Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fighting Feminism

Fightin' Feminism or Fighting Feminism - it works both ways, see what I did there? Clever, clever.

So  yesterday I discussed the virtues of two doodle books - one for boys and one for girls - and what messages might be deeply implanted in each.

Today, my good friend Real OC Mom responds.  Go check it out. I'll wait.

Read it? Okay, good, now let's discuss.

First, I fundamentally don't understand any woman who claims not to be a feminist.  I assume maybe women say this because feminism can conjure up some images of militant, unshaven, angry yellers.  I don't want to tell Real OC what she is - but from what I know, she's a whip-smart Athena with a thriving business, a fantastic family, a sassy smart little girl, and time to blog.  Seems feministy to me!  And to me, rejecting feiminsm is like saying "I'm cool with roughly 76% of the life, rights, income and whatnot that men get."  Is anyone cool with that? 

Also - I think a lot of the current discussion of feminism - a thicket of concepts, philosophy, public policy, and politics - gets shorthanded too simply. 

I love being a girl. Real OC Mom loves being a girl.  She loves the idea of wearing a cute dress and pearls while she cooks and takes care of her family, I love that idea too (though right now, I'd settle for just being showered and cooking and taking care of my family).  Has anyone here seen my closet? I love me a handbag and don't start on the shoes.  I can love all of these things and still be a feminist.  And I would NEVER call anyone shallow for nesting, regardless of sex or gender, because I spend far, far too much time reading design websites and daydreaming of feathering our nest as well.  A love of beauty and design is a great virtue. The decorative arts are arts - and really, I don't think it's overly dramatic to say that seeking beauty is the highest human virtue. (That and Olympic athleticism.  I go way Greek on these things. Art and Sports - at the end of the day, that's all we got.)

I also don't have a problem with feminie things. I know I frequently lusted after the girl-versions of things as a child (like why couldn't I have the pink walkman, etc).  I'm pretty sure my daughter is going to want pink sparkly things too.  I don't think that is bad or wrong or less-than.  I think that's just fine. 

The problems I have with a lot of toys is the assumption creators make about who will play with them and how.  Or the assumptions about what a boy and a girl might imagine.  Maybe if you combine the boy and girl doodle books, a girl would leave blank the robot and alien pages.  Or maybe a boy would do what my husband did.

The crux of the discussion comes when Real OC Mom, discussing how a boy might turn a toy doll into a gun or a girl might swaddle a toy gun, says "perhaps [these are] learned behaviors."  THEY ARE!

Boy and Girl brains aren't that different.  But in a million imperceptable ways, we socialize our chidlren as masculine and feminine from the start. From the way we coo with them, to the way we play with them, to what we expect from them, to what we'll tolerate from them.  Pretty much everything we do with our kids is more coded than we give it credit for - and that's necessarily bad or wrong or, frankly, something we can really hope to change because it's culturally pervassive and time-honored by now.

Where we can, however, improve girls' futures is in how they play.  And that's my problem with the doodle books (to the extent it's a "problem")  There are plenty of facially gender-neutral toys out there, like legos.  But those sorts of toys - architectural or engineering in nature - tend to go to boys more often than to girls. Or, the company feels it must make a set in pink hues to make them girl-acceptable.  That's silly.  Plenty of girls play with legos and love it - like Real OC Daughter! - but plenty of other girls out there get dolls for Christmas and never get a structural toy or a scientific toy or anything that encourages them to play at much besides homemaking.

[Aside: Dear Mom, because I know you're reading this thinking, why is my daughter doing ths to me, I don't think homemaking is a less-than occupation. It takes a hell of a lot of work. As does raising kids full time.  But there's an assumption that girls will love doing this and that boys will love building dams or spaceships.  No one is giving our girls a chance to build dams or spaceships or teaching our boys that homemaking is not less-than.]

I want my daughter to have all the stuffed animals and dolls she wants. But I want her to also want microscopes and tinkertoys and lincoln logs and legos.  I want her to be able to plan a response to an alien invasion.  But she won't if the girl doodle books in life never ask her to think about it.


  1. I was stunned by the ignorance of that post, especially considering the blogger seems like a bit of a smartypants, in the best possible sense of the word. Why is this stuff so hard for people to figure out? Perhaps because if one accepts the concepts of feminism and recognizes the inequality that currently exists, their June Cleaver whole world might come crumbling down? You are a perfect example that it doesn't have to; recognize the problem, do something about it and then feel comfortable in your own skin. Having come to terms with all that stuff ages ago, I too now feel free to fetishize hot pink, dresses and shoes (oh my scores of cute shoes!). I'm also not scared to admit that staying home with my kid would be a dream. But it's not my only dream, and that's OK too.

  2. Go easy! She really is a friend of mine (and a fellow Athena of ours - go CMS!). I think it's a really useful post because it highlights the disconnect between what I guess I'd call academic feminism and feminism-in-practice.

    She's a smartypants - but so am I and so are you! :)

    The aspect of our current culture that is hostile to feminism has set up this straw[wo]man figure that says you can't love shoes and pink and distracts from the actually problems. In my head, I see that straw[wo]man as having Sarah Palin's lipsticked face . . . .

  3. It's nothing personal. It appears that the other blogger is quite bright and I admire anyone willing to subject their opinions and creative ventures to public scrutiny. But that's exactly what is frustrating, that an otherwise admirable Athena wouldn't understand that we do our girls a disservice when we train them to be princesses and -- down the line -- prepare them for lower paying and less valued career paths. Also, what is so damn controversial about being a feminist? Or wearing pantsuits? I have a very chic black and hot pink one!

  4. Real OC Mom here. I don't take it personally, really. I just like girly stuff, and so does my daughter. I don't think I taught her to, she just does. Or maybe I did teach her to, and that's okay, too - I don't seriously believe I'm leading her down a path of feeling she is "less than" because she's a girl. It's just that if I gave her the Boy's Doodle Book, she'd hate it - because she's a girl. Girls aren't "less than", we're just different, and that's kind of my point. That it's okay to like those things and let our imaginations go to a girly place, if we want to. By the way, I use the word "feminist" somewhat in jest. I believe women are just as intelligent and capable as men. Truth is, in my life before motherhood, I worked in a field full of men, was the highest ranking woman at my company, and donned many a pantsuit. And as far as "training" my daughter to be a princess, well, I wish you could meet her sometime. She couldn't be further from it. She's wicked smart and is someday going to do great things, whether she draws flowers for a diva or planets for outer space today. I think we're all on the same side here, we just see the view a little differently :)

  5. I appreciated that the diva in the coloring book wss an actual diva, opera-style, not Paris Hilton.

    I'm less concerned with the toys and coloring books and more concerned with the belly shirts and hot pants you'll be forced to dress fidget in when she's, oh, 4-ish. Lucky for me boy clothes, while boring, are not revealing.

  6. That's settled - Alex is getting a pair of hotpants as soon as I find some in his size.

  7. Another Athena here. I'm fully in the feminist camp. I acknowledge that there are some things that are different between the sexes (bearing children anyone?) but I also don't doubt the very real and limiting impact of social constructs (gender, class, etc.) on our wee ones.

    As an example, I'd offer not a gender-related example but one of class and ethnic identity. My dad was born in Mexico but grew up in the Central Valley, the son of a farmer laborer. As a kid, his dream job was working at the local auto parts store because Mexican farm laborer kids didn't go to college. And, frankly, his world wasn't big enough to know those kinds of options. It wasn't until one solitary teacher encouraged him to apply to college that he even thought it a viable avenue for him. He graduated from Berkeley. He didn't know or think his world could expand until he had a little encouragement to explore that possibility.

    I think this is akin to what happens with the dichotomy created in the pink and blue worlds. They paint pictures of what is "accepted" and make it difficult to move beyond that place. The current approach to toys, clothes, etc. does little to encourage cross-pollination/expansion of the realms and I think both sexes are short-changed because of it.

  8. If it makes any difference, Athena was always my favorite Greek goddess.

    Oh, and Christiana - we were at Target yesterday buying discounted swimwear for Alex for our trip... and walked by a display of girls' "gym shorts" that felt and looked more like a pair of boxer briefs. Brief boxer briefs, at that.

  9. Just caught this slideshow on HuffPo of terrible toys for girls. I think anyone would agree that these toys set girls up for a world of hurt (and not a scholarship to the Claremont Colleges!).