Monthly Archives: July 2009

Ignore the woman behind the curtain!

I really thought I would be able to get more content up before the site switch, but I’ve been so taken up by working on the new blog design that I haven’t had time to, y’know, blog.

So here’s how it’s going to happen: some time in the next couple days, I’m going to shut down comments on this site. Sometime after that — and we’ll try for the same day but it might be a day or two later — the new site will be revealed (it’s currently locked as we tinker), and all comment traffic will be directed there: I’ll post here to let y’all know when that happens, and to remind you to switch feeds!

For those who procrastinate (like, um, yours truly), I’ll keep posting new blog content here as well (with comments closed!), but I’ll keep nagging you to switch to the new site, where all the action will be happening. (Glossary! All new About WFPP! And more!) After a few weeks of that, I’ll cease posting to this site at all, and it will wither and fade in the shadow of the new, brighter, better than ever www.RaisingMyBoychick.com

Sound good?

Good, me too.

For now, in lieu of content, I offer you links, teasers, and a request. First, links:

Second, teasers:

  • A reader and Twitter follower asked me to write a post on my thoughts and experiences with Elimination Communication, so I’ve been thinking about how to write such a piece as a parent who is out the other end (pun not intended!), and has no desire to proselytize or piss diapering parents off, but who really, truly thinks EC rocks. Can I manage it?
  • New reader Maria wants to know when and how I knew I was ready to have kids, in terms of my mental illness. I don’t think I’ve written much about that story here, and I’ll give it a try.
  • I have what I thought was three posts but realized is one even better post brewing on the topic of needs: in women (especially in labor), in babies, and in my own life. What is a need, anyway? I don’t know if I can answer that question, but I have some interesting thoughts on it at least.
  • Finally, I really will write that post on babies and big boys I’ve been thinking about for a while, as the Boychick races from toddlerhood to what lays beyond, becoming ever more both capable and needy.

Any of that wet your metaphorical whistle?

Last, I come back to the new blog: I’m creating a glossary (the ability to do which is one of the big reasons I decided switching would be worth the hassle!), and have the prime suspects of cis, kyriarchy, and PIV, but I want to know: what words and terms and phrases do I use that have made you go “huh?” What do you want to see defined, as clearly and concisely as I am (not) able to?

And are there any other questions you’d like to take this opportunity to ask me? Anything you think I should address in an About Me or About Raising My Boychick that you haven’t seen answered yet? What would you want answered in a FAQ about this blog?

You can leave your thoughts in the comments, or email me at arwyn at raisingmyboychick dot com (new address! old one still works, but look! new! sparkly!).

WFPP Guest Post: Talking to Strangers

This entry to the Womanist/Feminist Parenting Primer comes from Amber Strocel, who blogs about parenting, life with kids, and maternity leave at Strocel.com.

As the title implies, this post is about Amber’s struggle with first encouraging and then finding herself afraid of her daughter “talking to strangers”. She discusses her own socialization to both fear and avoid offending strangers, and neatly elucidates both how and why teaching “stranger danger” is not only ineffective but potentially dangerous.

Although she doesn’t explicitly relate her desire for “my daughter to feel confident, to be able to trust herself instead of being nice at all costs” to feminism, her reasonings and decisions are emphatically founded in womanist/feminist ideology. The patriarchy would have us — all of us, but especially women, children, and most especially girls — give up our own autonomy and healthy interdependence in favor of unfounded fear and a frightening disregard for our own feelings. Raising a child, then, to trust herself, and to trust those she feels comfortable with, is revolutionary.

Talking to Strangers

My 4-year-old Hannah is very friendly. At the park she strolls right up to people she’s never met and announces, “My name is Hannah!” She tells me, “I say my name and people want to be my friend.” It makes no difference to her if they’re children or adults, if they respond to her advances or even if they speak English. She will chatter away as long as someone occasionally smiles and nods.

Until about a year ago Hannah was too shy to approach strangers. She didn’t have the necessary social or verbal skills to pull off an introduction. I could see her watching kids play and I could tell she wanted to join in but didn’t know how. Sometimes I would help her, and sometimes she preferred to just observe. I really wanted for her to find a way to bridge the social gap, since she seemed to really want to.

When Hannah became confident enough to approach people on her own I was happy for her. Most people were happy to listen to my boisterous preschooler chatter away incessantly. And she really chattered, spewing forth all sorts of information in rapid fire fashion. Where she lives. How I let her eat dry cereal off the floor. The names of all her friends at school. That time she accidentally called 9-1-1 and I was mad. It occurs to me I might not always be portrayed in the most flattering light in these little expositions, on closer examination.

And still more climbing

Listening to Hannah talk and talk and talk some part of my brain screamed Danger! After all, kids aren’t supposed to talk to strangers. Especially not adult strangers. I certainly wasn’t supposed to when I was a kid, anyway. When I was young we were warned about stranger danger and admonished not to accept rides or candy from people we didn’t know. As I watched my daughter chat people up on the playground or at the grocery store I wondered if I should let her do this.

The thing is I don’t believe admonitions about avoiding strangers are all that effective. Anyone who’s ever watched a newsmagazine has seen 7-year-olds get into some guy’s van to help him find a lost puppy. Their mothers swore up and down that their kids would know better, and yet they didn’t. I remember having a preconceived notion of what a ‘stranger’ looked like as a kid myself – in my mind a stranger looked sort of like the Hamburglar. I don’t think that most kids think that someone who seems nice can be a stranger.

Plus the whole message is really very contradictory. I talk to strangers all the time. My kids see me talk to strangers. At the grocery store or the library or sometimes even the sidewalk I will share words with people I’ve never seen before and will probably never see again. I even gave birth in front of people I didn’t know because my daughter was premature and there was a whole team on hand. I suspect that a lot of talk about stranger danger is confusing and pointless.

Hannah drawing chalk art at the playground

On the other hand I don’t want to send my daughter out into the world unequipped. The unfortunate truth is that not everyone has good intentions. While stranger abduction is rare, the statistics about sexual abuse are alarming. According to my local abuse prevention authority 35% of girls in grades 7-12 have experienced sexual abuse. I feel I need to arm my daughter in some way so that she’s not a sitting duck.

But how? I thought about my own childhood and what worked (or mostly didn’t) for me. Like most girls I was raised to be ‘nice’. I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, but I also wasn’t supposed to be rude to them under any circumstances. At no point were my own feelings or instincts considered. I have found myself sitting beside people who made me feel uncomfortable, responding as they engaged me in conversation. As much as I wanted to get up and move I didn’t, I ignored the voice in my head because it might have offended someone.

When Hannah talks to strangers she is using her own instincts. As a 4-year-old girl she naturally gravitates towards other children of around the same age. She also likes to talk to other parents, especially if they are playing with their own children. Out in public she talks to the people she sees me talking to – the cashier at the grocery store or the librarian. Although she doesn’t verbalize it, she has an idea of who she is comfortable with and who she isn’t.

Hannah and the hens

In fact, Hannah is doing exactly what she should do. She is seeking out certain people. She is honing her social skills by interacting with them. She is learning who she can trust and who she can’t trust. And she studiously avoids people that she isn’t comfortable with. Since she is only 4 of course I am always nearby, in eyeshot and earshot, ready to assist her if she needs it. But so far she really hasn’t.

I want my daughter to feel confident, to be able to trust herself instead of being nice at all costs. I want her to learn how to seek out the help of others as required, in a way that makes her feel safe. I don’t want her to sit passively beside someone who makes her uncomfortable because she doesn’t trust her own intuition. And I want her to engage with others in positive and meaningful ways. I believe that allowing her to talk to strangers on her own terms is critical to that process. Not forcing her, not coercing her, not dictating that she hug someone she doesn’t want to hug. But also not intervening or preventing if there’s no immediate danger.

The world isn’t always a safe or welcoming place. For better or worse, though, our children will live in it. They need to know how to navigate it. And I have come to believe that talking to strangers is one of the best ways to learn.

Amber Strocel blogs about parenting, life with kids and maternity leave at Strocel.com. She is 33 years old and is still afraid to talk to strangers but thanks to her daughter she’s finally learning how.

Presumably straight, presumably male even… but definitely white

I first wrote this four months ago; I’m not really sure why I didn’t publish it then. I looked at it again recently, thinking it was much more draft-y and much less coherent than it turned out to be, discovered it wasn’t that bad, dusted it off, and here it is.

First, let me say that I’ve been praying that I can write out these thoughts in a coherent way without tripping up on my privilege and unrecognized prejudices too damned bad. Second, let me say that I know I’m just not gonna get it all right, and I apologize in advance, and request gentle corrections so that I can learn and do better next time.

After my post about why I call the Boychick “presumably-straight“, I started thinking, again, about why it is we have transgender and transsexual persons, but not transracial (the questionable case of Michael Jackson, may he finally be at peace, aside). What is it about race and gender that makes being trans one but not trans the other make sense? The most bigoted of “radfems” and the ignorant masses notwithstanding, it is not possible to be rational and be exposed to the stories and lives of trans persons and still claim that they are “really” the gender into which they were assigned at birth. Any rational society would recognize that, would allow for graceful transitions, would legally protect these (and all) persons against discrimination, would provide what medical services they require, would allow appropriate and easy alteration of legal documents, would laugh the “trans-panic defense” out of the court, etc., etc. (And any not-totally-jacked society would get the damn pronouns right!)

And yet, the idea of someone like the Boychick being “transracial”, that is, born into one race (“white”) and deciding/discovering that he’s “really” another race (say, “black”) is ridiculous. It’s nonsensical. And more than that, it simply doesn’t happen. The closest to it is people trying to pass to access the privilege denied to them by racist societies. We are not a rational society when it comes to race, so we cannot claim that it is the fair and equitable way race is dealt with (hah!) that prevents “pressure” from “creating” “transracial” persons; therefore, neither can we say that the real pressures present in a patriarchy are “creating” transgender/transsexual persons — surely if it were just self-hatred caused by living under a kyriarchy that devalues the body one lives in, we would see far more people of color clamouring for such an identity.

So what makes the difference? Gender is based on sex, which has been a part of our genetics since probably the first multicellular organism. From way, way, way back in our evolutionary history, we instinctively know that there are more or less two types of individuals, and we generally expect to identify as one or the other. Because we are complicated animals, and because of the power of our social memes, gender is an amazingly complex construction, based in genetics and environment and biology and society and psychology and who knows what else — but there is, inherent in us, some expectation of being gendered, whether that’s male or female or something more complex. There is nothing in us that pops us out of the womb wanting pink or blue, nail polish or RC trucks; this is the societal construction of the expression and performance of gender. But if the Boychick lived in a society that gendered yellow teeth female, he might be one of those born with penises who grow up dreaming of dental dye; not because desire for yellow teeth is inborn (which is no more ridiculous an idea than a desire for pink toenails being inborn), but because their internal gender draws them to those things their society genders female, regardless of their external sex.

Race, however, is an entirely social construction, an entirely modern — in the evolutionary scale — idea. There is nothing in us that expects to be “race-ed”; genes dictate that the Boychick’s skin is less pigmented than others, his eyes have more creases, his nose is more pointed, but there is no gene, or chromosome combination, for defining him as “racially White”, or any one else as “Black” or “Asian” or “Aboriginal”. What there are, instead, are memes; for this is not to try to argue a colorblind (aka racist, however well intended) ideology: race is entirely real, because we believe it to be so, based only on minute skin tone and facial differences, and we are creatures with amazingly powerful intellects and social memes. (Case in point: there may be no culture that escapes from the ills of racism, but by no means is racial identity universal; what we call “Black” in the US may be “morena or mulata” in Brazil.)

The irony, then, if that is the right word, is that the reason he is only presumably male is because masculinity, male-ness, is something at least partially inborn; the reason he can never be anything but white is because whiteness is entirely socially constructed. The one that is more “real” is the one that an individual may “change”; the one that is more “artificial” is immutable by the individual.

So this is the Boychick I am raising: presumably straight, presumably male, but definitely white.

Changes they are a-comin’ Part Deux!

Even more changes are a-comin’ in the life of those of us raising the Boychick: the very day after I completed my five-week afternoon course, The Man got a job offer. Not just any job, but a practically perfect job, downtown (which means pretty close, and accessible via bus), for significantly higher pay.

[Pauses for celebratory exclamations]

Only thing is, he needs (low-level) security clearance, so if you know us, and strange scary official looking folk from the gov’ment come to the door asking about him, pretend remember we’re really good people with nothing to hide, OK?

So! He doesn’t have a start date yet, and because of the security stuff and other bureaucracy it’ll likely be at least a couple weeks. Which is good, because I’m now facing the loss of my coparent to full time out of the house employment, and it’s enough to make me collapse in a quivering crying lump. In the last 2.5 months, the Boychick has gotten used to having his dad around, we’ve gotten quite used to sharing parenting throughout the day, and the Boychick is now 2.5 months even more energetic. I’m really not sure how I’m going to manage; we’ll likely all go through a grieving period, and somehow, I doubt even the lack of worries over paying the bills will make up for it. Still, once again, all will be well.

This does give us a deadline and more incentive to get the new blog website all set up: our plan now is to make the switch a week from today. Eek! When we do get it all switched over, I’ll close comments on this site: I will, however, keep posting new threads here (along with a reminder to switch feeds!) for a while, say, a month? And by then, dear readers, I hope you’ll all have joined me at our new, prettier, more functional home, home on the web, where The Man and the Boychickie play!

WFPP Guest Post: Running as Feminist Pursuit

Today’s entry to the Womanist/Feminist Parenting Primer comes from a dear friend and occasional reader (if not regular commenter, *ahem*), Courtney Wilder, PhD.

This is a long entry, but well worth it. In it, Courtney first explores the ways that running serves to reify patriarchal gender norms. She then places it in an historically misogynistic context in which women were actively discouraged and often outright barred from and drummed out of athletics and physical pursuits. She ultimately reveals how it is an “ultra-feminist” activity and helps teach her children progressive, feminist values, by showing that women can be strong, by modeling bodily autonomy, and by demonstrating that physical activity is well worth pursuing regardless of whether one meets the patriarchy’s sexist standards.

Running as Feminist Pursuit

A couple of years ago, I took up running. It did not feel, at the time, like an activity with particular feminist (or un-feminist) overtones; it did not feel subversive, or especially important to my parenting. It felt like a way to get out of the house, like a way to do something other than slowly go nuts writing the last few chapters of my doctoral dissertation, like a way to breathe some fresh air while my kids were in preschool and first grade, respectively. It was cheaper than the gym, more soothing than using an exercise bike in front of the TV, and I got to know the streets of my neighborhood from a perspective that was different from the ones afforded me by car or bicycle transportation.

Of course, nothing – especially nothing involving women and their bodies – can remain neutral for very long. And nothing, I found, that a mother chooses to engage in can fail to impact her children in some way. I started to run more, and I started to read about running, and I entered longer and longer road races (aiming for a marathon this fall!), and slowly I found my perspective shifting. Running is subversive, it can be ultra-feminist, and my running teaches my children a wealth of things about women, and bodies, and how to be healthy, and what so-called limits they might transcend rather easily.

First, the aspects of running that seem to reify sexist gender stereotypes: I have a range of running clothes now, mostly in shades you’d find in a box of Necco Wafers. I have pink and blue and white tech shirts, and lavender and pink and black running bras, and shorts and running skirts that range from black (with a pink waistband) to blue to gray (with a pink stripe). When I run, I look super, super girly. Sweaty, but girly. Despite the skepticism with which seasoned athletes regard running skirts, I wear them almost exclusively – they’re comfy, they often provide more coverage of leg and ass than running shorts, and I like them. Moreover, I finally found an activity where it’s very likely that you can solve your problems with a new pair of shoes, and since this has long been my practice – to soothe my ego or perk myself up or provide a carrot for myself as the reward for some grueling or dull task – I enjoy having a real reason to choose new shoes.

A more serious overlap between running and traditional, repressive, sexist strictures for women involves the size and shape of my body. As I started to run more, I started to weigh less. I went from a perfectly nice size 8 to 10 body (this, after having given birth twice and breastfed continuously for – drum roll please! – more than seven consecutive years) to a size 4. My parents describe me as “lean,” my husband is somewhat taken aback, the most overtly feminine of my female coworkers talk to me frequently in approving tones about my waist and hips. My sister-in-law, a few months post-partum, sized me up when I came to visit and observed simply, “You’re really thin.” I am. I am really thin. But when I look at my daughter, I can see that she’s also lean; I eat well (and frequently, and in good quantities), and I’m inclined to think this is just what my body looks like when I take care of myself. I am really thin, which pings my feminist anxieties in all kinds of ways, but I am also really damned strong. I am in better shape than I ever was as a teenager, or a college student, or a mother of very young children (mine are now eight and five.)

So: while dressing in a cute pink and gray skirt and dashing along the local running trails in my size four body seems very much in keeping with the sexist stereotypes I deplore as a feminist, I’m convinced that running is actually something very different. While some women no doubt run only to govern their bodies into more socially acceptable forms, this practice pales in comparison to those women who fought for the right to engage in physical activity alongside their brothers and male classmates. Although when I began running, I knew vaguely about Title IX, the 1972 law [in the USA] prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in educational settings, I had no idea – none – about how hard aspiring female athletes fought for the simple right to compete in organized events. Early female entrants to marathons disguised their gender on their entry forms, were sometimes chased during the race by angry men, were denied official record of their accomplishments. Although in the United States alone, working class women and farm or pioneer women, not to mention enslaved women, engaged in significant physical labor all their lives, somehow twentieth century women who wanted to engage in athletics were seen as too delicate. With the exception of the 1928 Olympics, where there was a women’s 800 meter event, no woman’s footrace was longer than 200 meters until 1960. Women couldn’t officially run the Boston Marathon until 1972. It was a shock to me that women’s bodies were so tightly, so successfully, controlled in this sphere; I had thought of women’s choices regarding their bodies to be largely a matter of reproductive care – access to birth control and abortion. It had never occurred to me that there was public discourse (in the United States, within the last sixty years) about whether women were biologically fit to run distances further than a mile and a half.

Trust me, my children will never take that discussion seriously. My daughter will never, ever have reason to think she can’t be athletic because of her gender; it will, I hope, never even occur to my son to regard girls and women as fragile little things. My kids have grown used to seeing me head out the door in my running clothes, or slog back in, sweaty and disheveled. They’ll happily make conversation at church potlucks about my latest half-marathon; they ask about how my runs go. Occasionally my daughter will come with me on her bike, although she’s a little fast for me. This is the other interesting wrinkle about running for me, and one reason it has such an impact on my kids. Like my grandfather, my dad, and both of my children, I have asthma. While the kids seem to be growing out of it, I have not. So when I run, I run pretty slowly. I can do comfortable 9:30 miles for a long time, but in the running world, that’s slow.

There are a slew of articles – mostly, I’ve noticed, by men – about how disgraceful the current state of things is in the running world, how the marathon is now just open to any fool with shoes, how slow runners should just get some other hobby. I know my kids will encounter this attitude – possibly about their very bodies, possibly about people in general – and I remain hopeful, and confident, that I have provided them with a counter-example to that argument. Because I run, despite the asthma, despite the fraught history of women and their bodies, because I’m confident and strong even in the absence of innate talent or great physical skill – I’m a great feminist role model for my kids. They’ve stopped asking me after races whether I’ve won – the answer will always be no – but they remain proud of my effort. Even in the face of utterly objective measure that tells me I am bad at this, I am slow, I lack talent – I am happily persisting. I hope this is what they learn, my daughter and my son: your body is your body, and you can make it strong, and healthy. No one can tell you what to do with your own body, or that you’re not good enough to do what you enjoy. Your body, however imperfect it might seem by the wildly unattainable standards of our culture, is yours, and it is good.


Courtney Wilder did finish that dissertation, earning a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Chicago, and now teaches in the Religion and Philosophy Department at Midland Lutheran College. She runs and, with her spouse, raises her kids in Omaha, Nebraska.

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