Some Cool Teachable Moments From a Bucket of Ice

Tonight my 8 year old son was nominated by a friend to do the ALS Ice bucket challenge. For a while now he’s been watching his friends participate, and now that it was his turn, he was so excited. “I want to do it right now!” he exclaimed when he saw the video of his friend saying she nominates him. So I agreed he could do it now, even though it was already past his bedtime, and I went off to get the ice.

When I came out one of his friends was hysterical and fighting back tears “No, please don’t make me do it!” “What’s going on out here?” I asked them. She said to me “He’s going to nominate me and I .. just.. I really  don’t want to!” at this point she was balling. This little girl is the daughter of a close friend of mine and as such I am very comfortable talking to her about a wide variety of subjects, more than that I care very deeply about her and want to help her whenever I can. I dropped down to my knees and wrapped her up in a hug and said “I want you to listen to me very closely. You never have to do anything your friends say you have to, if you don’t want to. Whether it’s dumping a bucket of ice on your head or any thing else, you can ALWAYS say no.” Then I sat all the kids down and had a good conversation with them, briefly explaining what ALS is, why it’s important that people care about it, and that even if you think a person should do something they always have the choice to say no.

My son also nominated his 5 year old brother to do the challenge, he said “no”. Before we went to bed, we again discussed his friend and his brother turning his challenge down. I told him “I’m proud of you for being brave and taking on the challenge and for caring about others, but always remember that even if you think another person should do something, they can always turn you down and you have to accept their ‘no’. No one, including you, has to do something because their friends think they should.” Fotor_140859115377657

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Curious George, Stride Rite and The Color Purple

My daughter just turned 2. She is an extremely bright child who is constantly surprising me with her ability to grasp advanced concepts. One of the concepts that she’s getting pretty good at is knowing her colors. When an adult finds out that a child knows their colors usually, the first question they ask the child is “What’s your favorite color?” Although she is grasping the concept of colors (well before the curve of between 3 and 5) I don’t think she yet fully grasps the concept “favorite”.

Now, her brothers didn’t learn to name different colors until they were 3, by this time they also had a firm grasp of the meaning of the word favorite. At the time one’s favorite color was green and the others favorite color was orange. Now that they are older, both of them have conformed with their peers (much to my chagrin) and their favorite color is blue.

A few days ago, my daughter walked up to a flower and correctly declared it to be orange. The person next to me was impressed “she knows her colors?” they asked me. “Yeah, she’s getting pretty good at them.” I answered. “What’s your favorite color?” they asked her. This is not the first time she has been asked this question, usually she just replies by repeating back “favorite color”. But for the first time she gave a color as an answer, she said “PURPLE”.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had said blue parroting her brothers, but purple, where did this come from? Maybe she did understand the concept of favorite and actually had a preference for purple, or maybe she just arbitrarily named a color. Later I asked her again to test if she would give the same answer. “What’s your favorite color?” I asked her. “Purple favorite color” she answered. She was sticking to it.

The next morning she woke up and I turned on Curious George for her to watch, while I got her brothers ready for camp.  Before the show started, a commercial for Stride Rite shoes ran.

 

As a little girl is twirling, in front of a mirror, in a Tu-Tu the narrator voices over and starts talking about the shoes: “She doesn’t know that her new shoes are designed for kids to be as active as their imaginations. All she knows is that today purple is her favorite color, and that’s good enough for us.” Right after the commercial ends my daughter says “purple favorite color”. From in the kitchen I whirled around “that’s where she got it!” I realized.

To an adult, their favorite color usually is not all that important. To a child their favorite color is a large part of their personal identity.  If you ever doubt this try to tell a child “No, (fill in the blank) is not your favorite color” and watch the dramatics that unfold. I already knew that ads marketed to children can hold a huge influence over them but I thought my daughter, being so young, wouldn’t be affected. What other influences have these 15 seconds of television had over my daughter? If I really pick it apart and psychoanalyze it, the message could read as “she doesn’t need to know that she can be active in these shoes, all she needs to know is that they are purple.”

I stopped and tried to take a step out of my own head for a second, “maybe I’m reading too much into this” I thought. So I looked on-line for other Stride Rite ads and found this:

 

The commercial features a little boy and this time the narrator says: “He doesn’t know that his new shoes have over 90 years of first steps behind them. What he does know is that today he started walking and life got a whole lot more exciting!” by comparing and contrasting these two ads, the message has become incredibly clear “Boys should be  concerned  with the action of their shoes, while girls should be focused on the appearance.

I know that there are way worse messages that our children receive but this one is sponsoring a very gender neutral show, that my daughter happens to love. Which makes me wonder why are they putting an ad marketing to “girly” girls before a show like Curious George?  PBS  list 15 Curious George characters  on it’s website,  5 of them are female; Professor Wiseman,  Gnocchi (cat), Charkie (dog), Allie (littlest girl) and Betsy.

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None of these charters would be described as “girly”. Most of the other females who occasionally  appear on the show don’t come off as “girly” either, and are often cast in traditionally masculine roles.tumblr_l91vb0xdSY1qcx2yno1_500

 

So why does Stride rite think that showing a super “girly” girl in their ad, before a show featuring a curious monkey and non “girly” female characters, is appealing to their target audience? I’m not sure, but regardless, I’m writing them a letter voicing my concerns. I am not overly optimistic for a positive response, as I know I am not the first person to voice gender representation concerns to them.

A study has shown that children who watch Curious George and read the books, scored significantly better on science and math concepts.  There has been another study showing that trying to make S.T.E.M. seem girly actually turned girls off from wanting to peruse careers in those fields. Another research group has found that girls who play with “girly” toys see fewer career options for themselves than for boys. So if I want my daughter to watch a show that can help her to excel in math and science, why must she first be exposed to an ad that may have the opposite effect? I find this unacceptable! 

I will follow up if and when I receive a response from Stride Rite.

 

When my oldest son was 2, he was adventurous and fearless. As a new mother, I was a nervous wreck at the park when he climbed up a 7 foot vertical ladder to the slide. “Be careful baby!” I’d call up to him as he steadily climbed. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it, that’s just the way boys are.” another mother reassured me. My second son was much more reserved and cautious. People would comment to me “isn’t it amazing how different it can be from one kid to the next?” Then came my daughter, who like her oldest brother, is also fearless. At 19 months old she was climbing the same 7 foot ladder her brother did, only because she is my third child I wasn’t nearly as concerned. “Be careful sweetie!” another parent calls to her. “Don’t worry she’s done it before.” this time I’m the one reassuring the other parent. “You can tell she has 2 big brothers.” the other parent says.

No wonder stereotypes against girls persist. When a boy is boisterous it is accredited to his gender (even the word seems gendered), when a girl is boisterous the credit is given to a boy, and when a boy is placid it is considered a fluke in the system. Society already has a theory of how things are, and when evidence to the contrary presents itself, we begin scrambling to find an excuse for why it’s different just this once. This is the kind of scientific method that kept the world flat for such a long time. We assume all girls are a certain way because they are girls, then this assumption confirmed by observing girls being “girly”.  We are leaving out a major factor, our assumption that girls are that way, is a major influence upon how they get to be that way.

Getting back to how this applies to my own daughter. If she had been my first born and I called up to her “Be careful baby!”  and the parent next to me commented, “I’d be nervous too, she could hurt herself.” this could have influenced me to pull her down and find something more “lady like” for her to do, in effect influencing her budding personality. I am very grateful that my first son was so boisterous, though it was very trying at the time. Because of his influence, I became a much more laid back parent, which allowed me to step back and let my kids natural traits come through. I am very proud of the people they each are and proud of my self for not hindering the process that got them there.  fotor_140182470176016

It’s Swimsuit Season

2013-07-04 18.26Last summer I found this great one piece swimsuit for my daughter, at Target.  As this summer approached I quickly realized that my daughter had out grown this suit. She is almost two years old and has shown an early interest in potty training, so hopefully soon (fingers crossed), we won’t want to be messing around with a one piece bathing suit when she needs to go potty. Keeping this in mind, I began to shop for her new suit.

Every store that I went into had a variety of 2 piece suits in the girls section ranging from itsy-bitsy to a swim shirt and bikini bottoms. As I go through the selections I begin to realize there is a major problem with these suits.  Although quite a few of the suits were way to sexualized for children, this could be debated back and forth as to at what point a suit crosses the line. The problem I’m referring to is much less up for debate. In this instance what I’m most concerned about is sun protection. 0009654766672_180X1800009654767432_180X180

Here is a side by side of the options for boys and girls that offer the most sun protection. Lets play “One of these things is not like the other” and spot the obvious difference. Besides that everything for girls is colored an obnoxious pink, the main difference is the shorts.  Kids, especially toddlers, have wonderfully chubby thighs that rub together. Pair this with pool water and all the sunscreen that’s been applied to them is quickly rubbed away. So why are the swim shorts only available in the boys section? The obvious reason is that swim trunks aren’t “girly” so they aren’t marketed to girls. Why are we willing to put our girls health in danger so that they can look cute in a swim suit?

Now the options I can see for my daughter are to sacrifice sun protection and get her a suit from the girls section, or get her one from the boys section and constantly field the question “Why is she in a boys suit?” Luckily, at the fifth store I went to, I found a 2 piece  suit on clearance for $8 and matching trunks on sale for $5. Thirteen dollars is not a bad price to pay for an option that solves both of the dilemmas I was facing.

swimsuit But what if I hadn’t been so determined and fortunate enough to stumble upon this sale? What if my only choices were A) Buy both suits and spend more than I could afford, B) Buy from the the boys section and face ridicule from my peers, or C) buy from the girls section and sacrifice the better sun protection? Which would you choose?

 

“Your daughter is so pretty, it’s good thing she’s got 2 big brothers to look after her.” Not only has this has been said to me many times, but it has also been said to my children. Let’s really think about this for a minute; In our culture, it is considered normal and socially acceptable to tell 3 & 6 year-old boys that they will have to use violence to defend their baby sister because her looks are going to make her desirable. The fact that people who have just met them feel comfortable sending them the message, that their baby sister is a coveted object that they must defend from those lusting after her, concerns me. After a quick glance at everyone surrounding us, laughing and agreeing with the statement, I’m also concerned that I seem to be the only one concerned.

ImageI am extremely lucky to have been blessed with 3 beautiful children, with just one look anyone can see that, and is quick to tell me so.  The same people who tell my daughter “You’re lucky to have 2 big brothers to protect you” see my boys and remark: “Fathers, lock up your daughters.”  At the very least, these people are suggesting that because my boys are good-looking, they are a threat to any girl unfortunate enough to come across them. Again, as I look around the room every one is nodding in agreement. Once again, no one looks concerned.

carols boys

 I often write about  the many, terribly gendered, messages parents are constantly imposing on their children. I’d like to take a break from that (for now) and instead shine some light on some powerful messages, that can be taught, from a simple T-shirt. These boys are wearing T-shirts, to show support for their friend and her battle through childhood cancer. The front of the shirts read “MadiStrong”, the message on the back is “Fight like a girl”. Seeing these boys proudly displaying these messages brings a smile to my face. With a simple shirt, these parents are sending their sons some splendid and positive messages:

1. It is important to help others and show support for your friends when they need it.

2. The word “fight” does not always mean violence, and fighting for a cause is more important than other fights.

3.The term “like a girl” is not an insult.

4. That these boys should admire Madi’s strength.

As parents these lessons are always surrounding  us, we just need to recognize when the opportunity to teach them presents it’s self.

If you would like to join these boys and their parents in supporting Madi please visit:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/MadiStrong/819608531398980?fref=ts  

Why is one joke funny and another not? “The Aristocrats” joke went from being a vaudeville staple to being a postmodern anti-joke (it’s so bad it’s funny). The joke goes something like this: “A family walks into a talent agency with a one-of-a-kind act. They put on a performance, containing all sorts of lewd acts (embellished greatly by the joke teller) for the talent agent. The talent agent, astounded by the act, asks ‘What do you call yourselves?’ the father of the family answers ‘The Aristocrats’, ba-dum-dum-ch.” Back in the days of vaudeville (early 1880s until the early 1930s) the very idea of aristocrats acting in anything less than a sophisticated manner, was comical.  In todays culture, we constantly see aristocrats acting in a manner that is beneath their social stature (Paris Hilton jumps to mind), so the idea is more commonplace than comical. Comedy has evolved alongside other cultural aspects to better suit the environment that surrounds it. Cultural evolution is a constant driving force that can not be stopped, so let’s try to steer the direction it goes in.

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Popular comedy today involves playing off of issues that are socially taboo. Unfortunately the very act of making light of these subjects makes them less taboo and more socially acceptable. So what is the solution? You could try to censor all media and force this change or, the longer term solution, try to create a culture in which a joke at the expense of women, is just not that funny. The Huffington Post recently ran an article called “I Witnessed Hollywood’s Sexism Firsthand — And Said Nothing”, about the author’s experience with sexist behavior at an Oscar party.  In every social situation there’s that person, or maybe it’s a few people, who try to liven up the event by acting like a misogynistic pig. Maybe they really are a pig, or maybe that’s the only way they know how to be funny. In either case, you need to decide how to deal with it.

Choice 1: Laugh along with them, to show how cool you are for going along with the crowd and in no way help to change anything. Choice 2: In a very loud and opinionated way tell the person (or people) at fault, how wrong they are. Then, give a lengthy lecture about how jokes like this hold women back, get deemed a buz kill and never get invited to another social situation again. These choices both suck. Society has given us no-win social protocols to deal with. After all, it’s okay to say anything, as long as your just joking, right? The only way to win in no-win situations is to cheat. Keep in mind, with every time you cheat there is a danger of getting caught and called out on your actions. The best way to successfully bypass the rules is to become a feminist ninja. No one sees the feminist ninja coming, he or she swoops in, makes their move and swoops out without being detected. So how can this be accomplished?

If you are a charismatic person, who is comfortable drawing attention to yourself, you can beat the braying jackasses at their own game. Comically belittle the misogynistic viewpoint, this is very fun and I recommend it to any one who ever has the opportunity. When you turn the tables around, these people become the ones afraid of slipping up and becoming social outcast, which is a nice change of pace.

Realistically, most people would not feel comfortable using this approach. To do this  takes a special kind of confidence that most of us don’t possess, and that’s okay. Maybe you simply say “I don’t think that’s very funny” and move on. Maybe you start a side conversation with someone else, who’s sympathetic to your views, in which you point out how comments like these are hurtful. An offhanded quip like “Thank God there are no children around to hear you say that” is a way to defer attention from your own discomfort, while still pointing out, what was said is not okay.  Use whatever comes naturally to you. Spend time considering your style, and while keeping that style in mind, play out some scenarios in your head. If enough people create an environment where misogyny is not accepted, we can steer our cultural evolution in a better direction.

So, the next time you’re at a party and someone tells an offensive joke like; “What do you tell a woman with 2 black eyes?”, how will you answer them?