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Archive for the ‘raising sons’ Category

This response from Eliza at tea plus oranges is such a considered response that it’s hard to imagine it was written with a sleeping baby on her chest… and reading it was a lovely opportunity to revisit those first early months of motherhood. All my love to new parents.

If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

I’m interested to see how this will pan out. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot at various stages of our relationship, mainly in relation to balancing two careers. We met at uni as two ambitious law student types, and he fully supports the idea that I should be able to go forth professionally and do interesting, meaningful things in paid work, as well as being an available and attentive parent. However, there is an inevitable tension in trying to carve out an equal relationship in a non-equal society. “Lean in” feminism emphasises the need for a supportive partner; but the limits of individual action in working around structural problems also apply to the concerted actions of a couple. He wants to support my career, but doesn’t want to sacrifice his. That’s fair enough. Why should either of us have to? Why can’t employment conditions accommodate family life for both partners? Yet, they don’t. So we intend to find some way of realigning the division of labour once we’re through the early years of parenthood (in which I want to be at home with my babies). Watch this space.

He took four weeks’ leave when bubs was born, which was really really fantastic. I’m now passionate about the feminist importance of paternity leave. There was a revelation in that month – he “gets” household management now. Five years of living together, I’ve done more than half the domestic load, but since bubs arrived that has changed. All it took was four weeks in which I completely abdicated responsibility for everything other than breastfeeding… He’s back at work now, and while our relationship may look very traditional at the moment, in many ways it’s more equal than ever (we’re both exhausted). I’m really grateful to be able to spend a full year at home with bubs. In an ideal world, we’d have better maternity leave provisions, so that women’s ability to do this doesn’t depend on the work status of the father. In the meantime, I’m pretty glad to have a breadwinner spouse just now.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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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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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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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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Very thought-provoking article on cultural capital, parenting, high and low art, racism and representation from David Osa Amadasun – “Black people don’t go to art galleries: the reproduction of taste and cultural values”:

Here’s the scenario: two children, one white and one black, walk into an exhibition filled with portraits of white people. Both children enjoy it. After the exhibition they make self-portraits out of food. The black child asks for brown ingredients – cocoa pops, hot chocolate powder – to represent his skin in the portrait. The white child does not bother with colour in the same way. Her whiteness is not a colour that needs to be marked or thought about, it is naturalized as normal, a seamless part of the wall-to-wall whiteness of the surrounding exhibition. On closer inspection the portraits show further nuances of colouring and also commonality. Other features such as nose, lips, eyes and hair were not represented mimetically. As the brown skin colour of the portrait on the left stands out because of its purposeful colouring, it creates a link between the child and their artwork, making visible what is taken for granted in this space – whiteness.

 There has been progress in the diversity of representations within exhibitions, for example the Meshac Gaba and Ibrahim El-Salahi exhibitions at the Tate – which the kids and parents loved. But adequate progress has not been made in how these institutions, funded by public money, encourage those from underrepresented groups. As Dr Eleonora Belfiore from Warwick University has pointed out, there are fundamental and ‘awkward’ questions that need to be asked about the social and institutional structures that support and maintain hierarchies of taste, ‘if the debate on cultural value is to go beyond an empty rhetoric of self-celebration’ Belfiore writes ‘then it needs to be an occasion in which awkward questions are asked of the sector as a whole. Questions such as ‘For whom does the sector generate value?’, ‘What do organisations big and small do to live up to their status as public cultural organisations?’

And I love the questions he closes with in this article. “Do we want to encourage cultural omnivores by diversifying taste and/or do we want a radical overhaul of the very values that make distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture?”

Thanks to Shawn Taylor for the link.

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After all of this, there is also this..

There is a better way to talk and teach about sexual negotiation and consent, a more realistic and ethical approach that would, I believe, also be more successful in reducing sexual assault. It begins with thinking of sex as the outcome of a collaboration rather than a battle, as dancing rather than fighting.

It’s a wondrful piece in the Sydney Morning Herald from Emily Maguire, who is just as wonderful in person, I must say.

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Kristen Hurst is a stay at home mother of three who enjoys blogging. She received her bachelor’s degree in fashion marketing, and writes often about nursing clothes. When she’s not trying to juggle the lives of Casey, Austin and Ben, she enjoys painting and catching up with a great Jane Austen novel.

How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?

My feminism is based in activities and attitudes towards valuing that which is traditionally considered “feminine” as equal to that which is traditionally considered “masculine.” This was not the feminism I had initially adopted in college—I definitely believed that I could do whatever I wanted, and I took my inherited feminism for granted. I knew I was “equal” to men, so why not be a feminist? I would say that this was the dominant attitude of the women at my college, and for most of us, our serious feminist identifications faded once we left the classroom, and for me, when I initially went to work in the fashion industry. Nevertheless, both motherhood and my experiences freelancing on behalf of Seraphine Maternity have shaped my feminist motherhood.

What has surprised you most about motherhood?

How much I feel empowered by it! I guess I always knew I’d be a mother eventually—I didn’t question that—but I wasn’t a woman who longed to be a mother. I didn’t even know whether I’d enjoy it or not. Being a mother and staying home with my boys have allowed me to rethink how I assign value in my life. I feel very aware of how our culture measures value through money. Motherhood is not profitable, but it feels even more rewarding to play a part in nurturing young lives and teaching my sons to appreciate art, music, family walks, etc. as much as whatever their future careers will be.

How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

My feminism was forever altered by re-reading Sara Ruddick’s Maternal Thinking. This book is more philosophy than parenting advice, but it made me realize why my attitudes towards politics and the dominant narratives of our society shifted once I started mothering. I would say that I started out as a plucky post-second wave not-so-riot girl. Once I started working in fashion, I felt that questioning what it meant to be a woman was taboo, unless we were talking about androgyny being in vogue. Motherhood caused me to pick up feminism again because I realized that what was right for one of my sons was not necessarily right for the next, and thus, this is likely the same when we’re talking about individuals in society or our relationships with other countries (both of which Ruddick touches on.) Being a stay-at-home mom caused me to experience how undervalued caretaking is, even as it is necessary. I became an advocate in my community for speaking out in favor of resources that mothers—and therefore everyone—would benefit from, like paid maternity leave and more reliable daycare options. I was initially hesitant to continue indulging my interest in fashion, but my work with Seraphine has placed me squarely back in the present—feminism is important, and feminism and feeling good and fashionable in our slightly-disempowered present reality are not mutually exclusive. Certainly some in the maternity fashion industry have no interest in feminism, but not all of them!

What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

I want my boys to understand the privilege they’re set to inherit due to their gender. We talk about it.

Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?

I don’t know if being a feminist mother is something one can fail or succeed at—it’s always in the process, or the attempt. But of course I feel like a failure sometimes, particularly when my sons imitate something that I do or say that doesn’t reflect my feminist ideals.

Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?

Yes, but only because I know too many folks who still feel that feminism and staying at home with one’s children are at odds with each other.

Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?

Feminism isn’t really about “having it all,” either, it’s about the opportunity to make informed choices about what to have and not feeling—or being—stigmatized as a result of that. Almost every sacrifice I’ve made on behalf of motherhood has been more than worth it in the end.

Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?

This question makes me want to ask “which feminism?” I feel like acts done in the name of “feminism” or “progress” that ignore the fact that women will mother have failed mothers. Nevertheless, feminism has given us the language to have a conversation like this one about motherhood, and I think that will far overshadow any failings.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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Lovely article here from Monica Dux in Essential Kids about Star Wars birthday parties and sexism.

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