Friday, March 23, 2012

Watching What We Say

This post is the second in a mini-theme I am blogging about in regard to how women are perceived and portrayed in our culture. I'm sure that neither you nor I want me to repeat what I wrote in the first post, which can be found here if you're interested. A few months ago BJ referred me to a quick article by author Lisa Bloom on relating to girls in today's culture. (Thanks, BJ, for perusing the internet much more widely than me and consequently finding these goodies.) Ms. Bloom recently published a book entitled Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World. I haven't read the book but understand it to be about media and the roles that advertising and culture play in forming a girl's self-esteem. I found her points to particularly apply to me at this point in my life, as I am often spending time with the young girls whose parents are my friends (goodness gracious, I'm old). In her article, Ms. Bloom points out that, in our culture, the most acceptable conversational icebreaker with young girls is to tell them how pretty they are, how their clothes and hair are cute, etc.--you know, appearance-related topics. The impact that this may have on a girl over time is drilling the importance of how, first and foremost, the way that she looks is noticed and judged by others. Ouch! I know that numerous times I have said similar things to girls without even thinking about it--never meaning any harm of course--and I can see where little experiences like those can serve as building blocks to a bigger picture. Sadly, the author noted that 25 per cent of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize.  To quote her, "Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age five and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, women have become increasingly unhappy. What's missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments."

All of this isn't to say that little girls aren't cute! Of course they are, and should be told so in moderation. Just imagine though, how surprised and excited your neighbor's daughter might be if you instead asked what her favorite book is, asked her what she likes and dislikes, or commented on one of her accomplishments first. For older girls she suggests more serious conversational topics, such as asking about her takes on pollution and current events. She states, "You're just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain." The article goes on to cover the importance of modeling for girls what thinking women say and do. Share your own ideas and accomplishments with girls so that they can see a future for women beyond makeup and clothes. As Dr. Caroline Heldman, professor of political science at Occidental College, noted in Miss Representation, boys and girls at the age of 7 equally express a desire to be President of the United States, but that by the age of 15 a "massive gap" has emerged. I'm willing to bet that it's because A) girls no longer see it as within their reach, and B) it's no longer as important to them, because they have learned from our media and our culture to re-prioritize their goals from fostering the mind to fostering the body.

This topic has been an eye-opener for me, but I have been careful to put it into action the past few months. I have ample practice with Silas' good friend Dacie, who has much more to contribute to this world than just her beautiful blond hair and blue eyes. And next week when I'm chilling with little Ms. Ellie, I'll be asking her about what she's been "cooking" in her kitchen and hearing about what her two-year-old mind has been dreaming.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ode to Sommer

 Friends of mine, I know that you remember Sommer. If you missed the post about her son Owen, you can read it here. Many of you regularly ask me about Owen and her, and I honestly tell you that it fills me with such love that friends of mine care about someone that I also genuinely care for. Owen is, in Sommer's words, "existing." She describes the past two weeks (you can find her blog here) as becoming increasingly difficult; Owen is highly medicated on extremely strong stuff, but he continues to live and be loved. This guy is stronger than I know I initially gave him credit for, as I had presumed that my pregnancy and delivery with George would prevent me from ever being able to kiss Owen's cheeks. However, BJ, Silas, George and I will all be in Massachusetts visiting Sommer and her family in just two short weeks, and I absolutely can't wait!

The above picture of Sommer and Owen is, to me, the most beautiful picture I have ever seen. No picture more aptly portrays human love than this one, and what can be more important in this world than love? Owen was recently selected by the Tiny Sparrow Foundation to receive a photography session, and the pictures and slideshow can be seen here. Fair warning though: watching the slideshow will likely necessitate the use of Kleenex!

Long before Owen and George came along, Sommer was a good friend to me. I have witnessed her journey with Owen from afar but also up-close in a sense, as she and I are in close communication about our lives and kids, typically through daily texts. I would miss her terribly if she was no longer in my life, and I love her kids deeply, though I don't see them often. Sommer's and Owen's ridiculously painful trial has set a new perspective on this life for me, and I realize now that virtually nothing is a real problem. Every time I think I may have some small reason to gripe, I immediately set myself straight. This has been absolutely no doing of Sommer's, as she like all true friends will listen to my woes as if they matter. But come on, let's get real. The other day I had the audacity to momentarily feel sad as I boxed away my scented lotions that I can't wear anymore because George has such sensitive skin. Is this actually a problem? Not in the least. I wish with all of my being that Sommer's sacrifices were similarly trivial.

And yet, when she could be wholly consumed with herself and her own family's grief, this is the kind of person that Sommer is: knowing that George is coming for a visit and knowing that I have to take lots of precautions for his skin, Sommer is buying a jug of our special detergent, planning her family's clothes for our visit and pre-washing them in this detergent and then double-rinsing them, and doing the same with assorted baby things like sheets and changing pads. BJ and I are both touched by this gesture...what a true friend.

I hope that each of you has at least one friend in the world like this. And to Sommer, who I know reads this blog, there are no words to describe my emotions when I think of you four. BJ and I are happily anticipating our trip to see you guys, and we are prepping Silas by showing him pictures on the TV of our trip last summer. Often when he sees a picture of Ellie on the beach he runs up to the TV and tries to touch her hand. =)

An Equal Voice

"The media can be an instrument of change: it can maintain the status quo and reflect the views of the society or it can, hopefully, awaken people and change minds. I think it depends on who’s piloting the plane.”
~Katie Couric

I'm no radical, but you can call me a feminist. You can call my husband a feminist too; one of the qualities that most attracted me to him was his understanding that I am his deserving equal. I also believe that one of things that most attracted him to me was that I knew this to be true. In 2002, BJ and I mutually decided that we were ready to forge a lifelong partnership with equal voices, and that partnership has lasted nearly ten years from our first date in March 2002.

The state of social issues in this country is something that saddens both BJ and me, but perhaps especially me. As a woman I belong to a slight majority in this country, but it is a majority that does not enjoy equal representation and voice. Many argue against this, stating that the women's rights movement has come a long way and women are now equal to men in every way. It's true that the women's rights movement has certainly put some pretty important things into motion, but the truth remains that we as women are absolutely nowhere near equality in this country. It is undoubtedly true that the media's portrayal of women as sexual and subservient beings has inhibited the full potential that we hold as a group. Essentially, the voices of half of this country's citizens have been stifled to some degree, in large part because men with antiquated views hold the ownership to sources of information.

Several months ago BJ saw a trailer for a Sundance film called "Miss Representation." He came home and said I just had to see it, and he found the extended eight-minute trailer and watched it with me; afterwards I cried. You can see the shorter version of the trailer here, and I strongly encourage you to take the two minutes and watch it, particularly if you are a skeptic. Although women comprise 51% of this country, less than 20% of our country's decision-making positions belong to women (even less are CEO's). As you can see in the trailer, those women that do hold some of those key positions are often lambasted in the media as "bitches" or "ditzes" and are heavily scrutinized in terms of their physical appearances rather than their policies, ideas, and accomplishments. For instance, Condoleezza Rice, who has her doctorate and is a former Secretary of State, was photographed wearing an appropriate pair of tall black boots and was labeled a "dominatrix" on magazine covers. You have got to be kidding me. Here is the outfit she wore:
Here is the interpretation by media sources:

Unfortunately, media exposure infiltrates so deeply into most of us, and what we learn from the media as girls and women is that looks are most important. No wonder teenage girls think so! No wonder many women have shrinking expectations of themselves as they age, because they are constantly being reminded that they simply aren't valued for anything else! What an absolute crock. (I have more to say on this in my next post on this topic, also from an article that BJ found and forwarded to me.)

I'm not the hugest Katie Couric fan, but I love her quote that I began this post with. There IS a potential for change; we, as women and men, just have to realize this and take hold of the opportunities.

Food for thought. And action.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Atticus Finch

"As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash."
~ Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, 1960

It surprises me how many people have asked us where we dreamed up Atticus for George's middle name.  In my life I have only ever heard of one Atticus, and he was unmistakable as one of the greatest fictional characters ever written. I wonder, didn't these people have to read To Kill a Mockingbird in school? Granted some of them are our parents' ages and this novel probably wasn't part of the educational curriculum during their school days, but it never ceases to amaze me when one of my own contemporaries asks me quizzically, "Atticus? Never heard of that." What I want to say is that TKAM is a classic novel by a one-time author who captured a coming-of-age story alongside a moving drama about racism, classism, and the people who have worked to overcome these problems.  Atticus was the protagonist of the plot and his character embodied a number of admirable qualities. He was an unorthodox father, a champion of human rights, and a fountain of dry humor. What I instead say to these people is, "It's from To Kill a Mockingbird." You should read it."

After finishing my most recent re-reading of the book late last night, I found this article about the true manliness of Atticus on-line and thought I would share. I hope that my boys grow up embodying many, many of the qualities of Atticus Finch; and for George, I hope that his middle name is a reminder to him that he can make a difference in this world, even if he must do it in the face of a blind majority.

(I know I said my next post was going to be about the state of women, but I just had to sneak this one in.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Catching Up

Wow, it has been quite some time since I've posted. This is sad for me since I have told BJ that I plan to continue blogging in spite of the busy-ness of our lives. I said that I want my blog to chronicle our journey, however hectic, and yet the past few weeks I've barely responded to emails, let alone blog! So let this post be a blend of random information, as my next few posts will follow a theme quite dear to me, which is gender equality. Here comes the random information:

1. I have an amazing husband (pic below of said husband). Yesterday morning he got up with the boys and let me sleep in until 11:40. I haven't felt this well-rested since before George was born. There is something to be said for sleep, no doubt.

2. In honor of George's arrival, I am re-reading (again) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. In this re-reading I have once again been reminded of the amazing performance by Ms. Lee; it seems to me that truly wonderful writers have the ability to put their thoughts into the perfect combination of words, not too few and not too many, so that the result is a flow of sentences that feel incredibly like a beautiful work of art. Of the many writers who have published, only a small number fall into this category, per my opinion. I have also been reminded of the greatness that is Atticus Finch, which reassures me that George received the perfect middle name. In case you have never read To Kill a Mockingbird and are perhaps on the fence about doing so, consider this hilarious passage:

"The second grade was grim, but Jem assured me that the older I got the better school would be, that he started off the same way, and it was not until one reached the sixth grade that one learned anything of value. The sixth grade seemed to please him from the beginning: he went through a brief Egyptian Period that baffled me--he tried to walk flat a great deal, sticking one arm in front of him and one in back of him, putting one foot behind the other. He declared Egyptians walked that way; I said if they did I didn't see how they got anything done, but Jem said they accomplished more than the Americans ever did, they invented toilet paper and perpetual embalming, and asked where would we be today if they hadn't? Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I'd have the facts."

After I finish this re-reading then I plan to move on to the old classic Silas Marner (a book for each boy!) and then re-read Cheaper By the Dozen, which in fact is absolutely nothing like the Steve Martin movie so don't judge it by that.

3. Silas is astonishing us with all that he has learned in the past few months. He seems to love learning and he thinks that flashcards and letter memorization are actually games (I swear, we are not slave drivers with this kid). As a result, he can now count to 13, he knows all of his letters and can identify them through sight as well as reciting them out loud, and he knows a good deal of colors and shapes. He definitely seems to have favorites in each category too, as it seems that nothing can beat the letter "W," the color yellow, the shape of an octagon, or the number 7.  BJ and I are gradually becoming aware of everything that we say and do because he pays a whole lot more attention than we ever gave him credit for.

4. Mother Nature seems to have forgotten winter this year. This is fine by me! In a couple of hours I am dropping off George with a friend for 20 minutes while I take a jog around the park with Silas in the stroller, all in gorgeous 70 degree weather!

5. Last but not least, I feel the need to briefly extol the virtues of my birthday present this year, which was a kickin' purse/diaper bag. I simply hated the diaper bag that I used after Silas was born and quickly found features that it was lacking. It also had zero features that I would require in a purse (such as easy access pockets), so when I ran quick errands I would often just load my purse up with baby needs and then have an overflowing purse. With George on the way, I decided in December that enough was enough. After spending hours researching the kind of bag I was wanting, I ended up with the Skip Hop Studio Tote Bag, and I love, love, love it! Now my purse and diaper bag are all in one, and I don't have a single gripe about this bag after two months' of use (don't you hate when you are reading Amazon user reviews and someone gives something five stars but then states "Just got it in the mail, haven't used it but it looks great!" Seriously people, use it for awhile before you write a review!). Initially I thought the only thing about my bag that was a dead giveaway that it was actually a diaper bag and not a purse was the prominent "Skip Hop" label on it, which I cleverly solved (see below). But then I thought, "Who am I kidding?" The bag has a nursing cover tucked into the outside of it and sippy cups sticking out the sides. Oh well, I look like a mom because I am a mom.

Here is my awesome bag:

And here is my clever solution to hiding the Skip Hop label:
Yes, friends, I'm a "Parks and Rec" junkie, and Leslie Knope is my vote for Pawnee, Indiana's City Council! Stay tuned for my next few posts, which will be full of my opinions about how great women are and how they deserve equal placement in this world.