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My three year old dressed up as Batgirl for Halloween last night. She loves Batgirl. Everytime she puts on the costume, which is often, she acts out complicated stories, usually involving several stuffed animals, about how she is saving the world. Before last night, my daughter had no idea that Batgirl is far less famous or celebrated than Batman.

Here is what happened on Halloween:

Adult after adult, kind adults who wanted to be nice, who gave my daughter candy, called her Batman. At first, my daughter said nothing back to them but asked me: “Why do people keep calling me Batman?” I told her: “That is so silly. What are they thinking? You’re not Batman, you’re Batgirl.” As the man-moniker continued, my daughter quietly corrected them: “I’m Batgirl.” By the end of the night, she was shouting; “I’M BATGIRL!”

Sometimes, we’d run into a Batman, at one point an adult distributing candy. After his wife or girlfriend saw my daughter, called her Batman, and was corrected, she said to her partner: “Look! It’s your sidekick!” My daughter turned to me, confused. “Tell him he’s your sidekick,” I said.

The people who called my daughter Batman were men and women, adults and children, parents and teenagers. She was wearing a dress, by the way.

I know Batgirl doesn’t have five major motion pictures about her, all featuring famous movie stars. There aren’t Batgirl toys or Batgirl clothing or Batgirl comic books everywhere you look. (Today, I will do a Google search and try to find some). One person did say to my daughter: “Are you…Batwoman?” Then she laughed. I wondered why that term sounded so strange. Is there a Batwoman? Is “Batwoman” sexualized somehow? Or would “woman” imply too powerful a superhero, is that why we use “girl?” Or is it the opposite: “girl” and “man” are cool, but “woman” represents a loss of power that even little kids pick up on? Would you ever refer to a kid in the comparable costume as “Batboy?” That sounds diminutive to me.  And what does that say about the sexism of our cultural mythology, that “Batgirl” is empowering but “Batboy” is insulting?

It all kind of makes me understand the monotony of Halloween: If you’re a girl and dress as princess, everything is simple and everyone knows just what to say: “I love the dress. You’re so beautiful!”

(My oldest daughter wanted to dress as a Native American because she’s doing a school paper on the Miwok tribe. Instead of being a “Dream Catcher Cutie” as the package advertised, she asked if I would buy a bow to go with her costume; my middle daughter is a fairy.)

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Look what happened today at breakfast: 3 kids spontaneously pulled out books and started to read. I got to drink my coffee in peace! Moments like this are so rare, I took a photo, and I’m posting it, even though the picture is not that great.

Rose, age 3, is reading Giant Meatball. (She can’t read but doesn’t know that.)

Alice, age 6, is reading Green Eggs and Ham. She is just starting to really read and love it. Dr. Seuss’s rhyming word patterns are great for this stage, though his total lack of female characters drives me bats.

Lucy, age 9, is reading Wildwood. I am going to blog about this book; it’s great and stars a sister who courageously rescues her little brother.

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To me, it’s pretty obvious that females– half of the kid population– are presented as a tiny minority in animated movies. It’s also obvious that Hollywood’s manufactured minority translates to minimal female representation in everything from toys and clothing to icons on diapers, and, most tragically, into children’s imaginary play.

The Geena Davis Institute is the only organization that I know of which does major studies to calculate statistics on the lack of females in children’s media. This lack, by the way, is consistent whether kids are watching PBS or Disney.

Here’s a recent interview from Yonhap News (ever heard of it?…Emphasis below is mine)

While watching television programs with my daughter, I was astounded by the lack of female characters,” Davis said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. “This maybe (is the reason why) I decided to help improve the situation.”
In 2004, Davis founded the research-based organization to work within the media and entertainment industries to engage, educate and influence the need for gender balance, a reduction of stereotypes and the creation of a wide variety of female characters.

Since then, the institute has been at the forefront of changing the portrayal of females and gender stereotypes, by commissioning large research projects on gender in film and television.

The institute holds a biennial symposium to release its research and showcase it to producers in the film industry. The actress also regularly meets with movie and animated film producers in attempts to change how they think about gender balance.

Despite her efforts, Davis said there is still “no improvement because the ratio of female to male characters has been exactly the same since 1946.”

If we add female characters at the rate they have been, we will have equality in 700 years,” the actress said, citing a study. “It’s the same thing in other sectors of the society. If we add women to congress (at the current rate), it will take 500 years (to reach equality.)“…

“We are raising funds for the first global study on gender depiction in the media,” Davis said.

I give money to the Geena Davis Institute because the world likes to see numbers before actually creating change. Those numbers get publicized, and that, hopefully, convinces parents that this radical sexism is not the “opinion” of  a few, but factual and rampant. If you see what I see, protect your children’s imagination. There is no good reason for the fantasy world to be sexist.

Donate to the Geena Davis Institute now. Help spread the word and change the world.  Here is the link.

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Obama on free speech

Here is what Obama said to the UN today:

As president of our country, and commander in chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so.

Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views – even views that we profoundly disagree with. We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened.

I love this.

It’s a great lesson for our kids, especially girls who really need to ‘get’ this: People will say mean things about you. The more powerful you get, the more mean things will be said. Don’t let that stop you from speaking.

On some level, there are times that everybody would like to bully people who disagree with them, especially rudely disagree, into shutting up. That’s human. But better than censoring someone or punching them in the face, keep speaking your truth respectfully instead. It feels better. Real power isn’t about making others shut up. It’s about not being silent even though people may insist that your experiences aren’t valid or never happened.

There will always be people who won’t like you. They might call you names, but remember, sticks and stones. I really believe that fundamental belief (fundamental, ha) is what makes America great. Thank you, Obama, for reminding us, though I wish you hadn’t taken quite so long.

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Founder of Feministing.com and author of Full Frontal Feminism Jessica Valenti recently came out with her book Why Have Kids? While pitching stories to media outlets about issues on motherhood covered by her book, including paid parental leave and affordable childcare in America, a major news organization came back to her, emailing this suggestion for a story:

Would Jessica be interested in writing something about weight loss after having a baby? We’re doing a lot of coverage around Jessica Simpson’s efforts to lose the baby pounds, and we’d love to hear from Jessica Valenti about what it was like for her to shed the weight.

So here is a feminist writer– probably the most well-known one of her generation– with a new book out on motherhood and all this so-called “news” organization wants to know is how she lost her baby weight? Seriously?

On her own web site, Valenti posts a video where she reveals her secret for losing that weight so fast, so easily: she had a preemie. Her baby weighed just two pounds. Valenti was living in a hospital, stressed out and sleepless, watching her baby cling to life.

I am so happy Valenti posted this video, because in doing so, she takes on the bullshit myth that this obsession with women and fat has anything to do with health. It doesn’t.

Contrary to popular belief, all thin people are not healthier than all fat people. There are plenty of thin people who smoke cigarettes, yo-yo diet, do drugs, and are actually sick. There are plenty of fat people who exercise daily. There are fat vegans and fat vegetarians.

When you see a “fat” person, in a magazine or walking down the street, you often don’t know if she’s just lost fifty pounds. You don’t know if she just gotten sober and is healthier than she’s ever been in her life. Or maybe she just got out of an abusive relationship. What’s more, her own doctor often has no clue what’s going with her, because doctors rarely ask, yet, magically, they still know everything about what their patients should be eating.

After the birth of her baby, Valenti was sick and her baby was sick, but she lost that baby weight. So its all good, right?

After Jessica Simpson had her baby, her baby was healthy (9 lbs, 13 oz) and she was healthy, yet, she was mocked for being fat. She’s still talking about how she can’t lose the weight as fast as she’d like, and how she really needs to, because, you know, “extra weight” isn’t healthy.

Fat obsession is not about health. It’s about judging and controlling women’s bodies. Thank you Jessica Valenti for calling that out in this great video.

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blue milk posted this intro:

Oh my god, Ta-Nehisi Coates knows how to write an Opinion piece. Here he is in The New York Times talking about the relationship between intuitive eating and historical affluence and how this all relates to culture and politics. It is an exceptionally clever way of framing the discussion.

Here’s the excerpt:

I left the first of these dinners in bemused dudgeon. “Crazy rich white people,”  I would scoff. “Who goes to a nice dinner and leaves hungry?” In fact, they were not hungry at all. I discovered this a few dinners later, when I found myself embroiled in this ritual of half-dining. It was as though some invisible force was slowing my fork, forcing me into pauses, until I found myself nibbling and sampling my way through the meal. And when I rose both caffeinated and buzzed, I was, to my shock, completely satiated.

Like many Americans, I was from a world where “finish your plate” was gospel. The older people there held hunger in their recent memory. For generations they had worked with their arms, backs and hands. With scarcity a constant, and manual labor the norm, “finish your plate” fit the screws of their lives. I did not worry for food. I sat at my desk staring at a computer screen for much of the day. But still I ate like a stevedore. In the old world, this culture of eating kept my forebears alive. In this new one it was slowly killing me…

..Using the wrong tool for the job is a problem that extends beyond the dining room. The set of practices required for a young man to secure his safety on the streets of his troubled neighborhood are not the same as those required to place him on an honor roll, and these are not the same as the set of practices required to write the great American novel. The way to guide him through this transition is not to insult his native language. It is to teach him a new one.

Thank you Ta-Nehisi Coates for writing this! And to the feminist motherhood blog blue milk for picking it up.

Every time I blog about the way I eat or how I feed my family– intuitive eating, letting my kids eat whatever and whenever they want, and that they never get in trouble for “wasting” food— I get comments about how wasteful and unhealthy I am, along with what a terrible mother I am.

Intuitive eating is about so much more than eating. It’s about learning how to listen to your body and listen to yourself. It’s about self respect and independence and health and not giving a shit what other people think or say about you.

If you don’t know how to listen to your  body, learn. Buy the books When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies or Preventing Childhood Eating Problems. Raise your kids to be intuitive eaters. That is, honestly, the best way to stop “wasting food.” And it sure makes meal times more pleasant.

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One of the hardest (and most unexpected) challenges for me in transitioning from single life to momhood was organization.

I have never been an organized person at home. I didn’t really get the point. It always seemed like there were better things to do.  I was of the opinion: Why make your bed if it’s just going to get messed up again?

But one husband and three kids later, I get the point: If we are not organized, the whole family ceases to function. We can either have peaceful mornings or stress and yelling with everyone leaving the house in a horrible mood. So much of it just comes down to organization. Who knew?

Since realizing this tool, I’ve become so curious how other parents, not natural Martha Stewarts, pull it off. So, please, write in your tips.

With 3 kids in a 3 bedroom house, this is how we do it:

First life-changing decision: a quiet room and a loud room.

I had so much trouble keeping the kids’ schoolbooks and homework organized. This led to lost homework, missed homework, frustrated teachers, and the previously mentioned yelling and stress.

So we came up with a quiet room and a loud room. One room for work, study, art: a place where you can go and count on for quiet:

Every kid keeps her own books above her desk.

There’s also the grown-up desk. (Pretend you don’t see my husband’s drums.)

I realize the irony that the “sleeping” room is called the “loud” room. Unfortunately, the label is accurate. 2 kids sleep in bunk beds:

Another parent may have made the beds before taking the photo, but at least the kids made those themselves.

The littlest kid was sleeping in a toddler bed that fit the room perfectly. Then, she grew. Our solution was to build this loft bed. (Don’t worry, she’s in the lower bunk, not up there.)

Making use of every bit of space, and because we all love to read, we made the landing on the stairs into a reading nook. I love this because it feels like an extra room.

It even doubles as “the music room” (This is where my husband’s drums should be.)

In case you can’t tell, I am wildly procrastinating writing my book. The good news is, that this summer, in spite of traveling, sickness, blogging obsessions, and various other unforeseen drama: Part One is done! YAY I am so excited about it.

Now on to Part Two…

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Title quote from Pigtail Pals.

Photo from 7Wonderlicious:

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I don’t think her mother would have to send an email out to the parents, warning them of her fashion choice.

I’ve gotten so many comments like this in reaction to my blog about the sexism intrinsic in the NYT piece “What’s So Bad About A Boy Who Wants To Wear a Dress,” that I am going to respond in a post.

No parent would send such an email because gender-pressure/ sexism against girls is more accepted. (I’ve been calling it “subtle” as well but, really, how subtle are Target’s gender-segregated aisles?) I wish we could write emails, but people would think we’re crazy, because people don’t think they’re sexist; they don’t think sexism exists and so, unfortunately, an email won’t work. Much of my whole, damn blog is dedicated to just pointing out sexism. Sexism exists, and it exists everywhere, and it’s often celebrated and not questioned by smart, progressive, educated parents. One commenter just sent me a link to this blogger praising the NYT piece with: “girls who waltz into previously male-dominated arenas are almost uniformly applauded.”

It’s just not true. God, I wish it were.

I do have some tactics to suggest for parents to deal with sexism/ gender-pressure, but before I even go into that, it’s really important not to let this issue devolve into: who has it worse, girls or boys? When we create rigid gender boxes for our kids, everyone loses out. Everyone. This is about raising healthy, happy, children, helping their brains grow so that they can reach their potential. Defending a boy for wearing a dress and a girl for wearing a Spider-Man T is the same thing, not an oppositional thing. And it’s a much deeper issue, too, because most girls today are in a place where we can’t defend them, because they won’t put on a Superhero shirt. Obviously, the same is true about boys in dresses, even if it’s only playing dress up.

Here’s the thing: Most kids like to play with dolls, but we label them “dolls” or “action figures.” Most kids enjoy pushing objects on wheels, but we sell them either trucks or babystrollers. As I wrote, most kids would have fun painting their nails if they thought it was OK to do so. Most kids, while playing outside will pick up sticks and occasionally poke each other with them. Most parents respond to that same act with “Boys will be boys” or “Sweetie, stop that! You’ll hurt yourself and rip your dress.”

There’s this one part in the NYT article that I excerpted in my first post:

Still, it was hard not to wonder what Alex meant when he said he felt like a “boy” or a “girl.” When he acted in stereotypically “girl” ways, was it because he liked “girl” things, so figured he must be a girl? Or did he feel in those moments “like a girl” (whatever that feels like) and then consolidate that identity by choosing toys, clothes and movements culturally ascribed to girls?

While the writer doesn’t go on to explore that, the point of my first post was that adults can’t even begin to decode without first recognizing the gender-Jim Crow kidculture that our children are immersed in.

It kind of reminds me of when I had an eating disorder, and I told my therapist I felt fat. She told me that fat was not a feeling. “What?” I said, shocked.  “Do you feel anxious?” she asked me. “Lonely? Frustrated?” It took me years to decode fat talk. Though I don’t say or think “I feel fat” anymore, I hear other women use those words all the time, eloquent grown-ups with large vocabularies. What are they trying to say?

Here are some ways, daily, that I decode gender talk, because though an email won’t work, saying the right thing at the right time sometimes does. Here are three main groups parents need to speak up to, even if it’s awkward, even if you feel like a bitch.

Teachers

At a parent conference, my favorite teacher glowed when he told me that my daughter played soccer like a boy. “What does that mean?” I said. “She’s good,” he said. “She goes right after the ball.” We then got in a discussion about my daughter’s behavior, and how she loved kickball, but that at recess the kids were starting divide up: girls do monkey bars, boys do kickball. I asked the teacher if he would encourage the kids to mix it up. I offered my help.  When I was a parent volunteer on a field trip, the naturalist asked the kids to split in two groups, so the teacher said: “Boys on one side, girls on the other, that’s easiest.” So what if it’s “easiest” at that moment? Moves like that, in the long run, hurt kids. A teacher would never dream of saying: “White kids here, kids of color there.”  I suggested a different kind of split and luckily,  the naturalist backed me up, pairing them up herself.

Doctors

When my kids go to the doctor, they’re often called princesses, told their clothing is pretty, and when they leave, they’re offered a princess sticker. I asked the workers at the office not to offer the princess stickers, though it’s still a struggle because most characters who are girls are princesses. When people tell my kids they are pretty or their clothing is pretty, I change the subject, “XX is a great artist, tell the nice woman what you drew on your way over.” Or “XX loves to read, tell her about Charlotte’s Web.” As I’ve written about quite a bit, these are adults trying to be nice, trying to break the ice with kids. Help here is often appreciated when delivered the right way. Rebecca Hains just posted about taking her son to the dentist, and here is how she tried to intervene:

“Hello!” said the dentist. “I just want to count your teeth today,” he said reassuringly. “And let’s make sure they’re all boy teeth, okay?”

As my son smiled and opened his mouth per the dentist’s request, I said, “Gee, I’m pretty sure they’re all people teeth, doctor.”

The denist began the exam but seemed to have missed my point. “Let’s see. Boy tooth… boy tooth… boy tooth…”

I didn’t like where this was going. In a gentle effort to redirect his script, I asked a playful question: “Hmm…Are you sure none of them are puppy teeth?”

“Puppy teeth? No… But, uh, oh!” In a voice of mock concern, he asked, “Is this one a girl tooth?!?!”

Smiling at my son as naturally as possible, I said in a bright, upbeat tone, “Gee, it could be!” (Meaning: and there would be nothing wrong with that!)

The dentist frowned and furrowed his brow. “No, no,” he said, “this is a boy tooth. You are a boy. You don’t have any girl teeth! Phew.”

It’s hard. It’s awkward because we can’t send an email like “GET A CLUE. BE OPEN. BE KIND.” And the fucked up thing is, people are often trying to “be kind” when they push stereotypes on kids. Except when they’re not…

Other kids

My six year old was at a party yesterday with a jumpyhouse and she told me that a girl there said to her (the little sister of the party girl, no less) “You can’t come in unless you’re a pretty princess.”

“What did you tell her?” I asked. Hoping for something like “I’m brave and strong and can jump over your three-year old butt.”

My daughter said, “I told her I was Ariel.”

Ariel, ugh. But at least my daughter thought it was weird, noticed it enough to talk with me about it after. A tiny victory, but something.

If I were there, of course, I would’ve smiled and said something like, “What about Merida? She can shoot arrows and turn her mom into a bear!” And I bet they both would’ve laughed and gone in. Little kids are the easiest to intercede on, and I do it all the time.

Balancing Jane asked this question as well: what can parents do on a daily basis?

So first I would say: Do something! Speak up.

I started a blog, that helps a lot. Now I have a whole community of people and resources to help break out of gender boxes.

I seek out books and movies that feature heroic females. This blog has many recommendations and lists. A Mighty Girl is a great resource. And remember, it’s important to read books and show your sons movies featuring strong girls. The myth out there, reinforced by parents terrified their boys will wear dresses, is that girls will see movies about boys but boys won’t see movies about girls. (Nothing to do with training, nothing to do what Hollywood offers them…) Take a leadership role in proving that untrue.

I’m writing a middle grade book about strong girls. That helps, too.

As the mom of three girls, I schedule playdates with boys and invite boys to birthday parties.

Last night, I put my three year old in Superman pajamas, called her Supergirl, and said, “You’re so strong! You can fly!” We played for a while before bed.

Little things are big things.

Emails won’t work, so we’ve all got to be creative here. Tell me your ideas. Even better, report your acts.

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I emailed this to the editor of the New York Times piece “What’s So Bad About a Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress” today, though so far the New York Times email isn’t working for me and the one I made up, last name @nytimes.com isn’t working for me either. I emailed something similar to the “corrections” department yesterday, which you send in the same way you post a comment.

Dear Ms. Titunik,

In the New York Times post “What’s So Bad About A Boy Who Wants To Wear A Dress,” journalist Ruth Padawer writes:

“Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.”

Kids and adults do much more than “raise an eyebrow” when young girls stray from gender norms. Stories that received a great deal of media attention about pressuring  girls include Katie, the girl who was bullied for bringing her beloved Star Wars lunch box to school, “a boy thing;” and more recently, Our Lady of Sorrows baseball team forfeited a championship rather than play a girl. You can find the links to those stories on my blog Reel Girl which I created, as the mom of three young daughters, in response to that “raised eyebrow.”

As in those two stories above, the pressure for girls to conform often comes through bullying, but it can also be more subtle as well. That subtlety makes the sexism more insidious and harder to call out and change. For the New York Times to print “no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt,” in a story about gender no less, is untrue and irresponsible.

Margot Magowan
Reel Girl

The reason this is so important to me is because the gendering of childhood is everywhere.

Just today A Mighty Girl posted about boy and girl magnets/ words:

All we can say to this one is WOW — in case girls and boys had any confusion as to what their appropriate interests should be, these gender-divided magnet sets will help clarify matters. According to this toy manufacturer, “boy words” include bike, swinging, forest, caterpillar and swimming while “girl worlds” include lipstick, jewels, clothes, glitter and dancing. How very limiting for both girls and boys!

Children are segregated; without recognizing the Jim Crow in kidworld, it’s impossible to have a real discussion about gender.

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