Category Archives: Feminism

Suiting Yourself

A Real Family At The Beach (photo by Eric A. Bauer)

I should know better than to read Yahoo Headlines.  But when checking my mailbox, this gem of a post entitled “What Men Think of Your Bathing Suit” stood out for me as I’ve recently been bathing suit shopping and found the experience frustrating and the selection limited.  This article of 100 random men’s opinions on preferred bathing attire is yet another example of the cultural expectation that women are ornamental.

Two and a half years ago, I had a child and my body was forever changed. My hips are broader.  My weight has returned to post baby numbers, but it has shifted to different places.  Add this to the fact that I deal with IBS, a chronic condition that often results in a bloated stomach, and I no longer feel the need to bare my mid rift or my heinie when on the beach.  I’m not ashamed of how I look, but I do like to dress in a way that highlights my assets…and the area just below my “ass-ettes” is not one of them.

Two Girls in Suits (photo by Eric A. Bauer)

Having recently deflated the upper half of my body post pregnancy, my just post pregnancy suit no longer fit this year.  So I went on a bathing suit buying excursion that left me wondering…who the heck designs women’s bathing suits?

I’m sure I’m not the only gal who prefers a modest appearance to mini triangles held up by string.  And I’m surely not the only mom who doesn’t want to worry about what’s falling out while jumping about in water and digging sandcastles with my kid.  I’m in a different phase of my life, one in which I’m not dressing to attract attention but to (literally) suit myself.

What I found at the local stores near me were overpriced, undersized, cheaply designed bathing costumes that tended to assume every woman is a super-model sized, modesty avoidant, uniformly shaped gal.  As someone with relatively little time to shop by myself (anyone been clothes shopping with a two year old lately?) I felt like my time as a consumer was wasted as I left yet another shopping excursion empty handed.

Finally, my ever supportive husband found a sale ad for bathing suits at a local department store.  Feeling hopeful, we drove to the mall together, he departing to the mall playplace with V while I took a moment to think and try on.  After the realization that my new body shape now meant I wore a size bigger suit, and a sinking understanding that the sale was largely a small percentage off of already exorbitantly priced items (why does such a small clothing article cost so much more than normal attire?!), I narrowed my choices down to three items.  Feeling concerned about the cost, I called my husband back for a consultation and practical assessment.  He’s the one that asks the right questions to help me buy practical shoes, sturdy clothing, and he’s dead honest if something looks hideous.  So despite his protests, he’s really a helpful shopping companion.

I left with a choice that I felt comfortable wearing, a long, stomach-covering tankini (hello easy bathroom use) with a ruffled matching bottom.  It is a little retro looking and cute while still covering up the bits I want covered.  I don’t have any self-consciousness wearing it, which is my test of bathing suit success.  I know other women are equally happy with a small-sized suit and feel comfortable being nearly naked, and if that’s the case, I say power to them.  Being comfortable in your own skin is the sign of a healthy, happy person.  What really matters is that every woman can suit herself with her choice and that the choices provided by the market reflect what women want, not what men desire to see.

Though I appreciated having my husband’s perspective, and I always appreciate when he finds me attractive to him, the idea that any woman would select a bathing suit primarily to please men really galls me.  It stems again from the perpetuated cultural expectation that women need to be ornamental and appeal to a male fantasy rather than being comfortable and happy with our own appearances and tastes.  My husband can’t decide what is going to make me feel comfortable or at ease with myself, and certainly a Yahoo article about men’s preferences shouldn’t influence women’s choices in the least.  So why was it written?  Because even the female author of this ridiculous piece has bought into the idea that beach attire is connected to a mating ritual of our species and that women are meant to choose plumage that serves the purpose of attracting male attention.

Personally, I go to the beach to drink in the scent of the water, to feel a cool breeze, to smoosh sand between my toes as I walk in the surf, to read a book or watch my daughter build sand creations.  I go to relax with friends and share conversation or travel games.  I go to enjoy a picnic and breathe deeply with my husband during an uninterrupted moment of peace.  I do not go to fulfill men’s desire for visual stimulation, as this article would lead women to believe is the function of their swimsuit choice.

I sincerely hope there aren’t any women out there that change their choices because of the Yahoo post, and I also place a challenge out there to all the budding fashion designers:  create a suit that allows a woman to suit themselves at an affordable price.  All of us will be richer for it.

Advertisements

Wishing for the Right Words: Dead End Conflicts with Dangerous Drivers and Unruly Kids

(Editor’s note:  This post was written a week ago)

You know that frustrating feeling of facing a conflict situation on the spot, then wishing you could go back and say or do something completely different?  I hate that feeling of regret, some self-loathing, feeling tongue-tied, replaying the situation over in my head, wishing I was wittier, or cleverer, or more assertive, or less aggressive, or less oblivious. Eventually I get over it, and as I get older, I’ve developed more forgiveness towards myself, but I still have those times where I just wish I could be cooler in a conflict.

Today I had more than one of those moments.  One in the car and one in a restaurant play place.

Coming back from a play date at a local open gym, I stopped at a four way stop, waited for the only car to turn left, then proceeded to move into the intersection where my daughter and I were almost t-boned by a texting driver who blew down the street, through the stop sign without a pause, at a speed definitely higher than the 25 mile an hour speed limit.  Incensed, I thought about getting the driver’s license number and calling the police.  Stuck behind the jerk for another half mile until he pulled over to continue his conversation, I seriously contemplated pulling over on the well populated street to confront him about his dangerous driving behavior.  I even had my turn signal on to do so. Then, considering the safety risk, the presence of my daughter, and the probable futility of such a conversation, I flicked my turn signal back off and kept driving to the next parking lot, where I called my husband, fuming while he empathically commiserated.  Part of me so wished, sooo wished, I could have confronted the individual.  In my head, I imagined myself calling attention to his behavior, making him aware that he endangered a small child and her mother, and teaching him the error of his ways…a likely scenario, right.  Still, my relative helplessness in the situation rankles.

The next situation surfaced during dinner at our local Chik-Fil-A in the children’s play area, a place notorious for negligent parents and out of control kids.  I hate going in there, but my daughter loves it, so I try to deal.  This evening’s incidents were over the top though.  The culprits in the situation were one girl about six years old, and two boys around 9 years old.  Their mothers were seated behind the glass plating separating the dining area from the play area.  During the hour and a half or so we were in the restaurant, neither mother arose from her seat to check on the status of things in the play area.  I understand giving kids some space, and also the need to have adult conversation.  I’m not going to get into generalizations about the kids or the mothers’ parenting styles, because I’ve only seen a snapshot and who knows what factors were in play.  But here is what I observed:  the little girl chattering non-stop to any adult that came into the play area, constantly seeking adult attention, while climbing on the edge of the play structure in an unsafe way;  one of the boys saying something obnoxious about the gaze of my two year old daughter “Why are you staring at me?  Do you like me, like love me?  Ugh, that’s disgusting.”; the other boy making nasty noises in my daughter’s face and saying something about scaring her (my husband caught  this one and intervened gently in this situation); the boys beating on each other and pushing their way in front of other kids and climbing up the bottom of the slide while other kids were trying to come down.  Meanwhile, the moms continued chatting outside, leaving the two sets of parents in the structure to contend with the continual issues.

Finally, the situation that tugged on my heart strings the most was what one of the boys and the girl said to another girl, about 12 years old, who was hanging out with her dad and little brother in the play structure area:  “Are you a girl? You don’t look like one.  Your hair cut makes you look like a boy.”  Subsequently, the little girl climbed into a hidden area of the play structure, asking “When are going, Daddy?  Can we go now?”  Her embarrassment was palpable and heartwrenching.  The little girl was at the awkward age, but still cute with her short, sassy cut, that looked something like what Demi Moore’s daughter, Rumer, would sport.  It took her a little while to emerge from the play structure; she surfaced when her brother was ready to leave, and I finally said something I didn’t regret: “I like your hair cut.  Those little kids don’t know anything about fashion.”  She gave me a sweet little smile then asked about my daughter, commenting on how cute she was.  The dad (who I’m guessing was either at a loss for how to help out his daughter in the situation or planning to talk with her in private) said goodbye to my husband and I when they left.  I know I couldn’t take away the words that were said, but hopefully, they’ll take away some of the sting and self-doubt she was feeling.

I know self-doubt.  I was an awkward pre-teen and teenager.  I still have many awkward moments.  Even tonight, I think of what I might have said to the child who made an age appropriate, but mean comment to my daughter.  I could have said, “That is not very nice.”  I could have said, “She’s two and she’s just looking around because she’s interested in what you are doing.”  I was just too emotionally flooded to think clearly. I don’t think my daughter understood the dynamic, but it angers me to see young boys putting girls down on the basis of their gender.  It frustrates me when boys disrespect girls from a young age or when I see young boys putting down girls or each other to try to appear tough or masculine. It frustrates me when girls join the bullying to try to compete with the boys. It says something to me about the messages these children are receiving and ones they may not be receiving.  I wonder about my role in being a voice that contradicts that, but I think would be self-righteous and presumptuous of me to assume that teaching role with other people’s children.  But if their parents don’t hear, don’t intervene, where will they learn differently?  I remind myself I’m not the parent of other kids.  The problem comes when I see kids hurting other children in front of me or when my own daughter is involved when she is still too young to advocate for herself with older children.  I wonder what she learns when I am silent, what she thinks about saying that she doesn’t yet have words to express?

In another dimension, I would sit down with those moms, and say, “I thought you’d want to know what your kids said in there, so you could address it the way you see fit.”  In my head, I can play out this scenario with everyone being open and appreciative and kind to each other.  I can hear the moms having quality follow up conversations with their kids.  I can feel something shifting in the direction of kindness over cruelty.  But I know that my imagination is not reality, and I’m bound to offend them if I open my mouth.  So I keep my observations to myself.  I wish I could find a way to handle the play area experience differently, one that would allow everyone to keep their dignity, one that would take away hurt, one that would teach those kids to be a little kinder, and remind the parents to tune in occasionally.  I know I may be perceived as self-righteous, but I might be a little right, too.  Tonight, I have to take refuge in my writing, unburdening myself and shedding a sense of helplessness as I find voice on paper for the words I am unable to grasp when I need them.

 

Linking up with Things I Can’t Say for


Returning Ripples: Children’s Play: Redefining Femininity for Ourselves and our Girls Part Three

Last week, I introduced a Friday series I’m calling Returning Ripples, where I feature my fave posts for readers who may have missed them the first time around.  With the constant media flurry regarding gender and toys, (check out the recent Lego friends issue or ongoing princess debates), I thought this one could make a resurgence.  It’s a post I feel pretty strongly about; play is one of the most important ways a young child learns.  The learning environment we create can expose our children to a broader range of experiences or constrain them on the basis of gender.  While children have some innate preferences, the biological gap is actually pretty small and made bigger by environmental/learned factors.  Limiting kids at a young age deprives them of the opportunity to figure out who they are through play.

 

This post is part of a currently three part post on

Redefining Femininity for Ourselves and our Girls

Click here to read

Part One:  Keeping up Appearances:  What Makes Clothing “Feminine?”

Click here to read

Part Two: It’s Not the Pressure from the Guys that Causes Women to be Appearance-Focused

Part Three:  Children’s Play and Gender Stereotypes

Chef, pirate, adventurer, V's play includes all these roles and more...

In a previous generation, my little gal, V, would be labeled a “tomboy” for some of her interests. I have always hated that expression, and I’m glad it is gradually being phased out of popular vocabulary, or at least detached from its former negative connotations, because it basically limits femininity to a very narrow group of interests.  My daughter loves trains, dragons, dinosaurs, space, fixing things with tools, knights and jousting, animals, and cars.  She also gently feeds her baby dolls, mixes up food in her play kitchen (often it is a side dish of matchbox car), and likes to dress up in beads and hats.  Her favorite colors are “pourple” and “bah-lak,” both a stereotypically feminine and a traditionally masculine color.  She likes shoes and has a very specific reason for selecting a particular pair (black, red, or purple) often matching her shoes and her bows based on color.

Both my husband M, and I feel it is important that V is exposed to a variety of play.   Loving all things English, I was excited to play tea party with my little one.  M is thrilled to take her to the game store where tabletop games involving knights, skaven, ogres, and elves are played alongside complex board games.  We encourage her to develop a variety of interests, and I check out books from the library based on these ever-changing topics every week.  We are currently reading about elephants, knights, Clifford (“Cliffs”), Halloween, shapes, and Winnie-the-Pooh. V also selected a children’s picture book about the Trojan War (?!); looking at this book has kept her unusually silent for minutes beyond her usual attention span.  Perhaps we are raising a future classicist, who knows?  V dances to music, gardens, cooks, does “arht prohjects” and “kickbahls.”  I like to think she is a well-rounded kid.

I don’t think any of V’s play particularly connects to her “femininity” or “masculinity.”  She is a toddler.  She is pretty androgynous, as far as I’m concerned.  Yet I still hear parents talking about the preferences their children have for toys that are associated with their sex, as if that was no doing of their own.  While I know that kids often do fixate on a particular interest, and that sometimes there are gender role differences that might come into play, I do wonder whether these parents have exposed their kids to other options.  Have they bought their boys a tea set or given them a “dolly?”  Have they given their girls a “Thomas the Train” set or did they select the “Disney Princess” book instead?  And what about the relatives?  I know that most of the toys in our house have been bequeathed by our mothers who, God love them, have preserved the stuff in their respective attics/basements since our childhood.  Luckily for us, our moms had a mix of toys to present to V, most of them being stuff like animals, or Fisher Price airplane and castle sets, or stacking rings.  Still, we have heard the off comment from friends and family members who expect our girl to be playing with traditionally girly sorts of toys.  I’m glad that we have the ultimate deciding power for what is in our household and also the stuff to speak up about what we hope to teach V through play.

I have heard parents taking the opposite routes with their kids, decrying anything that the kid prefers that falls along traditional gender roles.  I think that sends a message as well.  What I’m inclined to believe is that many adults have difficulty disassociating toys and gender and that difficulty affects our attitudes towards our children’s play.  If we listen to our kids interests, and expose them to a wide variety of play, keeping away from the ultra-violent or super saccharin sorts of toys, most kids’ interests will include a little of the stereotypical both.  Play is one of the most important learning tools for kids, especially in the toddler and preschool years, and it is truly a shame to limit kids’ play based on antiquated notions of what is or isn’t masculine or feminine.  Our boys can benefit from learning tenderness and gentleness with care of baby dolls and our girls can find their strength in crashing cars and kicking balls with fervor.  And vice versa.

Linking up with Shell’s Things I Can’t Say for Pour Your Heart Out!


Valuing Parenthood: Dissing the At Home Parent Vs Working Parent Debates

With all the hype over Anderson Coopers’ WM v. SAHM debate, there has been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere about who does more, the parents who work outside or inside the home. Though I really disdain this debate, I  appreciated the thoughtful post by Kludgy Mom that raised the related question whether Motherhood=Martyrhood because it got me thinking.

As I started replying in her comment section, I realized I had a lot more to say on the topic and decided to respond in a post of my own…so here goes.

This is the distillation of Kludgy Mom’s question: Do stay- at- home moms complain too much?

Why aren’t we also asking the question do employees complain too much? In my mind, it’s the same concept.  Work is work, whether it takes place in an office building or in a residence.  This is the same issue I take with the stay-at-home vs. working parent debate.

These very questions are problematic.  Who does more?  Who complains more?  Who is justified?  Who is defensive?  Who is superior?

Every job is different.  Every kid has different needs.  Some workplaces and children demand more effort than others.  Jobs change over time; supervisors come and go and expectations evolve.  Children grow and change; sometimes the effort expended is more emotional than physical and vice versa.  Trying to compare the work done outside the office vs. at home is like trying to compare the work done between lawyers and construction workers.  Both involve work; the jobs are just different.

The most obvious primary difference is the pay is absent in the at home role.  In our society, money follows what we value.  We value celebrities; they get paid disproportionally to the actual “work” they do.  We undervalue teachers relative to athletes.  We overvalue some doctors and lawyers.  The lack of monetary compensation for parents raising kids at home contributes to the devaluation of the role.  It is easy to measure the importance of an income contribution to a family; we know the amount of our bills.  How do we measure the value of clean laundry, a dust free living room, a changed diaper, a trip to the park, a story read at bedtime?  There is no equivalency.  Thus the debate arises as to how much is the work at home worth?

Historically, the stay-at-home role has been undervalued due to misogyny and patriarchy.  But the times are changing.  With more stay-at-home dads (I hang out with three of them); more involved fathers; more working mothers; more economic strain on families; roles are changing and flexing.  Men and women are taking on each other’s traditional roles in increasing numbers and new understanding is growing.  It may feel slow, but change is happening.

Even still, these questions persist.  They persist within families as spouses/partners hash out who has the right to the scarce alone time available, as parents feel overwhelmed and exhausted juggling multiple roles and expectations, as the laundry and bill piles rise higher.  Envy and resentment set in. The grass is greener in the other role.  But the reality is that if either partner had the other role, they would find that there are struggles and advantages to each situation.  Short of a Freaky Friday parent swap, such as one that takes place in my daughter’s book “Goofy Minds the House,” (incidentally, I am aware that Goofy isn’t portrayed very well in that story as the bumbling househusband) we just have to take the other person’s word for it when they say, “My job was hard today.”  Maybe instead of faulting them for “complaining,” we could pour a cup of tea and say, “tell me about it.”  Maybe we could pick the errant sock off of the floor without resentment.  Maybe we can send our at-home partner out for a kid-free night or give a working parent a night free from housework so they can just focus on enjoying time with their children.

That does not remove the responsibility from either party for focusing on the advantages in their situation.  Or if the balance doesn’t feel right, talk with the other party about how to change things up a bit.  Those who are “martyrs” probably have a tendency to complain about other areas of their lives.  There is a limit to how much people want to hear about any job being difficult.  I think the fact of the matter is that our culture has been so silent for so long about the challenges of the at home world, that at-home parents are starting to be honest about it.  There were no blog forums for our mothers.  There were chats with the neighbors and diaries, and frankly, a lot of unhappy parents and strained marriages.  We all need a place to check our insights about our jobs, to talk with coworkers about questions and perceptions, to discuss the highlights and disasters of our days, whether we are in the home or out.  The folks that are stuck at work, away from their kids, just have a hard time hearing it sometimes; as do the parents who miss aspects of their former working selves have a hard time listening to the pressures of the office when they’ve dealt with the umpteenth fight with their kids or a poop explosion that day.

There are slackers and perfectionists in both workplaces and parenthood.  There are divisive folks who want to judge or climb over their fellow coworker or parent to make themselves feel superior.  There are some working folks who desperately miss their children (my husband) and some at-home folks desperately missing connection in the workplace and a position where their intellectual and creative energies are valued (sometimes, me).  There are aspects we wouldn’t trade about our work lives (my husband gets out of the twentieth tantrum and third diaper change of the day and I get the random kiss on my cheek during lunchtime with my daughter).   I can personally say, though I have days when I miss parts of my former life, I would not want to give up my at home role with my daughter.

Today, as a SAHM, I changed 5 diapers, made and cleaned up three meals, washed the floors in the hallway, kitchen and two bathrooms, cleaned the bathroom, updated my blog, engaged in three reading sessions with my daughter, built a puzzle, built a block castle, made Valentine cards with my daughter, did four loads of laundry, ran and emptied the dishwasher, organized and wiped down the counters, bathed my daughter, nursed her for three hours, tidied the playroom, made two beds, vacuumed three rooms, took out the trash and recycling, called the plumber, scheduled a playdate, handled three tantrums, danced with my daughter in the living room.  I am happy with my job, with my daughter, and the work I did today.  I think it’s enough.  Do you?


Children’s Play: Redefining Femininity for Ourselves and our Girls Part Three

This post is part of a currently three part post on

Redefining Femininity for Ourselves and our Girls

Click here to read

Part One:  Keeping up Appearances:  What Makes Clothing “Feminine?”

Click here to read

Part Two: It’s Not the Pressure from the Guys that Causes Women to be Appearance-Focused

Part Three:  Children’s Play and Gender Stereotypes

Chef, pirate, adventurer, V's play includes all these roles and more...

In a previous generation, my little gal, V, would be labeled a “tomboy” for some of her interests. I have always hated that expression, and I’m glad it is gradually being phased out of popular vocabulary, or at least detached from its former negative connotations, because it basically limits femininity to a very narrow group of interests.  My daughter loves trains, dragons, dinosaurs, space, fixing things with tools, knights and jousting, animals, and cars.  She also gently feeds her baby dolls, mixes up food in her play kitchen (often it is a side dish of matchbox car), and likes to dress up in beads and hats.  Her favorite colors are “pourple” and “bah-lak,” both a stereotypically feminine and a traditionally masculine color.  She likes shoes and has a very specific reason for selecting a particular pair (black, red, or purple) often matching her shoes and her bows based on color.

Both my husband M, and I feel it is important that V is exposed to a variety of play.   Loving all things English, I was excited to play tea party with my little one.  M is thrilled to take her to the game store where tabletop games involving knights, skaven, ogres, and elves are played alongside complex board games.  We encourage her to develop a variety of interests, and I check out books from the library based on these ever-changing topics every week.  We are currently reading about elephants, knights, Clifford (“Cliffs”), Halloween, shapes, and Winnie-the-Pooh. V also selected a children’s picture book about the Trojan War (?!); looking at this book has kept her unusually silent for minutes beyond her usual attention span.  Perhaps we are raising a future classicist, who knows?  V dances to music, gardens, cooks, does “arht prohjects” and “kickbahls.”  I like to think she is a well-rounded kid.

I don’t think any of V’s play particularly connects to her “femininity” or “masculinity.”  She is a toddler.  She is pretty androgynous, as far as I’m concerned.  Yet I still hear parents talking about the preferences their children have for toys that are associated with their sex, as if that was no doing of their own.  While I know that kids often do fixate on a particular interest, and that sometimes there are gender role differences that might come into play, I do wonder whether these parents have exposed their kids to other options.  Have they bought their boys a tea set or given them a “dolly?”  Have they given their girls a “Thomas the Train” set or did they select the “Disney Princess” book instead?  And what about the relatives?  I know that most of the toys in our house have been bequeathed by our mothers who, God love them, have preserved the stuff in their respective attics/basements since our childhood.  Luckily for us, our moms had a mix of toys to present to V, most of them being stuff like animals, or Fisher Price airplane and castle sets, or stacking rings.  Still, we have heard the off comment from friends and family members who expect our girl to be playing with traditionally girly sorts of toys.  I’m glad that we have the ultimate deciding power for what is in our household and also the stuff to speak up about what we hope to teach V through play.

I have heard parents taking the opposite routes with their kids, decrying anything that the kid prefers that falls along traditional gender roles.  I think that sends a message as well.  What I’m inclined to believe is that many adults have difficulty disassociating toys and gender and that difficulty affects our attitudes towards our children’s play.  If we listen to our kids interests, and expose them to a wide variety of play, keeping away from the ultra-violent or super saccharin sorts of toys, most kids’ interests will include a little of the stereotypical both.  Play is one of the most important learning tools for kids, especially in the toddler and preschool years, and it is truly a shame to limit kids’ play based on antiquated notions of what is or isn’t masculine or feminine.  Our boys can benefit from learning tenderness and gentleness with care of baby dolls and our girls can find their strength in crashing cars and kicking balls with fervor.  And vice versa.

 

Linking up with Shell’s Things I Can’t Say for Pour Your Heart Out!


%d bloggers like this: