On being a mama, and being a mama of a small child.

There are a couple of recent guest posts at Feministe written by a woman named Maia regarding children in public spaces and what it means to be a mama. I was horribly late to the comment-party (-FAIL), and when my “thank you” got to be more than 200 words, it got transferred here. So.

The bit of Maia’s post that stood out to me:

im not a feminist ( yeah, i said it…shrug). but i dont understand people who claim to be feminist on one hand, and on the other hand think that children should be designated to certain public and private spaces, not mixing in ‘normal’ public areas, such as restaurants, stores, airplanes, etc. cause in us culture, when you create little reservations for children, you are really creating little reservations for mothers. it is the mother who will be sent away to take care of the child. and how is that supporting all women and girls?

I am the mother of a small child, who, long before becoming the mother of a small child, had the opportunity to watch small children in situations that most people in my area (US Midwest at the time) wouldn’t consider “appropriate” places to bring kids.

The four year old child of my voice teacher ran and played with other kids up until the few moments before my teacher’s recital began, when the kid climbed up into a chair, sat face forward and paid attention to what was going on, with only a small reminder from his mama to do so. This was normal for him, going to concerts and being quiet when they started, because he’d gotten the opportunity to do it.

Thing is: if you take kids places that don’t specifically cater to kids, they learn to do the things the adults do. My two year old already knows, when we go to our local cafe, that you go get in a chair and sit down, that when we go to hear music somewhere, you listen to the music. There are times we go home early, sure, but that’s usually for kiddo’s well being (too tired or hungry).

Expecting children to be on airplanes is the reasonable thing to do, yet some fellow airline travelers seem to think that my child getting to go see the grandparents is some sort of infringement on their right to quiet. If they know they are bothered by children and would take the time to buy a $2 package of earplugs at the dollar store, they might be much less bothered when/if the hollering begins. Pressurizing and depressurizing the cabin hurts some people’s ears, and if you’re not verbal yet, the only way to deal with that is screaming.

I haven’t encountered self-proclaimed feminists with this attitude yet. My usual interactions with the why-are-children-in-my-WAY crowd have either been with complete strangers or with people whom I know to not be particularly interested in treating children like human beings (or women, for that matter, although they’d deny both charges).

The key to treating someone like they’re actually human is not getting in the way of their self-determination. If my child doesn’t want to say “hi” to a complete stranger, I don’t make that happen. I have watched my nieces and nephews (chiefly my nieces, of course) be told to smile, to give people kisses, to say hi and bye when they didn’t want to, all in the name of being “polite” or “respectful” or “because this is what you DO”. My eldest nephew, for example, went through a phase where he didn’t want to say hello or goodbye, but halfway through our visit he’d just come up and start talking to me. He wanted to approach me on his own terms, and I let him. When the adults around him started to insist he go through the formalities with me, a relative stranger, I brushed them off, telling them I wasn’t bothered by the lack of salutations.

The other thing is, the way we treat children teaches them how they’re supposed to treat themselves and others. If you ignore their needs, you are teaching them that it’s ok to do that to other people, and that their needs aren’t really important. I certainly learned that lesson well. I’m grateful I woke up to

One small note: I call myself a radical feminist. I don’t know if that label says all the time what I want it to say, that the problems of misogyny and racism and ableism are at the very roots of our society, so what needs to happen is for all that to be rooted out – that it won’t get better with patches and creams, cosmetic changes like allowing (some) women to vote or making the wage gap not-as-bad or making abortion theoretically legal but only marginally obtainable. The problem is at the root, so the solution has to go there. I don’t know what my part in it is, but when I just read what bfp and other WOC say about their lives, that just kids just being kids while black or brown gets them arrested and abused, that the places mainstream feminism has repeatedly ignored women of color gets them killed.

This shit has to stop. I am not going to go off all delusional like the Great White Woman Who Saves The Brown People From Themselves. What I can do, right now, is raise my child to treat others like human beings. What I need to do further than that, I don’t know. But I’m not going to go expecting WOC to tell me, either. It’s my job to educate myself.

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Observed: Power Dynamics

This is apropos of nothing, except that Notorious, Ph.D. demanded requested that I actually write something.

I went to Commercial Coffee Venue today, and chose a comfy chair to occupy with my drink and my knitting, which was in a loose grouping of three such chairs, but was more removed from the other two. While I was enjoying that bit of free mindspace, a couple of people, a young man and a young woman, came into the room, looking for a place to park themselves. The young woman took the further comfy chair, and the young man balked at the selection, and then made an attempt to sit down anyway. What followed was done in a language I didn’t understand, but body language told it: he didn’t seem to have a strong preference (not having immediately taken one of the many open tables), but seemed to disagree with her choice. She acted apologetic, got up and went to a table he indicated several times during the quiet exchange.

I don’t know what their story is. I couldn’t have said what was actually going on, whether either one had reasons beyond simple preference (comfort, for instance) that informed their differing choices. All I can say is that he was not the least bit deferential, and she was almost entirely so. It was to me a pantomime of power dynamics, power which he wielded, and to which she yielded.

Street Harassment: Being “Nice”

WCP blogger Amanda Hess has a post up today detailing how responding in a polite fashion to more apparently benign forms of street harassment doesn’t deter but encourages it.

I experienced this type of outwardly friendly yet completely creepy behavior during the summer of 2008 when I still lived in Midwestern College Town. It was an absolutely beautiful day – not too hot, sun shining, light breeze – and I was walking down to the City Pool to enjoy myself. I was also visibly pregnant. It was a short and enjoyable walk; I had the option to drive, but no need.

As I was making my progress along a residential street, a middle aged man in a red pickup pulled up to me and offered me a ride. I don’t remember the precise exchange, but it boiled down to something like this:

He: [smiles] Can I give you a lift somewhere?
Me: [likewise friendly but wary] No thanks, I’m enjoying my walk.
He: [still smiling] Are you sure?
Me: [no longer smiling] I’m fine, thanks.

I sped up my pace a bit, made it more purposeful, and the man drove on. I changed my direction slightly, going first to a local coffee shop where I knew there would at least be people. I endlessly debated whether or not to report this incident to police, but my gut instinct was that they would just slough it off, as nothing identifiably bad had happened. I already had one dude thinking he knew better than me (as evidenced by the offer + “are you sure?”) – the last thing I needed was a (chances are) male cop added to the mix.

As I approached the coffee shop, the truck reappeared – he had apparently circled the block in order to continue following me.

It’s entirely possible that this man just thought he was being kind, practicing the sort of benevolent sexism present in all kinds of thinking about women: that we are to be protected, especially when pregnant, so far that if we’re out by ourselves, we can’t possibly be protected enough, so some dude had better hop to and assist, being all gentlemanly, etc. Trouble is, there’s no way for us to distinguish benevolent vs. malevolent intention until it’s too late.

It was abundantly clear that this man, while he may have had the best (if sexist) of intentions, was acting in a way that patently denied my agency and self-determination in favor of whatever random thought was in his head. That alone told me he was to be avoided at all costs.

But see? I was “nice”. I didn’t do all the things we’re told to do (be rude, put up a fight, shout for help) only after being conditioned to be polite or else. It didn’t “save” me, even though “nothing” happened. In fact, something did happen: that dude was demonstrating, yet again, that men’s desires trump women’s in every single case, no matter what mundane thing she has chosen to do. Even seemingly “innocent” encounters like this smack of patriarchial privilege, and serve to remind women of their designated place, which is certainly not making decisions for themselves to take a nice walk on a pretty day.

Random Tasty Food

Cook 1 c. quinoa in 2 c water flavored with 1 tsp chicken bouillon until quinoa is tender but not mushy (just turned translucent).

Meanwhile, saute half an onion, half a bell pepper, and about 1 c diced potatoes in 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter in a large skillet. When the vegetables start to brown, add 1 Tbsp minced garlic. Saute further until potatoes are tender. Add about 1 tsp dried basil, 1 can black beans (drained) and 1 c frozen corn. Add cooked quinoa and stir lightly. Heat thorough and eat lots.

So I’m reading again.

Added a few links recently, chiefly to the new FWD blog collective that was linked at Shapely Prose (and many other places besides) and some German feminist blogs I read and/or have recently been introduced to.

Of particular merit is mo jour, who is not only marvelously astute but also wickedly funny. (Sorry this is only of use to those of you who might know a good bit of German, but who knows? This might be more people than I think.)

Compare / Contrast

Have a look at these two articles, and see if you can spot the difference:

Man loses testicle after strange young woman on street kicks him

Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, October 29, 2009

Police in Langley, B.C., are investigating after a woman kicked a man in the groin so hard he lost a testicle — the latest in a series of similar assaults. “I just want to know what her problem is,” victim Anthony Clark, 22, said this week. Mr. Clark was walking in Langley in early September when he passed his assailant on the sidewalk. “I was looking down and then I took a passing glance and saw her walk up to me,” he said. That is when the young woman inexplicably kicked him in the groin hard enough to send one of his testicles into his abdomen. Mr. Clark said he was not aware of the severity of his injury until later that night when he “noticed something was missing.” The force of the assault caused his testicle to rupture. It had to be removed and will be replaced by a prosthetic before Christmas. Constables have told him there have been three or four similar assaults on other men, Mr. Clark said.

And this:

10-Year-Old Boys Arrested Over Alleged Rape in U.K.

SkyNews (Emma Rowley, Sky News Online)
Thursday, October 29, 2009

Two 10-year-old boys in the U.K. have been arrested over a claim of rape, according to Sky News.

The alleged victim is an 8-year-old girl who was out playing with the boys on Tuesday.

She went with them to a park where she says she was sexually assaulted, Sky News reported.

The allegation was reported to police on the same day and is being investigated by police.

Browncoats… on ice!

Not so much on ice as on The Ice.

I can hardly believe it, but someone just bought one of my Jayne hats, and is planning to take it to Antarctica with him in January.

ANTARCTICA.

Gerlache Strait (Antarctica)

Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences.

Said purchaser has been kind enough to promise photographs and blogging privileges.

It’s not the same as going, but it’s just close enough that I’m *still* excited about it, and I found out more than 24 hours ago.

Quick Hit: Political Progress

I am happy to say I can now officially update my numbers re: the demographics of the United States government: Sonia Sotomayor was sworn in as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court Saturday.

The numbers again:

Supreme Court:

  • 5 women, 4 men
  • at least one per racial group**
    • White, non-Hispanic
    • Black/African-American
    • Hispanic/Latin@
    • Asian
    • Native American/Alaskan Native
    • Native Hawai’ian/Pacific Islander
    • Other***
  • One justice would have a disability
  • At least once justice would be LGB, and preferably another be T/I

Current gender demographics: 1 woman, 8 men 2 women, 7 men
Current racial demographics: 1 African-American (a man), 8 white non-Hispanic 1 Hispanic/Latin@ (a woman), 7 non-Hispanic whites.