Crime and punishment, or the lass turns seven.

My daughter turned seven a couple of weeks ago. Seven years old. It’s like a new page in the book of her childhood. She seems rather more grown up, a medium-sized child now, no longer so much a “little girl”. I’m not going to go so far as to call her a tween, because she’s still so much a kid. I know that tween stands for “in- between”, no longer a child, not yet a teenager, but my girl is not a tween, she is a child. She’s mysterious and private and flighty, messy, creative, a dreamer and kinda into that girly stuff that I’m into critiquing, but she’s still very definitely a kid. Tween almost seems to mean mini-teen, as far as the marketers and manufacturers are concerned and I am reminded that I may have to write to the clothing manufacturers and let them know that my daughter and many like her are not Tweens. They are kids and would like to dress as such. I’ve noticed already as I went to buy some summer clothes, that now that I can no longer shop for her for in the little girl section of the shop (sizes 2 – 6), but am consigned to the tween section (sizes 7 – 14) it is increasingly hard to find appropriate clothing. You know, stuff that looks as though it was made for the playground and not the dance floor.

As she gets older I notice how different she is to me as a child. Which of course is to be expected, as she is her own person. But our differences in temperament are so stark I wonder whether my parenting style clashes with her personality. We’ve had our moments, shall we say, and there has been times when I question myself.

She was sent to her room, punished for some misdemeanor – probably she was accused of doing wrong by her sibling. In her mind the punishment was entirely undeserved, this was a travesty of justice. She sat in her room seething with the injustice of it all, it was so unfair. The time in confinement was spent devising suitable punishments for her horrible mother who had so unfairly treated her. The perfect vengeance was imagined – her mother was a witch. She would like to lock the witch in a cage and feed her poison for two weeks, not enough poison to kill her, but enough to make her suffer for a while. I don’t know why, but the vengeance fantasy took the sting out of the punishment, and so calmed her that when she was called from her room, having been there for what was considered to be an appropriate amount of time, she not only apologised to mother but confessed the fantasy. She said that she was so angry that she’d wanted to punish her mother and had imagined what she’d like to do. She honestly explained to her mother about wanting to lock her in a cage and feed her poison, but she’d changed her mind, was sorry for whatever it was that had gotten her sent to her room and wanted to be friends with Mum again. A nice reconciliation took place.

That was me many years ago, plotting to lock up my mother. I can no longer remember what it was I was in trouble for, but I do remember telling mum exactly what I’d wanted to do and how angry I’d been. I think she was shocked at my honesty. We forgave each other and I don’t remember ever having such strong vengeful desires towards my mother after that. I also grew out of believing in fairy tale type punishments.

When I recently remembered that incident from my childhood I figured that I’m probably doing ok with my daughter. As far as I know she’s never harbored a desire to poison me, or lock me up in a cage.

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.”

Thats me in the corner losing my religion

So as I said in my last post in relation to this story, ‘there goes the last lingering threats of my Catholicism’.  Of course the Catholic Church has a history of being criticised by feminists, but before writing the whole institution off as completely worthless, I should make it plain that it was through the Church that I came to my feminism.  I think that I mentioned elsewhere that I had a happy childhood, and my education in the local catholic schools was a big part of that, as was Sunday school and church.  Church lent a happy rhythm to the week, and I loved the ritual of the Catholic service.  I remember singing hymns loudly and proudly and when I made my first communion I was one of four students chosen to stand with the Priest explaining to the congregation why the service was like the Last Supper.  I enjoyed my faith, it was a source of comfort to have a belief in a God of love, to have a friend in Jesus.  I remember praying fervently as child during times of distress and when I was quite small I even toyed with the idea of becoming a nun (until a friend of mine laughed, but she would laugh –  she was the daughter of a Presbyterian Minister and they don’t believe in nuns).  I was such a devout little girl.  So what happened?  When did I start ‘losing my religion?’

During my teens I started to realise that life wasn’t as black and white as I had thought.  I was involved for a number of years with a youth group which gave me very clear insights into the human element of religion.  The power plays, the jockeying for leadership, the righteous judging of who was committed enough, I began to see that shared faith or a common belief isn’t enough to unite a disparate group.  Some of the group were committed young Catholics and were trying to help other teens with their faiths, others were committed young adults trying to meet other teens, most of us I suspect were both.  In that time I experienced deep spiritual moments and deep human hurts.  It was in this that I got a sense of how deeply humans can scar one another without even meaning to.  But that’s not why I lost my faith.

I’ve always felt that there is something deeply wrong with society’s treatment of women and there has long been a burning sense of justice in my heart.  Gender Studies at uni gave some formal understanding of the system of the patriarchy that we are swimming in, but I was still attracted to the Church, even though it was becoming increasingly clear that the Church was thoroughly patriarchal and not going to change anytime soon.  Women weren’t going to be ordained so why stay in a church that limited women’s expressions of faith in a way that it did not limit men’s?  I thought for a time that it would be ‘easier to burn the castle down from within’.  So I stayed in the Church, and got married in the Church.  The Catholic Church, to my mind, has a strong sense of social justice and this aspect of the Church is something I’ve always loved and has in part shaped me.

It was history, finally that caused me to walk away.  Through my studies I have learned that the Bible is not the cut and dried document that I had believed it to be.  Different threads of interpretation run through the Bible, and it is a compilation of many authors and editors and translators and long forgotten oral traditions. There an environmental ethic in there, if you look past the ‘new heaven and new earth’ of Revelation (if there’s going to be a new earth than it doesn’t matter what we do to this one).  There’s a feminist message (Jesus praised Mary over her sister Martha for scriptural learning, befriended a Samaritan woman, saved an adulterous women, etc) too if you overlook Paul’s letters.  Just as the Bible is far from being a homogeneous document so the Church is not homogeneous.   I realised that  major theological decisions were made by a bunch of men coming together and arbitrarily deciding ‘stuff’ and making it ecclesiastical law.  Thousands of people have died because of differing interpretations of pure conjecture.  Books and people put to the flame for heterodoxy.  So when it finally occurred to me that my childhood beliefs were the result of closed doors power plays by political bishops of ages long gone, well these things stopped making sense to me.  The trinity, transubstantiation, the unbroken status of Mary’s hymen, tricky answers to questions that should not have been asked.

I learnt about the architects of the Church, the Early Church Fathers, men like, Augustine (pictured), Jerome, Philo, Tertullian and Thomas Aquinas who each had their own twisted version of Aristotelian logic that they brought to the Church.  These men shaped the Catholic Church and imprinted their misogynistic mindset upon the developing theology.  Understanding the humanity of those that shaped the Church is what has compelled me to walk away.  When people take seriously the notion that women are ‘the devil’s gateway’ (Tertullian) and use that understanding as the basis for a theological stance how can that institution ever be reformed – with the founding epistemology so deeply ingrained with dualistic and misogynist beliefs about the world.

Not sure what I believe anymore, but I do know this, as I work it out I won’t be trying to foist it on anyone else.  Maybe reading about other ways to be Catholic has made me pause to think about my relationship to the Church, or maybe I’m just fed up with the tragic injustice of it, but I’m going to come back to the topic and post about the Church’s teaching on sexuality shortly.

I had a deprived childhood

I was born in 1978, (why yes I did just celebrate a significant birthday) which puts me at the tail end of Gen ‘X’.  Sometimes I don’t feel like a ‘real’ member of my generation because it feels as though I missed out on some of the shared cultural experiences of the ‘X’ers.  I grew up the eldest in a very conservative (maybe slightly right wing) Christian family.  I have four younger siblings, three of whom are quite close to me in age.  As a consequence my parents had a ‘one for all and all for one’ rule about what we could watch when we were kids.  This basically meant that we could only watch G and some PG rated movies – definitely no AO’s (now I’m showing my age)!  So I remember not being allowed to watch a lot of the popular movies and shows that were around when I was kid (and I’m not really complaining -despite the title of this blog I had a really lovely childhood).  I didn’t watch Gremlims, or Ghostbusters, things like that.  My youngest sister suffered from nightmares, so we were banned from watching anything which could give her scary dreams.  (As a consequence of one of her nightmares we were banned from watching Dr Who-halfway through the season).  In my teens I didn’t watch Dirty Dancing or Grease, movies which seemed to have a big influence  in the cultural milieu that I was a part of – if the reaction of people to the music from these movies is anything to go by.  People went nuts in discos, nightclubs and parties when the Grease medley came on and an awful lot of my females contemporaries know all the words to “I had the time of my life”.  At times, particularly during my teenage years, I felt like I was missing out.  Ahh, the eternal appeal of the forbidden. Everybody else was watching these movies and in some ways not watching them made them seem larger than life.

So it was with much interest that I watched Grease the other night.  I missed the beginning but caught most of it on television.  Perhaps, when one has anticipated a thing for at least twenty years, it has rather a lot to live up to.  Suffice to say I was disappointed.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, there is perhaps much to like about the movie.  Charismatic leads, bright shiny colours, catchy songs and amazing choreography (particularly in the dance-off scene and the last song) mean that I can see why the movie has enduring appeal. (As a reflection of this enduring appeal the 30th anniversary double DVD set has just been released).  But I thought the movie was appalling.  Perhaps a decade of feminist critical theory has shaped my thoughts but I just didn’t love this movie.  After all it revolved around a ‘pussy wagon’.  Maybe I didn’t get it, but I can’t abide movies in which the heroine capitulates to male fantasy in order to achieve validation.

The swimming pool

The swimming pool

So what about you?  Any childhood experience that was denied to you that you attempted to capture as an adult?  For example, a friend of a friend got her much longed for ‘Woman’s Weekly’ Birthday cake as a 24 year old.  And, did this experience live up to your hopes and wishes?  Or was it, like my Grease experience  – a big let down?