Compromise

This is the post where I give a review of the movie currently on high rotation in the DVD player and where I discuss some of the tricky aspects of being a feminist mother trying to raise her kids amidst a culture chock a block full of toxic, pernicious pornified *over-marketed crap.  So much of what is marketed at kids, at girls in particular, is not particularly healthy.  (While the vast majority of the stuff that is marketed as being for children is extremely gender bifurcated, I think that girls stuff can tend to be worse because there’s a sexual/sexualised element tendency in girls toys -  such as these dolls).

A very good friend of mine lent me this movie for my five year old girl to watch, she also wanted to know what I thought of it.  She had purchased in a fit of desperation, in a search for something, anything, that her girls would like that wasn’t princesses.  She was fed up with Princesses.  She just wanted something where the role of the protagonist involved something more than securing her prince.  And that how she ended up with Disney’s latest offering, Tinkerbell.  In comparison to what her girls had been watching, she loved it.  “Tinkerbell’s a Tinker!  She has a trade! She does something, she works with her hands! Here! Watch it!  Kindergarten Girl will love it! You’ll love it! It’s great!”

Indeed, Kindergarten Girl does love it.  The way her face glowed when the movie started was beautiful to behold.  Her eyes lit up as the music started, when there’s that castle with the starry backdrop.  Disney does do magic sooo well.  And yes it is a lovely movie.  The characters are sassy, funny, and erudite ( one even uses the word ‘elucidate’ ).  The music is beautiful and the animation gorgeous.  No princes in sight.  The plot revolves about the ‘being happy with who you are’ bit that seems all the rage in kids/teens movies these days (although in this case, like an awful lot of movies, the character learning self acceptance just happens to be the best at some particular thing and ends up the hero of the day – does this message help us mere mortals learn self acceptance I wonder?)

I do like it, but of course I have, shall I say, reservations about the movie.  I am not enamoured of Tinkerbell’s sexy, svelte look.  Big eyes, hips and curvy figure encased in a short dress.  In fact, the scene where she gives herself a make-over and emerges in her green outfit to have one of her male friends be so dazzled by her look that he fails to recognise her, and her other male friend has his glasses pop out in shock, is my least favourite.  Is it really necessary to fixate on her appearance?  The other aspect of the movie that doesn’t grab me, is the plot device that revolves around the jealous, bitchy character.  To my mind, its stereotypical teenage behaviour being modelled to little girls.  I don’t know, maybe I’m just being picky, as there is lots to like about the movie, especially the knowing references to the Peter Pan story.

That’s the thing with these movies, they are being marketed on two levels.  On the one hand they are designed to be appealing to kids.  On the other hand, they are designed to be enjoyed by adults also. If the adults enjoy a movie, they are much more likely to let the kids watch it, over and over, and over and over again.  If I don’t like a movie, I’m much more likely to try and convince suggest to my kids that they might like to watch something else.  So kids movies, and especially Disney’s, are full of adult jokes and sophisticated humour just so us parents will be willing accomplices in our kids obsessions.  And a whole world of merchandising purchase potential is opened up.

So compromise.  That’s what I do.  I let my kids watch stuff I have misgivings about for two reasons.  One, they are their own persons, their own little selves and I can’t control their personalities and tastes (of course I do try to rein in the unacceptable impulses that young kids are want to have, but overall I’m an influence not a dictator  – and I’ll not exposure them to stuff that I think is entirely inappropriate).  Two, I feel that I’m trying to strike that balance, the middle ground, where they are aware of the pop culture stuff around them  but not too embroiled in all of it.  I am attempting to rise environmentally aware kids, with a feminist conscience.  So, for me, that means trying not be sucked into consumeristic materialism but at the same time letting them explore their interests and follow where their imagination leads them.

* It is not the princess stuff, per se, that I object to, its the RELENTLESS marketing of ubiquitious products peddling a dubious version of compulsory femininity.  From here “Playing princess is not the issue,” argues Lyn Mikel Brown, an author, with Sharon Lamb, of “Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers’ Schemes.” “The issue is 25,000 Princess products,” says Brown, a professor of education and human development at Colby College. “When one thing is so dominant, then it’s no longer a choice: it’s a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. There’s the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, you’ll see their choices are steadily narrowing.”

It seems that people continue to go to extremes to ensure that they have a son

(Picture of one month old baby boy by Nils Fretwurst)

I found this story here.

Woman in India ‘has twins at 70′


A woman said to be 70 years of age has given birth to twins in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state after taking IVF treatment.

Omkari maintains she was nine years old when the British left India in 1947, which would make her 70. Omkari Panwar has no birth certificate but if her age is proven it would make her the world’s oldest mother.

The twins, a boy and girl both weighing 2lbs, were delivered one month early by Caesarian section. Doctors said the twins were doing fine.

Now, we are very grateful to God, who has answered our prayers
Charam Singh, father of twins

“We already have two girls but we wanted a boy so that he could have taken care of our property. This boy and girl are God’s greatest gift to us,” Omkari said.

Father of the twins, Charam Singh, a farmer in his mid-70s, told ABC News he was very happy.

“The desire for a male child has always been there, but God did not bless us with a male child. Now, we are very grateful to God, who has answered our prayers,” he said.

I saw this headline and my immediate reaction was along the lines of ‘perhaps letting people in their 70′s have babies is a case of technology going to far?’ but upon reading the story I realised that in this case it was not about the desire to have a baby, per se, for after all the couple in this story already have two daughters and five grandchildren. What did this couple want so badly that they not only spent their entire life savings but also took out a bank loan? They wanted a son, a male heir to take care of their property -or what is left of it, seeings that they have got into debt and spent their savings in order to pay for the IVF. Logic is obviously not clouding their judgment in their deep desire to have a male heir, a desire I imagine that they have probably been nursing for over 40 years as they raised their girls. And apparently age is no limitation in this technological dystopia of ours. I say ‘dystopia’ because many women are discovering that technology does not allow everyone who wishes it to have children, fertility treatment is still a very hit-and-miss affair, and stories such as these about obviously post-menopausal women having babies, trivialises the experiences of those who cannot conceive and perpetuates the myth that science is the panacea that will solve our problems and deliver our wishes.

I imagine, as I really know next to nothing about this couple, that as they have gotten older and felt their approaching mortality, their wish for a male heir grew into desperation. Because having a baby, or indeed two, when you are in your 70′s would be no picnic, especially for the mother. Endless rounds of hormone injections and the exhaustion of carrying twins close to term, would not be an easy task, let alone taking care of the babies themselves once they are born. For this couple, the pressure desire to have a male heir must have been immense, if what they were willing to do to achieve this is any reflection. I envision that this desire to have a son was the result of socio-cultural and/or religious beliefs that almost necessitate having a male heir to carry on one’s family line. And this is far from being something unique to India.

The preference for sons over daughters is almost universal across cultures and is currently being acted upon in ways that are producing demographic distortions. (For details, here is the link to the comprehensive ‘Because I am a Girl’ report). The general birthrate is usually 95 girls per 100 boys (as infants, boys have a slightly higher mortality rate, so generally the differences in birthrate disappear by childhood), but in some areas (for example, South Korea, India, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan) the birth rate reflects this desire for a male child and as result there are 80 girls for every 100 boys. This is a reflection of several practices, prenatal testing to detect female foetuses – which are then aborted, female infanticide, and a neglect of girls – withholding food and/or medical attention.

In order to explain what I mean by demographic distortions let me share with you the number of women and girls missing, that is the additional females we would expect to be living in a given population if there was no discrimination. (Bear in mind that the population of Australia is roughly 21 million, just to put these numbers into to perspective) India is missing 23 million females, China – 30 million, Pakistan – 3.1 million, Bangladesh – 1.6 million, Egypt – 600 000, Turkey – 600 000, Nepal 200 000, and from the rest of the world we are missing some 40 million women. The shortage of women in areas such as China is leading to problems such as the kidnapping and trafficking of women. (See The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, by Joni Seager, 2003).

Undergoing IVF treatment to ensure that one has a son is, unfortunately, just the most modern permutation of a very old practice. Since the beginning of (written) history MANkind has engaged in practices that reflect the preference for a son. I will leave you with this snippet of a letter written by a husband to his pregnant wife living in ancient Roman controlled Egypt, which reflects the practices of the time.

I beg and beseech you to take care of the little child, and as soon as we receive wages I will send them to you. If -good luck to you!- you bear offspring, if it is a male, let it live; if it is a female, expose it.” (from ‘Marriage, a history’, by Stephanie Coontz, 2005).

Pregnant Man gives Birth!

Meet Thomas Beatie a female-to-male transsexual who decided to fulfill his dream of having a baby. Thus when he was operated on to become male kept his reproductive organs in order to keep open the option of having children. While Thomas is not the first FTM transsexual to get pregnant and have a baby he is the first to go on Oprah and tell his story to the world. (Daddytypes.com has this story from the point of view of other FTM transsexuals)

The news today is that he gave birth (naturally) on the 29th June in Oregon and the father and daughter are doing fine.

This picture fascinates me. Thomas looks so manly, but that belly is no beer gut, and the way he holds his hand on it is so familiar to any woman who has been pregnant. What I also find interesting is Thomas’ views on his impending fatherhood (found here).

Quizzed about their roles after the birth of their child, Thomas and Nancy said they would be sticking to the current set-up, with Thomas as the dad.

He rejected suggestions that pregnancy might reawaken his maternal instinct.

I see pregnancy as a process and it doesn’t define who I am
Thomas Beatie

Thomas added: “I have very stable male gender identity.”

Wow! The radical feminist vision of reproduction not being tied to gender has come to fruition, (well maybe for a very small segment of the population, the FTM transsexuals who wish to have children, and who have opted not to make themselves sterile in the surgical transition from female to male). In the case of Thomas we have someone, who chooses to be male, who chooses to have (as in – carry in his belly and birth) a baby, and who chooses not to sees the two as being incompatible notions. For some time society has been able to understand that women who choose not to have children can be feminine, but we do seem to be in the midst of a culture which glorifies motherhood and pregnancy, so what are we to make of a pregnant and birthing father?

I know one father who I honestly believe would have loved to have been able to carry and birth one of his two children (if it were possible he and his wife would have carried one each as they made their little family). But of all the men I know he is probably the only one who can seriously entertain the idea that pregnancy and birthing, were it possible for men, would be an option that they would consider.

If men could have children would it raise the status of child rearing? Or would it remove the sentimental glorification of motherhood, or the devaluing and disrespectful contempt accorded the role of mother? I know it is a paradox, but I feel that motherhood is simultaneously loved and loathed. There exists a romanticism which makes it look attractive and almost inevitable for most women, but we also live in a culture in which mothering, caring and nurturing and not valued as being the worthy and necessary contributions to society that they are.

I personally don’t think that the ability of FTM transsexuals to carry and birth babies (and be, in some sense, both mother and father to the child) is going to threaten or revolutionise the dichotomous gender roles of our culture, but many people do. Apparently Thomas and Nancy had a lot of trouble finding a doctor who was willing to help them in their quest for Thomas to have a baby.

But what if technology did develop to the point where most men, and not just FTM transsexuals, could give birth if they so choose? What would the implications be for our society? Well obviously our culture would be engulfed in its own effeminacy and culture, reason, finance, adventure, aggression, intellect and all other areas which are the supposed domain of men would come to an abrupt halt and society as we know it would cease.

I don’t think so.

As indicated in my last sarcastic paragraph we as a culture have divided the world into binary categories and assigned virtues as being either masculine or feminine and given a corresponding cultural value. These which fall onto the masculine side of the dichotomy are valued more highly that those which fall on the feminine side. So we have mind and matter, culture and nature, intellect/reason and emotion, light and dark, active and passive, aggression and nurturing being equated (respectively) with masculinity and femininity. Now these arbitrary categories reflect the hierarchies and priorities of our culture, not biology or destiny. I would like to think that if men, as well as women, could give birth then we as a culture would realise that nurturing is not the exclusive domain of women. (Of course many people already realise this and as a result fatherhood is being appreciated, experienced and enjoyed differently to how it has been done in the past). I do not think that there is any trait which belongs exclusively to one gender, although our society emphasises some traits more in one gender over the other. This thought exercise, what would our world be like if men and women could have babies has been interesting for me, although I do not think that technology is anywhere near the point of being able to create that situation. As far as I am aware, scientists are not even certain what amniotic fluid is composed of and so are a long way from being able to create an artificial womb. Which is perhaps just as well, I really believe that the answers to our society’s problems are not going to be found in new and better technology but rather in changing the way we value or devalue the various aspects of our world.

Back in March, before I started blogging, when news of Beatie’s pregnancy broke bluemilk posted ‘When “mother” is just a biological social construct‘ and discussed the gender transgressions that are being committed.

More techutopian dreams

The BBC are carrying this story about an interesting study which has just been published in Nature. In this study they tracked the movements of 100 000 people as they used their mobile phones. The anonymous cohort (who are not aware of their participation in the study) were randomly selected from a European nation of 6 million people.

The whereabouts of more than 100,000 mobile phone users have been tracked in an attempt to build a comprehensive picture of human movements.

The study concludes that humans are creatures of habit, mostly visiting the same few spots time and time again. Most people also move less than 10km on a regular basis.

Ok so that is very interesting, but what about the ethics of tracking people without their permission? Apparently the possibilities are endless.

“It would be wonderful if every [mobile] carrier could give universities access to their data because it’s so rich,” said Dr Marta Gonzalez of Northeastern University, Boston, US, and one of the authors of the paper.

Dr William Webb, head of research and development at the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, agreed that mobile phone data was still underexploited.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he told BBC News.

Did you notice that they want the data from the mobile phone carriers companies and not the mobile users? Don’t worry the benefits and commercial possibilities will be passed onto users.

Commercial products also exist, allowing parents to track children or for friends to receive alerts when they are in a similar location.

These types of services and projects will continue to grow, Dr Webb believes, as researchers and businesses find new ways to use the mobile phone networks.

“There are so many sensors that you could conceivably attach to a phone that you could do all kinds of monitoring activities with,” he said.

We mustn’t worry about being monitored through our mobile phone usage after all we are already giving away all our details on facebook and through our blogs. Just combine Facebook with your mobile and not only can your location be tracked to within three kilometres, but information about your mood, status and friends is also readily available. Welcome to the future.