealed to my children, who as I noted above, range in age from 4 to 8 years. They found the book enormously intriguing and I would encourage parents to offer it both to sons as well as daughters. In fact, the author of the book originally wrote the collection for her own son. The beauty of this book is that it can be read to children of various ages with younger children simply enjoying the illustrations and growing familiarity with famous names and older children being able to go on and research further those women who particularly inspire them.

At the back of the book is a full list of the twenty icons and a more complete description of each woman and her accomplishments. I have only one criticism of the book and it is with this section. This text is not written in an always accessible way for young readers who would otherwise be drawn to the book. For instance, “While working as a feminist, Miles also devoted herself to cultivating a uniquely Australian voice within Australian literature” – it’s not exactly a jargonistic sentence but it is beyond a lot of primary school beginner readers. The descriptions could also have benefited from a pronunciation guide for the women’s names, some of which won’t be immediately familiar to all readers. However, this is a small bone to pick with what is really a very special book. There are simply not enough of these kinds of books being written for children and I hope this one finds plenty of success.

And finally… there are three copies available for give-away to readers of blue milk, if you’re interested in entering the competition simply leave a comment below (with a valid email address) and I will randomly draw three names within the fortnight. The publishers have put no limits on regions for entry so please feel free to enter regardless of which country you live in.

In accordance with disclosure guidelines, please note that I was sent a copy of this book for review by the publisher.

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