Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Curious (Links for the Week)

Here are the things that made me smile (The Good), cry (The Bad), and think (The Curious) this week. What have you been reading (or writing)?

The Good

The Bustle has a list of feminist songs.

I'm really enjoying Master of None, and I enjoyed this reflection from Kelvin Yu on how this show finally allowed him to play someone he recognized in himself:
So for years I played nerds, and then for a long time I played jilted Asian men who were angry because they'd been dishonored. I would like murder my sister or my wife on CSI: New York or Without a Trace or NCIS. I just would kill my wife because I was so mad because I'd been dishonored. The problem with that is there's some well-intended writer whose probably not Asian-American back there doing his or her best to write an episode of their show that involves Asians, but they don't have any primary or even secondary interactions with Asians to go off of. So they end up falling into a little bit of low-hanging fruit and they don't realize how many times I've had to kill my wife and my sister because she was like, dating a white guy and I couldn't take it. And then you walk around New York and there's guys like Alan and girls like Lena walking around, so this is the first time it was like, "Hey dude, just be you. We're going to put you in great boots. You're going to walk down Elizabeth [Street] and say some funny things."
I love this list of female-centric revisions of "Hotline Bling" (side note: he clearly means "blink," right?! It drives me crazy that it is "bling.") My favorite is Ceresia's:

The everyday and beautiful reality of breastfeeding, captured in this photo project.

Roller derby continues to serve as a welcoming space for transgendered athletes.

The Bad

Locally, the temperature dropped suddenly and deeply. This morning, three children died in a house fire started by a space heater, and it breaks my heart. 

Did faulty response by WHO make the Ebola outbreak worse

Donald Trump.

The Curious 

Do the socialist-leaning youth suggest a trending change in the landscape of American politics?

I want to grow fruit trees in my house, but I'm kind of bad at growing things. I'll let this idea marinate for a bit.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Christmas Birthday Shopping Extravaganza!

My daughter's birthday is December 1, so Christmas and birthday shopping all blur together into one big whirlwind. And since I really don't like shopping (especially in a physical store), that can have some drawbacks.

She's turning five this year, and I think this is the first year where I've felt like I was buying her things genuinely attuned to her personality rather than just generally applicable to pretty much any kid (I mean, who doesn't like blocks?)

I can remember being a kid surrounded by buckets and buckets of plastic toys. We had popcorn tins full of Polly Pocket, The Littlest Pet Shop, Barbies, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. My mom was especially fond of finding an entire bag full of these goodies at yard sales. Our cups runneth over.

But why did we have so many popcorn tins?! Mom, if you're reading this, I need to know. 
Maybe at this young age our kiddo's "likes" are really just an extension of their parents' shopping habits, and my shelves full of tiny toys reflected my mother's obsession with a good bargain. If that's the case, I suppose I could be hoisting my own dislike of shopping onto my daughter's preferences, but it truly seems that she's not all that into most toys.

For a while, I was naive enough to think that this meant that (since my house wouldn't be full of minuscule toy pieces that had to constantly be sought, reorganized, catalogued, and remembered) I would escape some of the mess of parenthood. Alas, my daughter's primary interest appears to be art. If she had her way, she would spend every waking minute with either a crayon or a paint brush in her hand. Her other favorite thing to do is play in a box of sand or water beads. So instead of being covered in Polly Pocket pieces and Barbie shoes, my house is filled with dehydrating water beads and paint smears. All of life's a trade off.

Anyway, I digress. I'm excited about the gifts she'll be getting for her birthday and Christmas this year, and I think they'll bring ongoing joy and exploration to her little artistic, inquisitive self.

I got her the Osmo game system for the iPad, and I maybe had to open it up and give it a try just to, you know, "make sure" it was a good fit. I'm so excited to see her play with this. It really is as amazing as it looks in the ads.

I also finally ordered a subscription to Kiwi Crate, which I've been eyeing since she was 2 but finally feel she's old enough to use and appreciate. 

(Side note: if you are planning to order a Kiwi Crate subscription for Christmas, too, you can use this link and we'll each get $10 in store credit). 

I am particularly excited that the Kiwi Crate subscription is an ongoing gift. Especially since her birthday and Christmas are in the same month, it seems like she gets all the new things in one swoop and the newness rubs off quickly. With a monthly package of artsy goodness, she'll have intermittent bursts of surprise. 

Those are the gifts I'm most excited about watching her get excited about. What are your favorite gifts to give this year? 

Photo: Nina Helmer

Friday, November 20, 2015

Recycled: Who Profits From The Mom Wars

The following post originally appeared on this blog on April 18, 2012. I wrote it when my daughter was two years old after spending an evening conversing with two other women I'd just met, both of whom had two-year-olds of their own. Between the three of us, we'd managed to represent all three primary methods of managing childcare in a two-parent household: stay-at-home mom, stay-at-home dad, and two working parents who rely on childcare (that last one was me and my husband). I had spent some time reflecting on how pitting women against one other in the "Mommy Wars" was a profitable way for companies because certain products get associated with certain lifestyle choices.

This has become even more obvious in the subsequent three years, something that I'm recognizing now that I'm pregnant again. Facebook now has targeted ads that use things like geographic information and your shared posts to attempt to match users directly to the products that speak to their particular identity.

This means that I (with my friend feed full of wonderful baby wearing, cloth diapering, crunchy mamas) get a lot of ads for the markers of a particular kind of mommy lifestyle that include cloth diapers, baby carriers, and boho chic diaper bags.

You can see how those products become identity markers through the hyperbolic presentation in this Similac ad:

The slings, the strollers, the bags, the bottles: all of them are used to denote a particular kind of philosophy, a particular kind of parenting identity. And yes, the point of this video is that in a moment of crisis all of those corporate-driven markers fall away and we are, at the core, just parents trying to do our best to love and raise our children well. 

But there are a lot of moments where we're not in crisis. And there are a lot of pressures coming at us from all sides (including those ubiquitous Facebook ads) that teach us that parenting is something you armor yourself for, and the only way to do it properly is through the proper gadgets. 


I just read Mary Elizabeth Williams' Salon piece calling to end the mom wars. Since she works part-time from home, she calls herself a "spy in two houses," able to sit in with groups of stay-at-home moms as they ripped apart their working counterparts for not really loving their children and with groups of working moms who tore apart their stay-at-home counterparts for not having real lives.

With the political hijacking of the mommy wars, these problems are fresh on my mind. I know that Williams is absolutely right. Women are often terrible to one another, and motherhood seems to be a battleground filled with the horrendous potential to judge and dismember. I also agree that this kind of bickering "stems so often from our own deepest fears and insecurities." The easiest way to prove to ourselves that we're doing it right is often to make sure everyone knows those other women are doing it wrong.

From tamdotcom
But I know it doesn't have to be this way. I truly believe that we are capable of better. At the conference I attended last week I had the opportunity to have dinner with two other mothers who were presenting (if either of you are reading this, hi!). We all had babies born within a month of one another, so we had a lot in common. But we also had some pretty different approaches to how we handled this juggling act of parenting and the rest of life. One of the women had brought her baby to the conference with her. She also stays at home. The other woman works full-time and has a husband who stays home to care for their two children. My husband and I, on the other hand, both work full-time and use daycare for our daughter.

So, there we were. Enemies. Or so the media would have us believe. Unable to find even a sliver of common ground.

But that wasn't the case at all. We had plenty to talk about, plenty to share, and plenty to learn from one another. Parenting, as it turns out, isn't particularly easy no matter how you do it, but it's also full of joy and rewards. Those are the things we should focus on: helping each other out through the difficulties and celebrating each other's happiness. You can't tell me that's not enough to break down essentialist barriers.

During this conversation, we also began to talk about who really benefits from tearing mothers apart. I posited that this kind of divisive rhetoric is a tool that keeps women from attaining equality in all spheres. We could target things like pay gaps, leave policies, health care (like why we have nearly double the infant mortality rate of countries like Sweden and Iceland), and inadequate or stereotypical media representations. If we're busy tearing each other apart over every parenting decision, we're not very likely to come together and recognize these more pervasive influences.

But something that I hadn't put a lot of thought in came up in that conversation as well. One of the women mentioned how much businesses profit from the niche markets created by in-group fighting in mothers. After all, if you're going to belong to a particular club, you have to have a way to show it. Everything from the stroller you push (or the carrier you use so you don't have to push the stroller) to the baby food you buy (or the baby food maker you buy so that you don't have to buy baby food) to the bath products you use to the toys our children play with have been marketed as making a statement about who you are and what you believe.

I'm not saying that none of these statements have a real-world basis. I'm not saying that there's no difference between Johnson and Johnson's baby shampoo and Angel Baby's or between carrying your baby in a sling and using a stroller. I'm also not saying that you shouldn't care about those differences. I'm just saying that what appears to be an informed decision based on ethics and ideals is also a way for companies to make money.

Just as in high school wearing Vans meant something different than wearing Nikes, buying Fisher Price means something different than buying Oompa. And all of those companies have a bottom line to worry about. The mommy wars create lovely little niche markets where advertising can be targeted.

And, as this infograph from Frugal Dads points out, that makes for a very bolstered industry. Note that statistic at the bottom: "37% of new mothers surveyed express guilt over not being able to afford a certain baby product." Is that because we're letting these products mean more to us than they should?

Babies Infographic

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Metablogging: Why Am I Doing NaBloPoMo (No, Really. Why Am I Doing This?)

This is my 19th post this month. If you count back 19 posts before November, it takes you all the way back to the end of March. So, I've blogged as much in the past three weeks as I did the previous six months.

At the core, that's why I'm doing National Blog Post Month, but I'm also starting to see blogging as a chore rather than the escape that it typically is for me, and that's why this NaBloPoMo post is going to be an examination of why I'm doing NaBloPoMo in the first place and whether or not (slightly over halfway in) I think it's worthwhile.

Let's start with the positive.


  • I've written. A lot. There are some posts that were kind of insightful for me personally that I don't think I would have written at all if it weren't for that pressure of having to fulfill my promise to write every day. 
  • I remembered that I really like blogging. Prior to NaBloPoMo, I hadn't been blogging very often for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I was finishing my dissertation, and it took literally every spare second of my life. Secondly, I'd sort of fallen off of the blogging chart, feeling like I had overstayed my welcome in the "mommy blogging" camp when a lot of my mommy blogger friends vanished from the blogosphere. Thirdly, blogging has changed. I've been in the game for just about six years, and it's a different landscape. The rise of other sharing platforms and commenting tools (everyone comments on shared Facebook posts rather than the blog post itself these days) and the demise of other platforms (RIP, Google Reader) have changed how blogging is done, shared, and intertwined. Any one of those things alone wouldn't have been enough to have me questioning whether I should still blog, but all three of them together definitely did. But NaBloPoMo has taught me that I do, truly, still like it, and it still serves a scholarly, professional, and personal purpose in my life. 
  • I've set up some structure. I normally blog whenever I feel like it and can carve out the time. At the height of my blogging days, that was sometimes multiple times a day. At the lull of it, that was once a month. But those posts came sporadically and without any thematic planning or real consideration of audience. Doing things like Wordless Wednesday (which I really kind of love) and thinking about possible features like Teaching Tuesday or even just subtly trying to make a post with a specifically feminist bent once a week made me think about how much more intentional I could be with my writing. 
  • I've declared my existence again. I know I lost a lot of regular readers during my long hiatus and months of sporadic posting (that was mainly about my dissertation). I completely understand, but I think that posting every day this month and sharing the posts on my blog's Facebook page (which I did manage to keep up this whole time) reminded potential and former readers that I really do exist. 
And then the negative. 

  • I was writing anyway. I know a lot of people turn to blogging as a kind of daily writing exercise for the sake of writing. I don't need that. I write all the time. I have no worries that I'm going to suddenly stop writing and lose my craft. What I don't always get the chance to do is write freely and about topics that I thoroughly enjoy. But writing every day doesn't ensure either of those things since it becomes more of a chore and less of an exploration. 
  • My posts aren't as good. My forte is (for better or worse) long form pieces that combine personal experience with research and analysis of broader cultural phenomenon. This is where I feel most alive as a writer and, at least according to the feedback and commentary I get, it's why most of my audience reads my work. I can't do that every day, and that's a good thing. If I felt those kind of bursts of passion often enough to write a post like that on a daily basis, I wouldn't have any time to do my dishes or feed my kid. 
  • Existence does not community equal. Maybe it's because of those aforementioned changes to the blogosphere or maybe it's simply that I have a lot more work to do to re-establish myself within that sphere or maybe it's even that I really am washed up as a "mommy blogger" and have no more to give, but I miss the community that used to exist here. I miss the frequent commentary (but not the death threats) and exchange of ideas between readers. I haven't seen much sign that NaBloPoMo is helping that resurface. (But I'll hold out hope that I'm just being impatient). 
Overall, I can say that I definitely will not try to keep up blogging every day once this challenge ends (and I have even toyed with the idea of declaring the challenge a failure and calling it quits midway). However, I do think that this process has made me rethink what it is I am doing here. I do want to blog, and I do want to do so purposefully and regularly. I plan to commit to at least 2-3 posts a week from this point forward, and I will hopefully implement some of the structure that I've enjoyed finding in response to the task of writing daily. 

That's enough to make this task, however frustrating it may feel, worthwhile in the end. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Commuting

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I Guess the Babymoon is Over

I’m just barely out of my first trimester, but I guess the idealistic dreamland of early pregnancy (what pieces of it weren’t clouded with dry heaving and exhaustion) are over. Today I tried calling HR to figure out my options for maternity leave, and (without going into too many details) they’re not good. Basically, because I am due at the end of May and outside of my 9-month academic contract, by the time I return to work in late August, I will have exhausted my entire eligibility for sick leave. In other words, I get no maternity leave.

This post isn’t really about my woes, though, because I know I am among the luckiest. I am a full-time employee with benefits dealing with a planned pregnancy. And I work in academia, so (even though I am not eligible to use any of my accrued sick time to do so), I can take the entire summer losing only the extra money I usually earn by teaching some extra classes during this time.

But isn’t it messed up that my scenario is the “lucky” one?

For comparison, here’s a look at maternity leave policies around the world. You’ll notice that the United States is lagging behind similarly developed nations by quite a bit.

This also happens just as Amber Scorah’s heart-breaking story about her three-month-old son dying on the first day of daycare.

Meanwhile, legislators around the nation work tirelessly to ensure that any woman who becomes pregnant has to give birth. Please explain to me how “pro-life” our policies can really be if we can’t even make sure that people are allowed to use their earned, accrued leave time to parent those lives?

The hypocrisy is sickening, and so are the twisted scenarios families go through every day to negotiate an unwinnable game of money, time, and care.

We have to do better than this.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Best Laid Plans: What I'm Doing NEXT Semester

It's the time of year for reflections, both personal and professional. I reflect gratefully on all I have to be thankful for, which is an abundance. It's interesting that this time of reflection coincides with the point in the semester when all of the things that could have been done better seem to be staring me in the face.

Final papers are being written, final projects are underway, and final grades are being tallied. I take every success and failure to heart, and I'm proud to report that the successes have grown with my experience and collaboration with colleagues. But, of course, there's always something you can change.

And now is the time that the change seems easiest. The next semester is still months away, and declaring these changes doesn't feel like a commitment just yet. Next semester is a mirage, one that I can cast idealistic visions onto until I get closer and have to grapple with the messy reality of it all. But that's later. Today, I can plan.

Is that you next semester? So full of promise! 
I read this post from James M. Lang about small changes in the classroom, and the planning feels even easier. Lang writes about using the few minutes before class begins more productively, and he has good ideas, including posting an image or phrase to get students talking about the class topic informally before the formal class begins.

With this time of reflection and Lang's suggestions in mind, I've thought of three things I want to do differently next semester, and they're all small enough that they just might actually happen. Sometimes you can make the mirage match reality, if only for a moment.

1) Fix Syllabus Day
I have a pretty snazzy syllabus, if I do say so myself. I've updated it using visual rhetoric design concepts and made it very visually appealing with a much clearer daily schedule than the old table design I used to use.

But it's still a syllabus.

And listening to me talk about it for an hour the very first time we meet is still boring.

I've switched to using a single, full-length nonfiction text instead of a traditional composition textbook in all of my classes, so I'm going to use the beginning of the first day to dive head-first into the theme of the class rather than straight into the syllabus.

Honestly, while the information on the syllabus is important, there's no reason we can't go over it in stages over the first week. We really don't need to use up the prime real estate of first impressions on it.

2) Implement One-Minute Note Cards

I read this post from Tom Sura after this semester was underway and toyed with the idea of implementing it anyway, but I decided to hold off and make it part of a fresh start so that I could be more intentional with it.

Sura uses a one-minute reflection in which he asks students to turn in a notecard with 1) the most important thing they learned and 2) a question they still have after each day's discussion. He says it makes the class more focused with a stronger conclusion and ensures that the last minute of class is reflective and quiet.

I can see how cards like this could be used as a participation tool, particularly for students who are hesitant to speak up.

3) Find Ways for My Students to Share More

I teach developmental writing, and most of my students do not see themselves as real college students, let alone as scholars. It's often hard to get them to share their own perspectives in either discussion or in their papers. Most of them want me to tell them answers I want to hear so that they can repeat them, a practice that has served them well in the past.

I've tried to choose themes (money and protest songs for next semester) that are broad enough to have room for personal insights and experiences. These come up informally in class discussion, but I want to find ways to make student-provided examples a much more concrete part of the class.

NaBloPoMo November 2015I'm hoping to use something like Lang's image at the beginning of class but combine it with asking for contributions. I think that it would be very affirming for students to see their selections shared as the discussion piece, and I hope that it would make them look at the world around them more critically as they consider everything they encounter as a possible shareable moment.

If you teach (or are a student or have been a student) what small changes have made an impact in your classrooms? 

Photo: Michael Gwyther-Jones