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Archive for the ‘raising daughters’ Category

Many of the fathers I spoke to admit that showing vulnerability to other men can be difficult. Daniel, the divorced dad in Brooklyn, recalls that, growing up, mealtimes with his brothers were a kind of “blood sport”. Even now, he observes an “impulse to snuff out every manifestation of weakness as it’s being expressed”. So it makes some sense that many men set their sights on having a son. Raising a boy affords fathers a chance to be both strong and sensitive, to be powerful yet tender. With a son, a father may believe he has been delivered an adoring male ally in an atmosphere – the home – that often feels like the domain of women.

This profound sense of kinship comes with a similarly profound sense of responsibility. Many of the men I spoke to said they understood it was their job to guide their boys through the choppy waters of adolescence. “It’s just a responsibility assumed,” says Tom, a father in his late 50s with one teenage boy. “Sometimes my wife will say, ‘Hey look, I would like you to talk to our son about such and such’, but really it’s not something we even need to talk about.” Louise, the mother with a teenage boy in London, agrees that “the father’s influence with a boy is absolutely key.” She adds that male friends with sons have confided to her that they are more apprehensive about abandoning their families. “They worry more about the guilt and the damage they may cause.”

This entire article, “It’s a boy thing” by Emily Bobrow in The Economist’s 1843 is fascinating and.. disturbing. The preference for sons by fathers has been analysed from multiple perspectives but I find the one above some of the more interesting for me. Parenting taps into something profound about sense of self. It does not surprise me that men, as fathers, might feel a particularly strong attachment to sons given the opportunity it presents for them to be safely close to another male and to also repair some of their own childhoods as emotionally isolated little boys by recreating them and re-imagining them.

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This is really interesting! From “What does it mean when we call women girls?” by Robin Wasserman in Literary Hub.

Here’s how Louis CK draws the distinction between girl and woman:

[22-year old girls] might say, I’m 22, I’m totally a woman… Not to me, sorry. To me you’re not a woman until you’ve had a couple of kids and your life is in the toilet… when you become a woman is when people come out of your vagina and step on your dreams.

If it’s easy to see how the girl label attaches to unmoored millennials, it’s less evident how it applies to women firmly rooted in the adult phase of life. But it makes sense if we read the “girl” narratives as corrective to the Louis CK threshold, the “girls” as women who refuse to let a little thing like people coming out of their vaginas ruin their dreams.

All the Single Ladies, journalist Rebecca Traister’s recent take on the rise of the single woman, opens with her childhood conviction that the marriage plot was less fairy tale than Shakespearean tragedy. “It was supposed to be romantic, but it felt bleak,” she writes of the nuptial trajectories of her girlhood literary heroes. “Paths that were once wide and dotted with naughty friends and conspiratorial sisters and malevolent cousins, with scrapes and adventures and hopes and passions, had narrowed and now seemed to lead only to the tending of dull husbands and the rearing of insipid children to whom the stories would be turned over.”

The girl books crowding the nonfiction shelf are written by and about women who insist on sticking to that wide path, women who refuse to Jo March themselves into a supporting role in their own life: girlhood as a state of mind.

The word attaches itself with special frequency to women in music and the sciences—not as diminishment of their achievement, but as its trophy. Girl in a Band, Lab Girl, Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl, Rise of the Rocket Girls: these are women who followed their girlhood passions into male-dominated fields and triumphed. Their stories speak of subverting gender expectations, breaking barriers, and—at least on the page—prioritizing work and art over the role of domestic caretaker.

In Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon pauses—briefly—in her tale of Sonic Youth’s rise to acknowledge the birth of her daughter: “Yes, she changed our lives, and no one is more important to me. But the band played on.” Gordon spent the first half of her career answering journalists’ inevitable question about what it was like to be a girl in a band; the moment she gave birth, they instead wanted to know: “What’s it like to be a rock-and-roll mom?” Her daughter might well be the most important thing in her life, but she’s nearly irrelevant to this story, which is about music, ambition, and the need to create. Gordon writes about her difficulties expressing her true self, relieved only by art: “For me the page, the gallery, and the stage became the only places my emotions could be expressed….Art, and the practice of making art, was the only space that was mine alone.”

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Rayssa Leal skateboarding.

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A writer friend comes round. She brings her son, who is the same age as my older daughter. Once we carried these children in our arms; at other times we pushed them in strollers, or led them by the hand. Now he follows his mother in like a pet lion on a leash, a proud, taciturn beast who has consented, temporarily, to be tamed. My daughter has this same aura of the wild about her, as though beneath a veneer of sophistication she is constantly hearing the summons of her native land, somewhere formless and free that still lies inside her and to which at any moment she might return. The manners of adulthood have been recently acquired. There’s no knowing how quickly they could be discarded. She and my friend’s son greet each other in territorial monosyllables. It is as though they are two people from the same distant country who have met here in my sitting room. They’ve met before, often, but you’d never know: Those were old– versions of themselves, like drafts of a novel the author no longer stands by. All the same, I expect them to take themselves off elsewhere, to another room; I expect them to flee the middle-aged climate of the sitting room, but they don’t. They arrange themselves close to us, two lions resting close to the shade of their respective trees, and they watch.

My friend and I have a few years of conversation behind us. We’ve talked about motherhood — we’ve both spent a large part of our time as a single parent — and its relationship to writing. We’ve talked about the problems and pleasures of honoring reality, in life and in art. She has never upheld the shadowless account of parenthood; and perhaps consequently, nor does she now allude to her teenage son as a kind of vandal who has ruined the lovely picture. We talk about our own teenage years, and the hostility of our parents’ generation to any form of disagreement with their children. Any system of authority based on control fears dissidence more than anything else, she says. You two don’t realize how lucky you are, and the lions roll their eyes. What is being controlled, she says, is the story. By disagreeing with it, you create the illusion of victimhood in those who have the capacity to be oppressors. From outside, the dissident is the victim, but the people inside the story can’t attain that distance, for they are defending something whose relationship to truth has somewhere along the line been compromised. I don’t doubt that my parents saw themselves as my hapless victims, as many parents of adolescents do (“You have this lovely child,” a friend of mine said, “and then one day God replaces it with a monster”), but to me at the time such an idea would have been unthinkable. In disagreeing with them, I was merely trying to re-establish a relationship with truth that I thought was lost. I may even have believed that my assertions were helpful, as though we were on a journey somewhere and I was trying to point out that we had taken a wrong turn. And this, I realize, is where the feelings of powerlessness came from: Disagreement only and ever drew reprisal, not for what was said but for the fact alone of saying it, as if I were telling the residents of a Carmelite convent that the building was on fire and was merely criticized for breaking the vow of silence.

From “Raising Teenagers: The mother of all problems” in The New York Times by Rachel Cusk.

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My latest article is here.

Speaking of personal stories, Latham has an interesting story, too. He’s a stay-at-home father with a wife working outside the home. Having made the transition from political leadership to primary caring he might offer an insightful perspective, instead, he seems clouded by a kind of defensive masculinity. And his hostility towards feminist parenting is curious when you consider Latham’s own role reversal is exactly the kind of freedom feminists are seeking as an option to be available for more parents. But critiquing parenting has long been an underhand route for simply censuring women.

Women well know that when male commentators talk about women’s lives they are prone to holding unexamined views that run contrary to one another. So, being the primary parent has allowed Latham to see the hoax that fathers can’t be nurturing, but somehow mothering is still essentialist enough for inner-city feminists to be capable of running a secret campaign to “free themselves from nature’s way”. And further, mothers who take their experiences seriously enough to write about them are “self-absorbed”, but to not take them seriously is to be “breeding a generation of shirtless, tone-deaf, overweight, pizza-eating dummies”. Although Macdonald, apparently, manages to do both.

 

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Eminem’s descent into pill addiction is a depressing fulfillment of the Elvis comparison that he’d always played with. While Elvis’s drug problems led to his death at 42, Eminem’s current age, Mathers was able to pull back from the brink of a drug problem that involved consuming between 40 and 60 Valiums a day. A 2007 methadone overdose that almost killed him got him to go to rehab, and an early checkout led to a series of relapses before he got sober for good in 2008. His album cycle about his addiction and relapse allowed him to explore and discuss the darkest period in his life and his fears that he had turned into his addict mother. But what this represented wasn’t really maturation. The levity that had always characterized his work was gone, but in its place was something else: Rather than the toxic ambition of a young man determined to get his, he has the poisoned, defensive entitlement of a man who feels like he has earned his keep and is terrified that someone is going to take it away from him.

Eminem had always been angry, but he had also been funny, and because he was funny, we’d forgiven him time and again for making jokes whose punch lines always involved violence against women and gay people. When Eminem first came onto the scene, he was remarkable for his dexterity and virtuosity and his exceptionalism as the first white solo rap star to be anointed as truly great. As he celebrates 15 years of Shady Records with the release of the compilation Shady XV, which includes the demo version of notable career peak “Lose Yourself,” Eminem is asking us to take stock of his career. And when we do, it feels willfully ignorant to ignore that Eminem is still largely taking on women and gay people as the victims of his fictional crimes. What is offensive is not only the violent, specific lyrics and the revenge fantasies about doling out humiliations; it’s that he attacks people who have done nothing to provoke it. How can someone so intelligent also be so stupid? Or is he just a forever-troll?

Rap is not only still a youth culture, it’s still a predominantly male culture. It feeds off of the need some men have to assert their dominance and masculinity by targeting vulnerable people. The very existence of women is a threat. Anyone who challenges traditional conventions of sexuality is a threat. Poverty is emasculating, and Eminem’s obsession with asserting his masculinity feels like a possible reaction to his upbringing in a run-down section of Detroit. Bullied in school, he honed his verbal put-down skills to a blade. In his early career, it didn’t feel like he was a bully. The pokes at public figures, the jokes about ripping Pamela Lee’s tits off and smacking her around in his debut single, didn’t feel done to death at first, which is why they were written off as irreverent. He didn’t invent the idolization of pimps or the glamorization of violence against women. Like most people do, he was just participating in a system that already existed, without questioning it. As a white rapper in a traditionally black musical culture, he aligned himself against the systemic oppression of black men in America. But he failed to make the parallel connection to the systemic oppression of women of all races. Maybe this was because his deepest fear was that, like horrorcore icon Norman Bates, he would turn into his mother: dependent on drugs, neglected by the state, aging, invisible, and feminized. Oddly, Eminem reserved little of his overflowing ire for Marshall Bruce Mathers Jr., his father, who absconded to California when his son was an infant and never responded to numerous letters that the younger Marshall wrote him as a teen. Eminem chose to mostly project his rage onto those who remained around him, particularly women, including his mother, Debbie, and his on-and-off girlfriend/wife, Kim.

From Molly Lambert’s “Shady XLII: Eminem in 2014” in Grantland.

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