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Archives for Feminism

It’s Good To Be The (Drag)Queen

Mar
1
2009

While reading the economic news is like taking a trip in the wayback machine (house prices from six years ago! stock prices from the 90s! a contraction like the early 80s!), it’s nice to see areas of society where there is real progress.

Specifically, in homecoming queens. Apparently gender doesn’t matter the way it once did.

George Mason University, in Northern Virginia, just elected its first drag queen as homecoming queen. This is definite progress. Why? Well, for most women, just the phrase “homecoming queen” – part popularity contest, part beauty pageant – has a retro-sexist feel to it. It calls up images of cashmere sweaters over pointy-coned bras, pleated kilts with bobby socks, football weekends where girls work on their M.R.S. degrees. So it’s nice that the students have elected someone whose flaunting of breasts is a stereotype breaker.

The best part of the election of a gay man to represent the school as its homecoming queen is that it seems to have been done almost matter-of-factly on campus. This is a hopeful sign about the decline of homophobia and the possibilities for legal gay marriages. Some day, it just won’t be an issue and opposition to gay rights will be clearly ridiculous, although of course many activists would prefer to speed up that day (or not?). It sounds great for the man elected too, who is described as being thrilled with the election and who had some tough teenage years in his small town after he came out.

It’s a good sign for George Mason, too. For several years the school has been hiring academic big guns to try to boost its standing and respect beyond that of a typical community college – and doing a good job of it, too. Well, a drag queen homecoming queen catapults it up to the next level. Nothing says elite college more than a student body that applies an irony suffused, liberal-minded enthusiasm to traditional institutions (except of course for alumni fundraising and job networking, which are sacred rites at all institutions of higher learning).

Also, a man in full-on glamour drag points out, to me, the artificiality of some of the ideas about women’s beauty (not to mention serving as a reminder that I really should investigate some more proactive underwear). Homecoming queens, beauty queens, women’s magazines, fashion, Hollywood, and by extension, pretty much every time there’s public comment about a woman’s appearance, the idea is reinforced that women are on display and we should keep that in mind and keep our tummies tucked in and lips plumped out. Your average female homecoming queen is a depressing reminder that women are still objectified way too much and far too early in their lives. In that sense, George Mason’s move to choose a man carries a lot less baggage for women; sometimes wearing lipstick can just be fun.

But we’ll know things have really changed when a Miss America wins in drag.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 12:42 PM | Permalink

And Still About Sarah

Sep
7
2008

If you’ve just gotten back from an interplanetary voyage, first, welcome back to Earth. Second, you might not know that Alaska governor and mom Sarah Palin has gotten a bit of news attention since she was revealed as the Republican vice presidential candidate.
Palin’s the “fun” choice so everybody’s been weighing in on her. This is partly because talking about someone else’s babies and family details is a lot less depressing than trying to sort out a war and the economy these days.
So she’s a mom and we all like to talk about other moms, but away from the sound and fury I can’t see that her being a mom means anything. The fact that both Palin and I fit in a category of “moms in their 40s” shows just how meaningless that category is, because as far as I can tell, she and I hold opposite views on just about everything except possibly the pleasures of Alaska salmon, but she’d be fishing it first and I’d just take it straight from the grocer. After all, what does being a mom mean (besides having a child)? Being nurturing? So is that supporting policies that protect the environment, or that make sure you can defend your home with a machine gun?
Over in Spain, as I’ve mentioned, the defense minister is a new mom, and coincidentally this weekend the Sunday magazine of the leading national newspaper had a cover story headlined “Mother and Minister” with a cover shot of Minister Carme Chacon cuddling her baby. Here or in the U.S., it’s an irresistible image to explore – a woman in power who’s also a mother of young children. So there was the picture of Chacon getting something from her refrigerator and the anecdote about Chacon zooming upstairs in the ministry elevator from a meeting to her private apartment, unbuttoning her jacket as she goes, to nurse her crying baby. Vaguely interesting, like the stories about Palin combining breastfeeding and work. But meaningful? The Spanish Socialist minister, who is quoted saying, “I’m a pacifist and the armies of the 21st century are also,” seems unlikely to have much else in common with Palin.
Palin’s also gotten lots of commentary on her personal choices, questioning how and whether a mother with five kids, one a special needs infant and one a pregnant teen, can or should take on the 24-7 stress and time of a vice presidential campaign, not to mention possibly the office (it’s been repeated so much it’s starting to sound like a line for a song in “Sarah: the Musical”). How it will affect the kids is interesting but irrelevant (although Palin has made it a fair topic by making being a mom a main part of her image), how it will affect the job is relevant but unknowable. An average mom probably couldn’t do so well, but an average mom wouldn’t even be in the position in the first place. And let’s get real, we’re talking about kids who now have no more than one degree of separation from U.S. presidents, whose mom, win or lose, can set up a nice trust fund from book royalties and speaking fees. This is not the upbringing the likes of your kids and mine will have. Sure, it’s schadenfreude-ish fun to tsk at the children being neglected (abandoned to their own father?), but although mom might not have time to help decide between the red or the blue back-to-school notebook, she’s sure giving them a different kind of edge in becoming successful adults. Their therapists can sort it all out one day.
So Palin can raise her kids her way, and let me raise mine my way. But that’s of course the real problem and the piece of legitimate interest in the exaggerated examination of her mom-o-rama life: extrapolating from Palin’s personal choices to policies that affect us all. She went back to work three days after giving birth? Does that mean we don’t need parental leave policies? Kids run around the office while she works? Does she understand that doesn’t go over so well in most workplaces? Conservatives have applauded the consistency between Palin’s opposition to abortion rights and her 17-year-old daughter having a baby. If her personal is to be made my political, or perhaps her political to be made my personal, I just might have to check out the Spanish army.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 11:04 PM | Permalink

Security Mom

May
23
2008

Spain’s defense minister recently gave birth to her first child.
Yup, you read that right. The prime minister naturally called to congratulate her and then politely informed her she was fired. Just kidding.
No, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who has made a point of pursuing gender equality in his government and legislative proposals, did know Carme Chacón was pregnant when he named the 37-year-old defense minister. She took up her post at the beginning of Zapatero’s second term, when she was seven months pregnant.
Naming a pregnant woman to head the most stereotypically male of departments drew notice, good and bad. Pictures of Chacón reviewing troops just after being named, or hauling herself and her belly to Afghanistan to visit Spanish troops there are an exercise in retraining the eye, whether you welcome that change or not. Chacón is Spain’s first female defense minister and first minister of any department to give birth, according to press reports. Female heads of state and government are less and less uncommon these days, but few countries have ever had a female defense minister.
Old-guard soldiers and other who objected to her naming included among their public complaints the fact that she hadn’t worked with military affairs before, and that the birth would take her off duty for a period. Spanish mothers get 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.
But reports after the birth have now neatly explained how she would cover. Zapatero named the interior minister to cover Chacón’s post while she’s out, the defense ministry’s second in command will take care of the bulk of matters, Chacón will likely split her leave with her husband and, the reports noted, she will most likely be back in cabinet meetings long before her official leave is over. Next question.
So here’s yet another picture of how to combine maternity with work. The more that pile up, that more all these firsts can eventually be seen as something normal. (Although it looks like we’ll be waiting a while yet for that big first.) While women may have certain legal protections for maternity in Spain, and other parts of Europe, employers can and do circumvent those laws, including by simply not hiring women they think may get pregnant, because of what they see as extra costs with pregnant employees. As many feminists will remind them though, men too have physical issues that take them away from work, but those can’t even be planned for. (How about not hiring guys likely to break something during weekend warrier sports?) Not to mention that children are simply a fact of life, and a necessary good for society that society has to assume some degree of support for – even more than, say, roads.
Workers are human beings, not just minds linked in to the Internet 24-7 (or at least not yet). Do we not need to sleep when we’re exhausted, eat when we’re hungry, see sunlight on a regular basis? – all activities that take away from work time. Having the model of the defense minister taking maternity in stride like this is useful for both women and men. The more options that are seen as normal and possible, the better, for anyone looking to balance work with any other aspects of their life that are important to them.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 3:42 PM | Permalink

Calendar Moms

Apr
18
2008

What if you put it all out there – and nobody wanted it?
I mean, physical appearance is supposed to be every woman’s back-up schtick. It’s a classic made-for-TV (movie or reality show) scenario: physics Ph.D. candidate by day, stripper by night, just to make ends meet. Former rocket scientist turned professional escort, for the better work conditions. (Those are just the lighter examples of too many too real situations where women have different levels of control over exchanging their sexuality for funds.)
And as we’ve learned, to the beauty industry’s delight, there’s never a good excuse to “let yourself go.” Aging legs still need to be shaved, or waxed or whatever – when you’re showing them off, you just need a different attitude than a hot, young thing might, as the older British women who inspired the movie “Calendar Girls” and have to date made several millions for leukemia research showed.
Of course, “hot young thing in a bikini” is a sure hit. Recently Ryanair flight attendants made a 2008 calendar to sell, pulling in over 100 thousand dollars for charity. That’s thanks in part to publicity from a Spanish government women’s agency protesting the sexism of the calendar, according to a nyah-nyah statement from Ryanair. So I’m guessing the company’s next donation will be to a European version of N.O.W.
So it’s clear. Whether you look like you should be advertising for Victoria’s Secret or as one of Dove’s “Real Women” (and fine looking they are, and professionally made-up, lit and photographed; you want really real, check out my bathroom mirror in the morning), there’s only one thing for a gal to do if she wants cash for a good cause – strip down and start shooting.
Which is exactly what some middle-aged mommies (sorry, the phrase is inevitable) who wanted to raise money for a youth center in their tiny (population 400) rural village in Western Spain thought. They did try lotteries and raffles. But when that didn’t bring in enough, the mothers of all seven students in the village undressed, covered the naughty bits with tinsel or fur pelts, and made their own calendar.
It was an amateur venture – they took each other’s pictures since they didn’t have money for a professional photographer. Still, they hoped it would appeal enough to sell several thousand copies at 5 euros (almost $8) a calendar.
So is this a story with a happy ending? Was the calendar so popular that the latest trend for women all over Spain is to draw fake stretch marks on their bodies with eyeliner? Can we say that good humor and a good cause will let the eye see beyond low production values? Well, no, not yet. The net result: almost 9000 euros of debt to the printer (over $14,000) and the youth center is still a dream.
The calendar sold at first, but, you know, somehow they missed the Christmas sales rush, and well…Of course that was before the press attention to their plight, so maybe sales will pick up. The women came up with the idea for what the Associated Press called a “tongue in cheek” erotic calendar, as a light-hearted way to raise money. And they are goofy pictures, of attractive, normal women but who had no professional photography/media-savvy/airbrushing/posing advice (now that’s shocking!). Here you go, you can see for yourself, and decide whether you’d like it hanging on your fridge.
It’s an interesting message for the village’s children. We care enough about you to want you to have a center. What’s the best way to get money? Sell nudie pictures of mommy. But gee, nobody wanted them. (And is that the secret nightmare behind every letter Oprah receives from a bedraggled mom begging for a makeover, or what? You get it all together, and no one cares.) We’ll just hope they get a little drop-in family counseling area in the center if it’s ever built.
Maybe there were a few more options to try before resorting to the old standby of flesh for cash. What about cashing in on other stereotypes? There’s always a bake sale.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 1:18 PM | Permalink

The Mommy Shift

Jul
13
2007

Having spent much more time thinking about cleaning the house than actually doing it, I’ve mentally sorted housework into two categories: executive and shift work. Cleaning the house is mostly executive work, stuff that if it’s your responsibility, you do it whether or not your 40 hours for the week are up. Cleaning a bathroom, washing dishes, doing laundry, those are all things that can be time-shifted. Fewer of the household chores are shift work, meaning whoever’s on duty at the moment is responsible: things like letting in a plumber, replacing toilet paper (should be), taking out garbage (sort of, depending on your tolerance for stinkiness).
Taking care of young kids is a lot more shift work – just try telling a baby to wait when it’s hungry. There’s the basic watching, making sure they don’t decide to fly off the roof or something, and since kids don’t have a hibernate button, they need an adult or responsible substitute actually on-duty. Playing, changing diapers, meals, bedtimes, all are things that come up and that you can stall only briefly and usually at the cost of making more trouble for yourself. But things like buying shoes, making doctors’ appointments, finding preschools, and lots of the kid-related housework like washing clothes are all executive chores – things that wouldn’t be handled by a babysitter, for example. Well, maybe a Mary Poppins type. And though meals themselves are partly an of-the-moment kind of thing, somebody’s got to take a bit of an executive view of them, or else it’s take-out every night. (Those businesses that provide everything a cook needs to prep meals are making money off that idea).
It’s the executive nature of housewifery that created the second shift – the round of chores that working mothers and increasingly fathers come home to after paid employment. But it’s the on-call chores that create the mommy (and yes, daddy) shift. That’s the at-home parent’s round of work-for-pay that starts around 10 p.m. or so, after the kids are asleep and some of the dinner crumbs are wiped up. (The same time a working mom would pull out office papers too, of course, assuming she can keep her eyes open.)
I know mothers who have the main at-home responsibility for the kids and who also have some kind of part-time work going on, and that seems increasingly possible thanks to the Internet. Which seems like a great opportunity, until you get a whole crew of sleep-deprived moms in SUVs cruising around during the day. So why is there a mommy shift? Well, firstly, that kind of part-time, at-home work – like editing, transcription, eBaying – doesn’t support paying a lot of babysitter or daycare hours.
And secondly, it’s a reflection of Americans’ split-personality view of mothering. On the one hand it’s seen as so important we’ve created a new kind of Stay-at-Home Mother position, filled with scheduled classes and playdates and chauffeuring and enriching and shopping local and organic from pregnancy on. But on the other hand, mothering is seen as worth as much as it pays. What are you really doing, when you’re home with the kids? Nothing, right? So if you’re a stay-at-home mom, sure you can fit in some part-time work.
So whoopee, we can all work at home these days. Makes you want a nice cubicle to go nap in. Actually, working at home is a great option, but a child-filled house does lack a certain amount of the peace conducive to working that you’ll find in a grown-up office, not to mention you have to keep your short colleagues from stealing all your tape and staplers. I’m sure your kids are much more scheduled and self-sufficient than mine, but working at home means you’ll have interruptions and you’ll figure out a technique to nurse while typing on the computer and you’ll put in time on the mommy shift. And that’s true even in the preschool years, especially with the short hours of preschool a stay-at-home parent might choose (not to mention parenting time needed for illnesses, and school vacations, and doctors’ appointments, and recitals and so on). (I’m assuming schedules change with older kids, but I’ll get back to you on that.)
Smushing together parenting and working sells what moms do short, and it sells kids short. Kids certainly don’t need full-time, full-beam attention (and possibly less than all the directed adult attention some of them get these days), but caring for kids (and yes, the house too) is something real in itself, not something you can always do when you’re distracted (maybe only 90 percent of the time, depending on how much “Baby Einstein” you’re willing to crank on the TV).
Sure, moms used to strap the kid on their back and head out to gather nuts or whatever, but the sound of a computer keyboard isn’t quite as soothing as tramping through the fields. And in any case, once the kids got older they were left with an older child or relative. Sometimes a babysitter is the next best thing to a room of one’s own.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 8:58 AM | Permalink

A Real Fashion War

Mar
13
2007

There are some old-time traditions in my current hometown that I could happily live without. But boy, am I enjoying seeing some of that old-time feminism Spaniards are showing off these days.
Italian fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana, who push the edge with their advertising, fell completely over the side when they came up with this ad trying to glamorize gang rape to sell clothes. The Spanish government called them on it, and D&G pulled the ad, sniffing that Spain was “behind the times.” Except Spain’s actions apparently nudged home country Italy to complain too. And now the designers have pulled the ad all over.
Spain’s protest has that old-timey feel to it, because it seems U.S. feminists have mostly given up on this kind of concern. Kim Gandy, National Organization for Women (and there’s an old-timey organization) president, in a Newsweek article, says there were campaigns against ads in the ‘70s and ‘80s, some of which would look mild compared to the more outrageous ads these days. But nowadays ads mostly get a free pass. Newsweek’s interview with Gandy points out that the same D&G ad ran without controversy in Esquire in the U.S. Some of the current ads NOW has put on its web page about sexist ads, in fact, reek of the same kind of offensiveness as was around in the aura of disco and big shoulder pads and “Fly Me, I’m….” The site would be quaint and irrelevant, except these are ads that someone came up with…yesterday.
But Spanish feminism took off later than the U.S. movement, so Spanish feminists do still get offended at some of this stuff and take it seriously. Not that the country is generally near as prudish as the U.S. You can get your share of naked bodies and occasional softish-core porn on regular TV channels. Leading Spanish newspaper El País a few months ago had two naked women embracing on its Sunday magazine cover. Major, mainstream newspapers have their sex blogs and columnists (this one’s for over 18 and may show bare flesh). No one bats an eye. But there’s sex and fantasy and then there’s abuse, and protesters said the D&G ad crossed a line, encouraging violence against women.
Now, the plot thickens. D&G is boycotting Spain, pulling out all their advertising because they say their “creativity” is threatened and they’re facing “censorship.” And they’re encouraging other designers to do the same, including Armani, which is being eyed by Spain for an ad critics say sexualizes children – it’s the picture here on the right (with some background music) showing two little girls hugging, one in a bikini top, both in make-up.
No offense intended to the fine advertising professionals out there, but we’re talking about commerce, not art. Advertising can be well-done, artistic commerce, but it’s still intended to move the clothes. Art should be free to be, but for D&G to claim their creativity is repressed when they really mean they want to up their sales of tighty whities is hilarious.
As the Newsweek article points out, it’s all publicity for D&G. And I’m highly amused to live in a country being boycotted by a fashion company.
Spain, as you might remember, kicked off whatever movement exists against too-skinny models when the Madrid fashion shows set minimum weight measurements for models. So could this be the start of a real fashion war between Spain and the industry? What’s next, cutting off our supply of sequins? Or armies of tall models protected by oversized sunglasses marching through the center of Madrid trying to muster up the strength in their thin arms to lob their suitcase-sized, leather and metal-studded purses at pedestrians? Or, worst of all, trying to wrap us all up in colored foil like giant-sized, drugstore Easter basket, candy rejects? I better go shopping before it’s too late.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 10:27 PM | Permalink

Princesses R Us

Feb
7
2007

Who doesn’t want to be a princess? It might just be less painful to elect a U.S. royal family and be done with it. Because there’s always something new to observe on the princess front, and the latest wrinkle, you’ll pardon the expression, is moms bringing their younger and younger daughters to fancy spas and nail salons to do a little bonding during a facial or manicure.

In girl culture, it’s hard to avoid this princessy explosion. There are the literal princess products, like the huge array the Disney child-mind control experts have created, as well as princessy-girly things like the stores where girls can waste their parents’ money on pinky, sparkly body decorations of all types.

It’s easy to criticize. Sure, there’s an element of fun and healthy fantasy play, but as so often in U.S. culture, it goes too far. For every liberated, brainy, active princess story, it’s overwhelmed by the thrust of an old message: girls are pretty objects.

But while annoying on its own, it’s not like this girl culture sprang out of nowhere. We’re all princesses now. (Even the men. What’s metrosexuality but princess behavior for males?) Or even if we aren’t, being a princess gets validated everywhere you look.

After all, if mom doesn’t take daughter to the nail salon, what will she do with her? Auntie’s at a Botox party, Grandma’s getting her teeth bleached, and the babysitter’s out buying $300 shoes. And you couldn’t disturb any of them when “Sex and the City” used to be on.

Feminism was supposed to liberate women from some of the tyranny of having to look a certain way, of slaving for your image. Now putting princessdom on a pedestal is in part the pendulum swing away from ideas that some people stereotyped as insisting that feminism means no makeup and hairy armpits. I can make CFO and wear mascara, some women said.

And this pampering stuff surely can be fun. I like getting a pedicure or a good haircut as much as the next gal. (Send me a spa gift card and you’ll see. In fact, send me two.) And you can make an argument that focusing on these beauty tasks, enjoying them, sharing our girlyness, is a celebration of women’s rituals, or at the least, harmless pleasures.

But context is everything. Princess culture is easy, is fun, plays to stereotypes and most of all, is sellable. It’s one of the images of womanhood that’s more publicly celebrated these days. High maintenance has become a badge of honor; a really successful woman is one who can afford to have an army of personal services providers come to her, instead of having to schlep to get her legs waxed – just like movie stars, whose business actually does depend on looking a certain way. Grown women feel they need purses that cost more than their first car. Age or youth is no excuse to slack off – surgery is available for the one, tween-ager makeup for the other. And mommies need their “me time,” not to catch up on their reading but to stay “yummy.”

Being a princess takes some funds, and what feminism has done for the contemporary version of princesshood is helped give some women the means to pay for their own pampering. It’s a new twist on leisure class conspicuous consumption: busy women can pay to look like they spend their days shopping and lunching. Women have made progress professionally, in areas like law and business and medicine; so now the symbol of success is being able to afford to be our own trophy wives?

Obviously, being a princess is only one of the personas women are presented or present themselves in public. But it’s an easily distracting image, and it means that ideas of “girliness” trickle down to real girls. And if grown women are being “girls,” you can’t expect any less from their daughters.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 9:18 AM | Permalink

Questioning Marriage: Money Matters

Jan
17
2007

The New York Times is continuing its campaign against marriage. First it was that nasty old trick of trying to promote honest communication – a sure relationship killer.

Now there’s this article about how even some wealthy, working, probably usually independent-acting women make their luxury purchases in cash so as not to have a spat with the hubby. That makes marriage sound really appealing – you’re a mistress of the universe on the streets, at home a 1950s wifey with what my grandmother would have called “mad money” tucked away in the underwear drawer (excuse me – “lingerie” at this price point). (I’ve never figured out if the “mad” stash was meant in case of anger or going nuts. Both probably.)

And look, the campaign’s working. Well, you probably can’t credit it all to the New York Times. But now more women in the U.S. are living without spouses than with them. And many of the women are thrilled about it.

Naturally they are. If you feel like you have to sneak around like a teenager with a pack of ciggies when you go shopping, it’s like being married to Big Daddy. Not an appealing thought. (Well, for some women it probably is, but everyone has her own issues.)

Now, if the women were hiding their purchases because they were embarrassed to be spending $2,000 on a bag, or $800 on a pair of shoes, because it’s ridiculously wasteful, that would be one thing. (And you know when they write “The History of the Decline of the American Empire,” there’ll be a section talking about how the signs were plain to see in 21st Century shopping habits.) But, anecdotally, the men discussed in the article have no problem going public with their unnecessary boy-type electronic purchases and such. No one really laughs at the idea of a $5,000 television, particularly if it’s “high def.”

And there seem to be women hiding their purchases with cash at less-expensive stores too, according to the article, although it’s hard to know because the salespeople don’t suck up to you as much at Ann Taylor, do they? Not that there isn’t unnecessary shopping at all price levels. Look at all those pillows, plastic organizers and t-shirts that fill carts at Target.

Certainly, there are relationship issues involved here, but there are money issues too. Women have wrestled more work opportunities for themselves, but we still have some inner wrestling to do. The current received wisdom is that women’s main money issues spring from too much shopping and not enough attention to their finances, and that it’s particularly important for women to understand money because they get hit harder financially in a divorce, and live longer and earn less than men. (Which reminds me, there’s an amusing Atlantic essay by Sandra Tsing Loh that touches on some of last year’s books about women and money.)

The basic problems of overspending and ignoring financial matters are something both sexes can be guilty of – after all, boys and girls, you should always check your credit card bills.

But some girls get steered away from learning about finances by whatever vestiges still exist of the idea that it’s boy stuff. Earning money, and controlling it, is literally empowering. In couples, income disparities can be one of those tough honest communication-type issues (ha!). But whether we earn nothing or a lot, some of us are still uncomfortable with money matters.

Which seems to end up making money – but not for us girls. Suze Orman, who’s curiously addictive to watch during PBS fundraisers, has a book on women and money coming out next month. There’s a slew of information out there, including books without “women” in the title (greenbacks don’t know from pink or blue).

We could all do ourselves a favor and check out a book about money – from the free public library.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 2:10 AM | Permalink

Shopping for Princesses

Dec
20
2006

I hate to acknowledge any across-the-board differences between sons and daughters, but there is one clear distinction between having boys rather than girls. In toy stores I don’t have to enter Pinkland.
You can spot Pinkland across the store because the aisle has a soft, rosy glow pulsing out of it. Everything in it is pink, mostly, or lavender, the babies and dolls and their accessories and the jewelry-making kits and a whole bunch of stuff I can’t figure out despite the fact that I was once a girl.
The boy equivalent is Aggression Alley. It has a black metallic shine. Everything in it is equally incomprehensible but it all comes with a weapon and some form of transportation. (Even so, I wouldn’t write off Pinkland if it ever comes to an in-store toy battle – lots of blankies for smothering and stuff, and all the little beads could be deadly.)
Whatever non-sexist childrearing is, I don’t think it requires buying boys anything from Pinkland, although a doll or two can’t hurt when it comes to trying to foster equality (just hold your breath when you go in and grab the doll fast, and the pink haze might not get you). Boys (or girls) also don’t really need anything from Aggression Alley, but I do make the odd quick raid to seize a Batman or something, trying to get out before the troops can form.
So, this being the toy-buying season, you could pick your plastic junk with care, and it’s always good to avoid stereotypes. But while I’m still new to the boy raising, I had a bunch of years of growing up as a girl, and it strikes me that a gender-neutral construction kit is a very small weapon against the princess-industrial complex, the whole find-your-prince focus that so many stories and toys still have.
Here in Spain and other countries with a baroque streak, we’ve got real live princesses. That’s a job title: princess. Probably pays better than waitressing. I don’t know if it’s better or worse for a girl to grow up reading about the real princesses and their daily rounds – opening this, honoring that, dining there, vacationing here. At least you get to see that a princess’ smile is often pained looking, and they can be better role models than someone like a Paris Hilton who fills U.S. gossip columns, not that that’s saying much.
Princess supporter or not, anyone looking for gifts would definitely want a doll replica of a baby princess, like this Leonor infant doll that resembles the daughter of Spain’s heir to the throne. What’s the point of a lifelike baby doll? Given what happens to dolls, it seems to verge on playing at child abuse. The other possibility is you want the doll not to play with, but to collect. So if you’re a “collector” of these kinds of dolls, you must have shelves of realistic-looking babies lined up; that’s nice if you want to decorate so your home looks like the laboratory of a mad scientist who does really creepy experiments.
Oh well, as long as it’s a mad scientist who provides a non-sexist role model. That would make a good gift.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 9:31 PM | Permalink

Domestic Sisterhood

Nov
14
2006

I’ve found a sister with a chip on her shoulder out there.

Katy Read in Brain, Child magazine writes about the domestic role:

Some mothers grab their “Mom’s Organizer” books and efficiently take command. I, on the other hand, resent the role too much to do it well, am constantly disorganized and overwhelmed. Many days I wonder how I wound up devoting so much of my energy and skills to this stuff.

Although Read is referring here to the countless little organizing chores of the supervising parent, while my biggest beef is with the cleaning, hers is an attitude I can empathize with.

That’s one job dilemma of the stay-at-home-parent (I’m betting lots of stay-at-home dads aren’t in love with housekeeping tasks either). If it were just taking care of the kids, it wouldn’t be so bad. The kids are, on occasion, pretty entertaining; and if they’re not, well, that’s what those more- or less-aged mothers’ helpers are out there for.

It’s the house that’s the bigger part of the job than the kids for parents – working or at home. According to these possibly not very meaningful statistics from a recent issue of Time Magazine, married mothers spent an average of 19 hours and 24 minutes on housework per week, versus 12 hours and 54 minutes on childcare. (So what about cooking with your kids? How does that count? And what ages are the kids? And so on. But we won’t get into that.)

It’s wonderful if you enjoy and/or are competent in domestic tasks, and if you’re lucky, at least someone in the household will be like that. But for me it’s like Hercules trying to clean the stables, or what´s-his-name pushing that rock up the hill, again and again and again. And these stories are primal myths, tapping into our deepest sense of what it is to face unending tortures and struggles as humans. Think about it: unless you make everyone in your household stand around nude while you run the washing machine, you will never, ever, reach a point when you’re completely done with the wash.

The horror of housework is nothing new. What is new is that while women do still bear the greater burden, men are increasing their share. But rather than equal torture for both sexes (which would still be an advance, and is a necessary next step), I’m hoping that there’s some alternate possibility someone might figure out one day to save mostly me and, of course, everyone else from some toilet scrubbing. You can buy your way out of the problem, but that’s only a solution for some, and partial for most. So what about technology? Those 20th-century domestic machines did do something. A washer still beats heading to the rocks by the river. (I know, that’s still not universally left behind.) I’m pretty hopeful about Japanese toilets actually. Or some kind of cooperative living? New architecture?

After all if we can put a man on the moon… Not that “we” did. It was rocket scientists, mostly or all men, who did that, and they probably had someone taking care of their domestic concerns. But you know, if everyone has to occasionally think about toilet scrubbing, someone might come up with a better idea.

My sister in resentment was writing about Linda Hirshman and her hot-button idea that educated women who don’t pursue high-powered careers are betraying feminism. Even the woman most confident in the rightness of her “staying home” has moments of doubt, and these moments are often linked to contact with scrub brushes, sponges and whirring domestic appliances. That big sucking sound you hear? It’s not women draining away from careers and feminism. It’s just the vacuum. And it really sucks.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 9:22 AM | Permalink

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