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How Should She Be Treated?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since I posted about the “date your daughter” video. While I stand by everything I said, and I don’t believe I need to apologize or clarify anything, I do have some further thoughts.

I am not opposed to parents spending time with their children. I’m not opposed to dressing up in fancy clothes, if that’s what the child wants. I may think it’s weird to play on the playground in prom attire, but let’s face it—was there really any playing going on? That whole video was staged, not a real “date.” I challenged the heteronormativity/two-parent family model, but I also suggested that quality one-on-one time with our kids is a good thing.

After some more thinking, I concluded that one of the things that makes me feel creepy and strange about it is the idea that dads must show their daughters how a man should treat them. This is pure nonsense for several reasons.

1. It assumes dating and marriage, rather than personal growth and development, are the goals.

The assumption is that every girl is going to grow up to become a wife (to a man). I understand that culture too well. When I was in college, there was an unspoken rule that many young women were not there for college degrees but to find mates, or that the degree was secondary. Not every woman wants to get married.

2. It assumes heterosexuality.

By teaching girls how men should treat them, it sends the message that relationships with men are expected. This is awkward at best when a girl is not interested in boys. It’s destructive at worst.

3. It assumes every person the parents call “daughter” is a girl and every person the parents call “son” is a boy.

These daddy-daughter date nights with reinforced gender roles are hurting gender non-conforming, genderqueer, and transgender individuals. That applies to both people presumed boys and people presumed girls.

4. It assumes families configured other than Mom + Dad + Kids are dysfunctional and inadequate.

Some families have a single mother. Some have two mothers. Some are formed in other ways. If there is no man living in a particular household, that is not some automatic death knell for a girl’s future dating life. Plenty of women grow up in households with dads who don’t date them, and they adjust to being wives and partners just fine.

5. It assumes all dads have to do is show up for date night.

If a father is present in his children’s lives in other ways, it isn’t necessary to make up for it by having the occasional night out. The failure to nurture, protect, and teach our kids cannot be overcome with dates. If a father behaves in destructive ways otherwise, date night won’t help. Similarly, living with integrity and showing love to our kids on a daily basis does not need to be supplemented with dates. The primary purpose of one-on-one time should be because it’s enjoyable, not because it’s a teachable moment.

6. It assumes women cannot figure out for themselves what they want in a relationship.

My biggest question is why any woman would need a man to teach her how men should treat her. If she can’t figure out for herself what she wants, she has bigger concerns than can be cured by dating her dad. It makes it sound like girls are too ignorant, unintelligent, weak, foolish, or innocent to have any idea at all what they want in a potential partner. I have never heard of a boy being taken out by his mother in order to “teach” him what he should expect from a date. So why should anyone believe girls are less capable of figuring these things out?

I find the culture of Daddy-Daughter Dating to be highly controlling. It’s yet another way to transition a girl from being under daddy’s care to being under a husband’s care. It is an erasure of her personhood, her autonomy, and her sexuality. Not only that, it erases her mother as an influencing force. If a girl really needs help learning about healthy relationships, why is that not the territory of her mother? Why can’t her mom help her learn “how she should be treated” on a date?

Once again, I have a much better idea. Let’s teach our children how to respect themselves and others. Let’s help them set healthy boundaries for themselves and reinforce that they need to be aware of other people’s boundaries. Let’s help them develop as people first—to discover their interests, passions, hobbies, talents. If we put relationships in the context of helping them become well-rounded, we eliminate the emphasis on “someday, you’ll be appropriately straight-married.” Instead, they discover the kinds of people they want in their lives—whether romantically or in friendship—without the need to “practice” with their parents.

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Unrecognizable

What happens on a rainy Tuesday with nowhere to go when a writer is stalling on her edits? Why, reading Facebook, of course. That’s how I came across this article, linked by several friends. It’s photos of people—correction, women—without makeup and then made up so they are unrecognizable. I think most people found it amazing; I was a little disturbed.

The photos on the left in each set look to me like normal, everyday people. They seem like the people I might meet at church or in the grocery store. They are people who might be my friends. They look approachable, women I would talk to without feeling ashamed of the way I’m dressed or have my hair styled or how little/much makeup I’m wearing.

The second set, on the right, all intimidate me. They look unreal, unattainable. I’m quite sure if I had professionals do my hair and makeup I would look like that too. The question is, would I even want to?

No. No, I wouldn’t.

What I didn’t like was the way those women ceased to be themselves. They were made to look ideal, glossy, even photoshopped. The problem I have with that is that it’s the expectation for women. There is so much pressure, starting when girls haven’t even hit puberty, to look exactly right. Don’t be yourself, be someone else’s idea of beautiful. But that’s not the only thing wrong there.

We have those expectations for men, too. Be athletic. Be strong. Have a perfect physique. Be manly (whatever the hell that means; I think it’s probably something like “be the opposite of what we just told women to be”). Or, failing that, then be less manly, but do it in a culturally acceptable way. For example, be a skinny, pale guy in glasses, but make sure you’re into math, science, computers, gaming, comics, or some other pursuit we can mock you for but that’s still considered guy territory.

And heaven forbid a boy or a man wants to try out the same thing those women did in the photos.

I see so much these days about empowering women when it comes to things long considered men’s arenas. Everything from Girl Scout campaigns for girls in math and science to GoldieBlox to women in geek culture has us talking about how wide open the world is for women. Even here in my house, I’ve taken great pains to make sure my daughter knows she doesn’t have to restrict herself because she’s a girl.

Sadly, after seeing the extreme makeup photos, I tend to think we’re not even close as a society to women being more than pretty faces. We’re enthralled with the Ugly Duckling concept, the idea of taking women perceived as “plain” (or photographed in a way that makes them look plain) and turning them into swans. We don’t really have an interest in those women as people.

But what about our boys?

It is still a sign of rampant misogyny that boys who want to break free from social gender-norming are considered less than, weak, unmanly. That’s not about their hobbies or interests—it’s about being perceived as feminine and how terrible it is for a man to not be masculine enough. We don’t care about men as people either.

I would love for men to break that down. You know what? Go do it—go get made up like the women in the photos until you’re not recognizable. What an interesting experiment it would be to see the reactions. I’ll bet a small subset of us would be wowed by it (I personally think men look very nice made up). But the rest? I can only imagine the reactions. I doubt most people would refer to them as “stunning” or “amazing.” I wouldn’t be able to bear the comments on such an article; I’d have to stop at the first violent threat.

How long is it going to be before women and men alike will be allowed to do what we want without the threat of violence hanging over us because we couldn’t complete the Real Man/Real Woman checklists? How long until a woman’s value isn’t tied to her appearance? How long until being a woman is considered to be such a good thing that no one is mocked or threatened for enjoying “feminine” pursuits? How long until no one dies for making her outside match her inside and presenting as a woman?

Lord, I hope it’s not long. I’m desperate for that change.

A tough week for women

I’ll just say it: This was not a great week for women, particularly in Christian circles.  I was disappointed multiple times over by the ways in which we continue to have our personhood monitored by people who believe we have gender-specific charges to follow.  It saddens me that even in this time and place, we still have white men preaching unironically about the “hate” we may face as Christians because people might think we’re misogynistic or homophobic—while these people continue to demonstrate that the lack of trust isn’t misplaced at all.

These three posts make it clear that we have a long, long way to go.  (No worries, you can safely click every link here without driving up the hit counts on the posts, thanks to DoNotLink.)

Just Say No to Feminism!

First up, we have Certified Douche Matt Walsh to tell us that “feminism is not your friend.”  Oh, okay, Matt, because I was under the impression that feminism was all about making sure that my rights as a woman are equally protected as the rights of men.  Apparently, I was wrong.  Feminism actually exists to make people kill all the babies.  That’s really good to know, because I’ve called myself a feminist since before it was Internet cool.  I’m going to have to find a new term now, because Matt has assured me I’m using the wrong one.  Or I’m aligning myself with the wrong people.  I’m not sure which.

Along with other bizarre claims, Matt thinks feminism is like a seatbelt in a burning car, somehow trapping us in.  I’m really not even sure how to figure that one out.  He also seems to think we attribute feminism as giving us our worth.  Oh, poor Matt, not understanding that we don’t need an outside source or movement to give us human worth and dignity—we have it simply by virtue of being human.  Guess that’s too much for him, though.  Poor guy’s head would explode if he realized that.  Eventually, he sort of makes a point, which is that feminism is Bad and the good it’s done (oh, say, working towards women having the right to vote, for example) doesn’t outweigh the bad.  Here, have a fun video to rinse out the taste of Matt’s post:

Making Church Safe: One Covered Boob at a Time

Next, we have Dannah Gresh’s mess of a post on How Women Can Make Church a Safe Place for Men.  I was just hoping that someone could tell me what to do so that men won’t lust after me.  I can thank Dannah for clearing that up.  It’s good to know that she and her husband talk into the wee hours about his “lust problem.”  Why do I get the feeling that the conversation was mostly driven by Dannah and not her husband’s guilt?

I’m pretty sure my favorite part was where she said that:

In a man this reaction is particularly strong since God created him to be visually stimulated. If he sees a woman walk by wearing revealing clothing, his pulse may increase; his body temperature may rise. Other changes may take place as well.

I admit it, I giggled like a middle schooler.  “Other changes”?  You mean he might get [stage-whispers] an erection?  Apparently, I’m not the only one with middle-school mentality and a lack of knowledge about basic human biology.  Not only can she not bring herself to use proper terms, she really has no clue how either the autonomic nervous system or the sexual response cycle work (never mind her cluelessness about gestalt theory).  That, right there, disqualifies most of the rest of her post.

It’s not that I don’t think there are appropriate choices when it comes to dressing for an occasion.  But this policing of women’s bodies and clothing needs to stop.  Likewise, the policing of men’s minds and penises needs to end.  The way to make church safe for both men and women is to stop shaming everyone for every last damn thing we think or do.  Pretty sure that’s not what Jesus had in mind.

What’s the Opposite of Evening the Score?

Finally, we have The 100 Top Christian Blogs.  While I’m glad to see some of my favorite people on that list, I’m saddened that only 14 spots went to women.  I don’t consider this anywhere near as bad as Matt Walsh’s or Dannah Gresh’s horrible posts, but it is disappointing.  I’m not upset that it’s not a 50/50 split so much as that it highlights that the public face of Christianity is still very much controlled by straight, white men.  The dearth of women on that list isn’t the only thing that troubles me.  I don’t read most of those blogs, so someone else would probably be better off confirming this for me, but even though I see blogs by people who stand up for social justice, I didn’t see any by openly LGBTQ+ people, and the vast majority also seem to be white.  I’m also sickened to see that people like Mark Driscoll, Denny Burk, Doug Wilson, and Al Mohlers made the list, and not down near the bottom, either.

It’s important to note that these people really are not representative of Christianity or Christian blogging as a whole.  We’re a far more diverse and interesting bunch than this limited list would lead people to believe.  It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post with my favorite links, but maybe it’s time I do so again.  Yes, there are some great blogs on that list, but there are so many more you may be missing out on.

The meaning of pinkhood

By tanakawho from Tokyo, Japan (Not a black sheep  Uploaded by Petronas) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By tanakawho from Tokyo, Japan (Not a black sheep Uploaded by Petronas) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the gender expectations for boys and girls.  I suppose this is because this great post about toy shopping in Target has been circulating.  I admit to loving it–it’s funny in a snarky way, and it certainly hits at what I feel is one of the biggest problems in toy advertising/store arrangement.  But something has been bothering me, and it wasn’t until last night that it really solidified.

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you may know that both of my kids are in multiple dance classes.  Currently, my son is taking private ballet lessons, as there was no class for his age group.  Yesterday, we arrived a few minutes before the end of class so we could watch him do a little combo with his teacher.  Afterward, he gave her a card he’d made and she gave him a small gift–homemade Chex mix and a little bag containing mini bottles of coconut-lime shower gel and hand lotion.*

He was thrilled.  I commented that his teacher sure knows him well, and he agreed.  It was a very sweet moment.  Now, what had me thinking about it is the number of adults in my circles who would find that strange or even bad.  Why would a ten-year-old boy want such a feminine gift?  Thus begins the speculating on my son’s life and future.

And that, right there, highlighted the real problem for me.

It isn’t merely that we think it’s not okay for boys to like dolls or fancy hand lotion or pink cook stoves that don’t feature boys on the box.  It’s the erasure of anything that seems too feminine.

The Big Questions that always come up are: Why can’t they market toy stoves and tea sets in neutral colors?  Why can’t doll clothes come in blue as well as pink?  Why can’t I find a boy doll?  Why can’t Barbies utter oddly specific action phrases when you push a button on their backs?  Why must all Legos be placed in the boys’ section?

Meanwhile, I’m asking an entirely different set of questions.

Why can’t boys own a full set of My Little Pony figurines?  Why doesn’t Batman say, “Give me a hug!” when you press a button?  Why isn’t it okay for a boy to be featured on the toy stove box, even if it is pink?

We’ve gotten very comfortable asking why the girls’ aisle is hosed in pink and frills while the boys get action and adventure.  We intentionally choose to shop for our daughters among the Legos and Monster Trucks and superheroes.  We’re okay with urging our daughters to try out sports and climb trees and wear any damn thing they want to.

We’re getting better at it with boys, but often it’s coupled with speculations about their future sexuality.  Hardly anyone talks about how much they will still love their football-playing daughter if she turns out to be a lesbian; it’s assumed that even if she is still sporty as an adult, she will at least marry a sporty Prince Charming and ride off into the WifeMommy sunset.**  But should a boy show an interest in ballet, pink, and Cher’s greatest hits, suddenly parents take to their blogs to assure the world that they will still love their obviously gay sons.***

When it’s not tied to our sons’ orientation, then it’s tied to the color-coding.  We demand the same “girl” toys for them, only we want them in blue and orange instead of pink and purple.  God forbid little Johnny play with a pink toy microwave or drink from a pink teacup.  We also rarely encourage boys to play with toys that we associate with relational skills.  It’s okay to own not-pink cookware, but the world might end if we purchase the latest Fisher-Price dollhouse for our boys.  I mean, they don’t actually need to learn the skills associated with caring for home and family.

It seems to me that the reason for this is that we like the erasure of cultural femininity more than we like the erasure of cultural masculinity.

Cultural femininity is seen as weak and bad.  How many of us have gone from feeling stifled by the lack of options to feeling guilty that we still want some (or most) of those feminine things?  How many men feel like they are less, somehow, because they have traits usually associated with women?

It took me a long time to accept that I like the color pink and that I like stories with a little romance.  I sort of felt like I couldn’t even enjoy a Disney princess movie without having to examine its problematic elements first.  This erasure of anything culturally feminine means that in order to survive, I must become more like a man.  But if I become more like a man, not only do I destroy that which is considered feminine in myself, I also end up being told that I actually want to be a man!  Or I’m a bitch or a ball-buster or some other negative term for a woman who isn’t “woman” enough.  Yet if I give up and go home, then my femininity makes me invisible again.  We often don’t have the option of being both culturally feminine and strong.

This erasure is part of what drives parents to ponder their sons’ sexuality.  It’s a grudging acceptance that if our sons want to play at being girly, we will then convince ourselves that it’s okay if they don’t live up to our expectations of what real men are like–that is, virile heterosexuals.  That is both misogynistic and homophobic, and it certainly doesn’t do any favors for straight men who are naturally more culturally feminine.  (Don’t even get me started on the erasure of bisexual men and gay men who are perceived as stereotypically masculine; they often get shit from all sides.)

I would like to see this all just go the eff away.  I see a lot–and I do mean a lot–of anti-pink snark.  But what is so wrong with pink?  Or girls liking pink and playing with pink things?  I understand the concern that we don’t want our daughters (or, hopefully, our sons) to be limited by the color-coding in the toy aisles.  I certainly understand that we don’t want to limit our children to one idea or another about what makes a “good” girl or boy.  But what if we rearranged our thoughts a little?

What if instead of changing the color-coding, we simply expanded our options?  Maybe it would be okay to associate pink with home and family if we stopped assigning the math as

Pink = Girls

Home and family = Girls

Therefore, Home and family + Pink = Not for Boys

I don’t think manufacturers, advertisers, or stores are going to change the way they deliver to consumers.  If we want change, it has to come from us.  We need to be the ones willing to say, “Eh, screw it.  I’m buying the pink stove for my son” or “My daughter would love that Hulk action figure” or “Hmm…I think my kid would like to wear this Snow White costume while building this robotic car” or “Superhero cape and an Easy Bake Oven? I think yes!”  We can’t expect the world to change for us–we have to change the world ourselves.

_________________________

*My son gets very chapped hands in the winter, and his teacher has been sharing her lotion with him.  He loves the scent, so she got him his own.

**Lesbian erasure is also a real thing and very bad.  So are assumptions that women will all be happier if they are married with kids.  No woman was ever happy being single, and all women–being such natural nurturers–want children, right?

***I could write a whole blog post on why I think speculating about our kids’ sexual orientation is a really, really terrible move on the part of parents.  Perhaps I will.

Bare down there

Warning: This post is about pubic hair.  If you don’t want to read about that, you may prefer to go look at this lovely video of a cute lamby instead.

A bunch of people shared this post about Instagram censorship.  I’m not going to post the picture for several reasons: It’s not mine; Everyone’s seen it already; I don’t need my blog censored (just in case).  To sum up, apparently, artist Petra Collins had her Instagram account deleted.  According to her*, it was because of her bikini-clad, waist-down selfie in which her unaltered pubic hair is clearly visible, both above the waistband and around the legs.  If you are one of the six people who haven’t read the post, be sure to read it.

After reading this, I had several thoughts.  First, I don’t really care what Petra Collins puts on Instagram.  I don’t care if she wears a bikini and you can see her pubes.  I probably wouldn’t even wear a bikini at all, so good for her that she feels confident in her body like that.

Second, I get why it’s provocative–I know some won’t agree with me, but I think there is more sensuality implied with just-barely-exposed pubic hair than with no hair or full exposure.  I think it’s actually artistic and interesting and beautiful, but it’s definitely suggestive.  I don’t know that I think it violates any Instagram terms, however; it’s not what I would call “nudity” by any stretch.

Third, I think she’s right in her assessments about a culture that simultaneously wants to possess and reject female sexuality.  Songs about “dubious” or no consent (you know, what I just call rape) clash violently with the film industry’s policing of female sexual pleasure.  (For more on this, you really ought to watch the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated.)

Finally, and the point I’m most interested in, is the expectations for beauty and sexuality placed on women by our society.  Culturally, even twenty years ago it wasn’t the norm to have a completely shaven pubic area.  I remember back in college having that conversation with some of my dorm-mates.  Most of us admitted to not shaving anything (hey, when you’re part of modesty culture, you don’t wear bikinis anyway, so no need to wax the bikini line).  We all giggled about the girl who kept things neat with a pair of tiny sewing scissors.  But we didn’t shell out money to have everything waxed bare.  Well, other than my one classmate who told us about going on her honeymoon to Mexico and seeing–oh my god–A STRAY PUBE!  We all thought she was a little odd anyway.

These days, it’s the norm for young women to take it all off.  It’s becoming increasingly common for young men to do the same, though there doesn’t seem to be the same pressure on them.  Although there are people who say sex is better for them when they and/or their partners are bare, the cultural trend is absolutely not about pleasure.  Young teens, barely into puberty and already trying to remove their hair, are not doing it because they think they’re going to have better sex, and neither are the young adults who are not currently (or not yet) sexually active.

It’s all about beauty standards.

What are we teaching these young girls?  How are they learning that their pubic hair is so unacceptable that it must be removed partially or fully?  I’m not sure I agree that it’s about looking like children, although that is a disturbing thought (and I’m sure that there are people out there who prefer that).  It’s about the monitoring of our bodies.  We cannot go anywhere without seeing at least one thing that tells us what we should look like, how we should dress, and what makes us acceptable.  Models in magazines.  Internet porn.  “Health”-related ads.  Television and movies.

I don’t know about you all, but I’m sick of being told what is or isn’t acceptable about my body.  As if it weren’t enough to be told I need a thin figure, big boobs, and flawless skin, now I also need to shave off my pubes, or spend thousands of dollars either waxing or having treatments to prevent the hair from growing?  No.

I’m not interested in having anyone tell me what to do with my pubic hair, whether it’s media or friends or the person I’m having sex with.  I’m grateful that I’m not married to someone who believes he has the right to tell me what to shave.  If you want to shave/wax/whatever because you like it, go right ahead.  But please don’t do it just because someone else said they don’t like what’s naturally there.  There’s no problem with couples determining what’s best for them, but no one but me decides what I will do with my body.  No one should feel pressured to change for a partner, and if you do, then perhaps that person isn’t right for you.

You know what else I don’t need?  I don’t need other people to tell me what I should find sexy.  As much as I despise being told that my own body hair (or anything else about my body) is “unsightly” or “unappealing,” I also detest being told that I should agree with that perspective.  Hey, if you are having awesome bare-crotch sex, that’s great–for you.  It’s pretty important, though, that you don’t spout off about it as though the rest of us are somehow lacking in intimacy because we either don’t care or actively dislike the idea.  When someone says that it’s “more” or “better” in some way, without qualifying that they mean personal preference, implicit in the statement is that it’s “less” or “worse” for the rest of us.   It’s just another way to shame and police others, and it needs to stop.  That’s like saying you’re having better sex because of your size (body, breasts, penis–whatever).

It’s important that we understand the distinction between an individual or couple’s preference and a cultural trend.  The former is only the business of the people directly involved, whereas the latter affects all of us.  We should also be aware of the degree to which we are influenced by societal pressure.  I’m not convinced that most of the people who remove their pubic hair are doing so because they genuinely prefer themselves that way.  Too many of us have been shamed about our bodies for me to believe it’s all about feeling or being “confident” and “sexy.”  I’m also not convinced that the vast majority of people care all that deeply about having their partners be bare.

When will we as a society reach a point when we stop referring to pubic hair as “dirty” (yes, that’s a thing) and removing it?  Maybe it’ll happen around the same time we stop referring to our vulvas as “down there.”  Hopefully, that will be when we can also stop looking to photoshopped models as the measuring stick for our own beauty.

______________________________

*I have no idea if that’s the real reason the account was deleted.  I have only one acquaintance who ever had an account deleted anywhere, and he was given warning.  When he refused to comply with the request to remove certain images, he was asked to delete his account–which he did.  So I’m not sure why Instagram would randomly delete an account without first giving a warning or asking for the photo to be removed.  I don’t think that matters, though, with regard to the larger point being made here.

 

Stay-at-home moms don’t need a defense

A Day in the Life of a Wartime Housewife. By Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

All day yesterday, I kept seeing this post cropping up.  It’s essentially yet another defense of stay-at-home motherhood, complete with elevating the role of Wife and Mother to a status nearly equal to the heavenly host.  There is nothing more guaranteed to make my blood boil than some misguided person thinking the answer to disparaging stay-at-home moms is to do just the opposite.

Before I get to what’s wrong here, I do want to point out what Matt Walsh got right.  I could die happy if I never again had to hear either of these phrases:

What do you DO all day?

and

I would be SO BORED!

I’ve heard them before.  A lot.  And yes, it does make me feel small.  Unappreciated.  Undervalued.  It makes me think those people either didn’t put in much effort when they were home or like they think I lie on the sofa eating bonbons and watching The View (gross; as if) because I have nothing better to do with my time.  Yes, I do want desperately to tell every single person who has ever said those things to me to go fuck off.  I don’t (usually), but I’d like to.

You know what’s just as bad, though?

Telling women that they’re not spending enough time with their kids.  Telling women that being a WifeMommy is the most important thing she’ll ever do.  Telling women they need husbands and children to be happy, fulfilled, and productive.  Telling professional women that they are so expendable that no one will miss them at work if they leave.

Here are some of the things Matt Walsh got wrong:

1. Staying home is super hard work.

Unless your spouse thinks it’s the at-home parent’s job to do 100% of the housework, yard work, and childcare–24/7–there are definitely moments of down time.  When my kids were tiny, nap time was my best friend.  That’s not to say parenting and chores aren’t hard, just that it’s not some endless parade of labor.  Matt Walsh did comment that there’s some down time, as there is in many other jobs.  However, he also spend a fair number of paragraphs ranting about how “hard” staying home is.  Parenting and caring for the household do involve a lot of work, but there’s no need to go overboard and act like I’m doing heavy construction all day.

2. Parenting isn’t a “job.”

I need to vent for a moment about “words mean things.”  I could write an entire blog post–maybe even a series–on this craptastic view.  Words have the meaning we attach to them–not some platonic ideal meaning.  We use the word “job” in all sorts of ways.  “I have a job to do!” doesn’t necessarily mean for pay.  “That’s not my job!” doesn’t have anything to do with getting paid either.  So stop insisting that stay-at-home moms do not have  a “job” to do.  We do.  So do moms who work outside the home.  So do dads.  It’s just another way to make sure we separate people into the categories where we think they belong.  It’s another way to disparage both at-home parents and work-outside-the-home parents.

3. At-home moms belong on a pedestal.

We are not special.  We are not better.  I’m not interested in being elevated above anyone else.  It puts me in some untouchable place where I can’t have a shitty day when I don’t even have the energy to take a shower and I feed my child Ritz crackers and string cheese for lunch so I don’t have to cook.  Up on that pedestal is a magical fairy land where sick moms push through the pain to make sure that the laundry is done and the house sparkles and the kids look like glossies in a magazine.  In that land, the awesome craft project on page 9 of Family Fun always turns out just like the picture, and I sew my kids’ Halloween costumes by hand.  I don’t know about other stay-at-home moms, but I sure as hell don’t live in that place.

4. Moms are irreplaceable.

Well, okay, we’re not easily replaced.  But working outside the home is not the same thing as having a mother die or abandon her family.  What a horrid comparison.  I know lots and lots of women who have paid, outside-the-home jobs.  They are amazing moms!  They haven’t been “replaced” by anyone.  The other problem here is that it erases stay-at-home dads.  Please, tell me again how only mommy can take care of the kids.  I think I must have forgotten that daddies are just glorified babysitters.  Never mind families that have two daddies.  Or is this the universe where one of them must be pretending to be “the girl” in that relationship?

5. Someone, somewhere, has said it’s “ideal” for moms to spend less time with their kids.

I have never heard even one person say this.  Sure, I’ve heard the aforementioned comments about being home.  But no one has suggested that the world would be a better place if women just got off their asses and went to the office for a few hours a day.

My biggest problem with the whole post can be summed up with this quote:

Yes, she is just a mother. Which is sort of like looking at the sky and saying, “hey, it’s just the sun.”

What is implied here is that mothers, like the sun, are the center of everything.  A woman’s value becomes tied to her status as WifeMommy, the person around whom the entire family solar system revolves.  It ignores real women and real life in favor of an ideal, an image of the perfect family.  Central to this view is the belief that a true family looks a lot like a 1950s television show.  If WifeMommy is the Sun, then there isn’t any room for stay-at-home dads or same-sex couples or single parents or couples without children or unpartnered people without children or grandparents raising their grandkids.  Those family situations and structures fall outside the boundaries of what is good and right, and we can therefore justify denying help, care, or solutions when the need arises.

It’s time we stopped trying to make a case for a return to a rose-tinted view of a by-gone era.  This is the way individuals and families live in 2013.  It’s like going out in the rain without an umbrella and demanding that it stop raining because you’re getting wet.  Are there issues that can come up because of the changes in family structure?  Sure.  Not because those changes are bad but because they are different.  “Different” doesn’t require fixing; it requires new strategies.  Instead of arguing over who’s more deserving of a pedestal, let’s sit down together and figure out how we can do this thing called life together.

Being a woman of confidence (part 2)

Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise du Châtelet (1706-1749), French mathematician and physicist, via Wikimedia

The other day, I asked you to tell me what you’re good at, and you delivered.  Between comments here and on Twitter and Facebook, as well as private emails, I learned that we are amazingly good at all kinds of things.  So what are they?

We’re good at our jobs.

No matter what we do, we do it well!  You told me that you are writers, teachers, artists, doctors, nurses, lawyers, marketing professionals, dancers, accountants, bankers, childcare workers, librarians, pastors, engineers . . . the list goes on.  And you love your work!  You’re professional, and you do your jobs well.  One woman commented on my post that she’s published 3 novels.  Holy cow, what an accomplishment!  I mean, I think publishing just one novel would be pretty amazing.  A few weeks ago, my church celebrated the anniversary of our pastor’s ordination.  I was awed by all of her accomplishments.  Not once did she act like it was “no big deal” (as we’re sometimes taught to do).  She accepted the thanks and accolades with grace.  Way to go, professional women!

We’re good at storytelling.

I have to highlight this one because I’m a writer myself, and I’m biased towards using our words.  One woman commented that her school district has The Hunger Games on the required reading list.  More and more places are adding in great works by women.  It may not be enough yet, but it’s a start.  I just finished reading A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle to my kids, and they’re eager for more.  Another woman–a person of color–commented that her heritage has beauty and goodness too.  I’m excited to begin delving into this richness.  There is no truth to the idea that books by women or featuring women are only for women.  My own son emotionally identifies just as strongly with Meg Murray as he does with Harry Potter.  As it turns out, many of us say we’re pretty handy with words.  Quite a lot of us blog, and some of us have wide audiences.  We know how to write, and we’re not afraid to say it.

We’re good at inter- and intrapersonal skills.

Some of the great things women said they were good at:

  • Organization
  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Offering wise words
  • Time management
  • Caretaking
  • Encouragement
  • Prayer and meditation
  • Budgeting

Some of you said you were good at all of those!  One of the women I met in an online group has consistently said that something she’s determined to do is “show up.”  She didn’t say it in response to my plea for “what are you good at,” but I think it’s a good example of one of the ways in which women are sometimes fractured.  We’re spread so thin–especially in our churches–that we are no longer able to just “show up.”  When we can break out of that pattern, it’s amazing what we can do.

We’re good at sex.

I wonder why no one wanted to own this one publicly in the comments?  I got a few private emails from women telling me that they are, in fact, very good at sex–including one who said she’s good at giving head.  (No, they weren’t propositioning; just too shy to share it outright.)  I am dang proud of them for saying it!  We have this idea that men are sex fiends who think even really awful sex is good.  We also get this message that women are so hard to please that men ought to be focused on us in the bedroom.  (I realize I’m speaking in heterosexual terms here; I’m talking about the messages we get from society, which tend to ignore people who aren’t cis-het.)  It’s good to know there are women out there owning their between-the-sheets skills.  Woo hoo!

We’re good at being wives, partners, and mothers.

I’m hesitant to go there, since often we’re told that’s what we should be good at, even if we’re not.  A lot of us, though, seem to feel undervalued when it comes to family.  We may feel appreciated by our spouses and children, but we feel marginalized everywhere else.  Some women feel like their skills at nurturing are ridiculed by women who believe we’ve sold out by staying home.  Some women feel like they may be excellent wives and mothers, but since it’s expected, it doesn’t get any special attention.  Still others find it frustrating to only be seen as wives and mothers.  Yet it’s one of the things you listed as something you’re good at, and that has beauty and worth.

I don’t want this to be the end of the road for “what are we good at.”  Keep this going!  Today, I have two challenges for you.  First, find a woman or a girl and tell her one thing she’s good at.  Second, if you are a woman, think of one thing you do well and tell someone else your truth.  You can say, “You know what?  I am really good at _____!”  See what happens.  If you take my challenge, will you email me or comment here and tell me how it went?