Sunday, February 27, 2011

I'm Not the Only One

My friends frequently make fun of me (with love, I'm sure) when I say things like I'm not sure if I'm going to let my daughter watch Disney Princess movies or that I'm afraid of letting her watch commercials too soon.

This post at Womanist Musings sums up my intentions beautifully:

I am constantly talking to the children about the media that we consume, because I am very cognizant of the fact that the media is a major agent of socialization. Some concepts that I have introduced to the kids have taken several explanations to clarify, but it has been well worth the effort, because they have learned that questioning and thinking is a responsibility of all people. My children will never be anyone's sheep. Too often, we leave critical thinking until kids are in university, and then attempt to erase a lifetime of indoctrination, in the false belief that critical thinking is something that requires a specific level of maturity. What I have learned, is that even the most confusing concepts can be explained, if one is dedicated to having repeated discussion while using language that is accessible to children.
Yes, yes, and yes!

Friday, February 25, 2011


I'm teaching my composition students about rhetoric, and we talked about target audiences yesterday. We used magazines to illustrate different demographics, and it got me thinking: I've outgrown my magazines.

I used to be a big fan of Jane, so much so that I actually subscribed (which is rare for me, I'm more of a every-once-in-a-while magazine reader). Then, Jane abruptly went under, and the remainder of my subscription was filled with Glamour. It was okay, but I found myself being less and less engaged by the topics. The readership is clearly geared for young singles, and though I am probably within their demograph by age, I've been married for three years (and in a relationship with my husband for eight), own a home, and don't care much about the latest fashion trends.

I ocassionally read Rolling Stone, but it's more for pure entertainment than any sort of practical guidance or insight into the issues I face in life: parenting, scholarship, cooking, etc. I read a lot of blogs that fit that description, but I wouldn't mind finding a few print magazines that do something similar (this is coming from the woman who just cannot bring herself to buy a Kindle; I really, really love books--the weight of them, the smell of them, the feel of the pages).

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Equally Shared Exhaustion

You know that line in "Hills Like White Elephants" when the girl says "Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?" I'm with her. I get it.

See, before my daughter was born, my husband and I--idealistic things that we were--agreed wholeheartedly that we would equally share parenting responsibilities. And we meant it. I know we did. It's just that things aren't as simple as they sound.

Blue Milk explains it perfectly in this post, in which she describes equally shared parenting as "death by a thousand negotiations." She looks at a New York Times article that examined women's percentage of household chores to men's (among other things), and (surprise, surprise) found that women do more of it, even when they're also equal breadwinners.

There's a societal standard for this. Women are side-eyed (at best) for returning to work after having a baby. (My husband was never asked whether or not he was returning to work after our daughter was born, but I was asked a lot.) Men are praised for doing things that keep a household running. ("Your husband does laundry. You're so lucky." Yeah--I do laundry, too. Does that make him lucky?) And, as PhD in Parenting points out here, studies like to look for the negative impact mothers working outside the home has on kids, but very rarely do they examine the impact of having a working father.

Still, my husband and I, we're progressive. We know that we are equals. We have been equals throughout our entire relationship. We met in undergrad, both passionate about our fields. We left undergrad and headed for graduate and law school, respectively. We worked hard. We studied next to one another. We set up a joint budget. We planned our wedding together. We do lawn work together. We both wash dishes. We had this in the bag.

We were wrong.

Equally sharing parenting is hard.

Here's a quote from the NYT article: “The coordination it takes, it’s more complicated than a theater production,” said Elinor Ochs, the U.C.L.A. linguistic anthropologist who led the study. “And there are no rehearsals.”

And do you know what coordination takes? Work. That's right. To divide up the work, we have to work. It is exhausting.

Here's another quote from the article:  "The couples who reported the least stress tended to have rigid divisions of labor, whether equal or not."

That's because when you don't have divisions of labor, you are responsible for everything and nothing. I never know what's going to get done when. Did he do the dishes? I'll check the dishwasher. They look sorta clean. Wait, that's definitely spaghetti sauce. Nope definitely not clean. I have to leave for work in 15 minutes and there are only two clean bottles. Damn. Laundry is a fun chore. We both do it, but somehow we end up washing two loads of gym clothes and nothing for work. His gym shorts do not fit into the casual Friday attire. Sometimes the dog gets let out twice in the morning, once when he comes downstairs, once when I do. The cats have learned to manipulate our weaknesses. They've been known to howl pathetically until I feed them, only to find out he'd just done it before he left for work. Con artists.

What's the fix for this? Short of an elementary-school-child's chore chart (which I'm not above, but I'd have to find the time to make one), the only solution is constant negotiation. There's a constant flow of information, and not the fun, intellectually-stimulating kind we're used to bantering about. This is boring stuff. And it has to be said.

I tell myself it will be easier when we are in a routine, but I don't know if that's true. I still think it's worth it, but sometimes I find myself sympathizing with that girl, repeating those "pleases" in my head . . .

A Few More Thoughts on Breastfeeding

I know, I know, I'm talking about it a lot, but it is a pretty time-consuming part of my life right now. Between worrying about getting enough milk for daycare, skipping ice cream and cereal because milk upsets my little girl's stomach, and trying to figure out if I can leave the house without a bottle of pumped milk (because dipping in to that supply on the weekends just makes the week that much more stressful), I think about breastfeeding a lot.

I was a volunteer this weekend for some scholarship interviews. I was just a backup volunteer, someone they could use if they had a no show. They did have a no-show, and they asked me to stay. As I was looking at the packet of info they gave me about the potential recipients, I had a sudden lump in my throat. I forgot something. I was sure of it. I didn't know what it was, but something important had been forgotten. I started to look in my bag. Wallet--check. Keys--check. Then I noticed it; I had forgotten part of my pump. The interviews weren't going to be over until 3:00 pm. It was 9:00 am, and my daughter had last eaten at 7:30. There was no way I could stay. I discreetly pulled one of the people (purposely choosing a woman) running the event aside and explained the situation, assuring her I could stay if they absolutely needed me, but I would have to figure something out. She said there were other back-ups around. I could go home.

 I felt guilty for hours. I hated leaving something I had signed up for. But I also started noticing some odd reactions when I told people the story. It seemed as if people thought I should have been more discreet about why I had to go home, as if breastfeeding was something to keep secret. Twelve weeks ago I was a walking beach ball. It should be no secret to these people that I work with that there was a child inside of me. If they have even a basic understanding of human anatomy, it should come as no surprise that my breasts now produce milk. That's what they're there for. If I had accidentally left my daughter home alone without any formula, no one would think it odd that I needed to make sure she had food.

The stigma surrounding breastfeeding is bizarre to me. It's not like my breasts are invisible--in fact, these days they are quite noticeable (and I would hate to think what they would have looked like come 3 o'clock if I had stayed on Saturday). I've nursed in public only once, and I used a cover, so it's not like people saw any more of my breasts then than they did when I was simply wearing my shirt. In fact, they actually saw less; the nursing cover isn't exactly form-fitting.

The other day I passed a woman standing in the corner of the back aisle in Target, trying to stand up, hold a kicking baby, keep a blanket over her chest, and nurse. I felt so bad for her.

Over at PhD in Parenting, there's a video concerning how the stigma and social pressures for a nursing mother to cover up are a type of feminist oppression:

Women have the right (legally) to nurse just about anywhere, but they don't have the right socially. That's not going to change until we change the conversation. Personally, I prefer not to nurse in public, and I would never do so without a cover, but I certainly don't think a woman is doing anything wrong if she makes a different choice. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Breastfeeding in the News

Breastfeeding is making a splash on both ends of the spectrum in D.C. There's this:

Guards at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn museum told a mother she would have to go sit on the toilet if she wanted to continue breastfeeding her baby. Rightfully angry mothers organized a nurse-in to protest. The museum offered a public apology and informed the guards that they  had violated a law allowing mothers to nurse in public.

But there's also this: "Michelle Obama calls for removal of breastfeeding barriers at work"
I find Michelle Obama's efforts to shift the cultural lens on breastfeeding refreshing and much needed. Tax breaks for breast feeding supplies and more flexible work place rules on breast feeding are also practical approaches that can help mothers who want to breast feed do so more successfully.

But, on the other hand (I think I may have run out of hands), there's this: "Sarah Palin takes breastfeeding dig at Michelle Obama during Long Island appearance" Seriously?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Interracial Dating and Our (Pre)Post-Racial Society

Are we living in a post-racial society? It's a question I hear often (or sometimes, stated in an affirmative "Clearly, we're in a post-racial society. We have a black president!") Yeah, not so much. But it does seem that most people you talk to recognize a post-racial society as a goal. It's just a goal we'd like to go ahead and get to, without any of this work, and definitely without talking about race.

A study out of UC Berkely looked at popular online dating sites and found that "More than 80 percent of the whites contacted whites and fewer than 5 percent of them contacted blacks, a disparity that held for young as well as for older participants." This in spite of the fact that many of the users checked a box declaring themselves open to dating outside of their race. As you can see from the student reactions in the video above, saying that you're willing to date outside of your race is pretty common when directly asked, especially among young people who have probably grown up with at least some diversity discussions in school and in the surrounding culture.

Anecdotally, I feel like I see quite a few interracial couples. I definitely see a lot of interracial friendships and groups. But I might be more attuned to noticing them, and I certainly live in a more diverse area than I did growing up, so I don't know how much weight to give these observations. At any rate, they're not translating statistically. Less than 1% of all marriages in the US are black-white interracial marriages.  

One of the (white) students in the video says that he's been attracted to black women, but assumes they'd prefer black men and doesn't approach them. But even if that's true, it doesn't explain this:

The researchers also tracked the rates of reciprocation among the pool of online daters, looking at how they responded once they received a message from an interested potential partner. Again, white men and women were most likely to respond to members of their own race, and only 5 percent of their responses went to blacks.
So even when the interested party made the first move, white users were less likely to respond to messages from black users. In addition, "[a]lthough black participants initiated contact to members of their own race more than to whites, they were ten times more likely to contact whites than vice versa, according the the study."


Then I came across this article. In it, Nadra Kareem Nittle asserts that opposition to interracial dating is not inherently racist. Here's her conclusion (which I site at length to ensure that I'm not taking anything out of context, the bolding is mine):
Dating a person of the same racial background can also come in handy when racism surfaces. African-Americans know exactly how it feels to be followed around in a store or treated condescendingly in the workplace because of race. When such incidents happen, they don’t want to have to explain just why these episodes were racist, and, no, they did not misinterpret the situation or jump to conclusions. Having a mate who knows what it’s like to be a victim of racism and who can prepare children to deal with racial oppression is yet another reason some people of color prefer not to date interracially.
 So, are such people racist? No. It’s not racist to want a mate who has experienced racial oppression and can pass down your cultural heritage to children with no egging on from you. If greens and ham hocks were served at your family meals, you may not want to end up with someone who ate green bean casserole instead and wants your children to follow suit because soul food clogs arteries. And if you’re successful and socially conscious, it may be important for you to marry within your race to make sure the resources you have end up in a community of color, which may not happen if you’re living with your spouse in a neighborhood where minorities are few and far between. 
Nittle cites cultural purity and shared oppressive experiences as the primary reasons for avoiding interracial relationships. Here are some of the problems I have with this.

1) I would never even pretend that I know first-hand what it is like to experience racial oppression, and I am the first to admit to being on the receiving end of white privilege in a racist society. It's something I strive daily to work against. Despite my not having first-hand knowledge of oppression, I am not devoid of sympathy or comprehension, and I would never accuse the victim of such racist incidents of "misinterpreting the situation" or "jumping to conclusions." Assuming that I would because of the color of my skin is problematic at best.

2) Cultural purity is the raison d'etre for many white supremacist groups. I find it a racist claim there, and I find it a racist claim here, as well. No two people are going to share identical cultures because culture is a combination of all of our life experiences and our personal perceptions of those experiences. While it may be true that a couple where both members are black will share some cultural experiences I don't have, it's also true that I have many cultural overlaps with my husband that many black women do not. Furthermore, Nittle claims that " In a romantic relationship, many African Americans don’t want to have to field questions about culture." But I think that having discussions about culture is essential parts of any healthy, intellectually-fulfilling relationship (romantic or otherwise). 

3) The claim about ensuring resources go to a community of color is much like the claim that a white partner would accuse a black partner of misinterpreting racist situations; it's a stereotype. It is very important to me that my biracial daughter grow up in a racially diverse environment. I am incredibly conscious of this in choosing schools, neighborhoods, and daycare. I also feel like Nittle's comment that living in a diverse neighborhood "may not happen if you’re living with your spouse in a neighborhood where minorities are few and far between" pits the minority partner in the relationship as subordinate, automatically assuming that the white partner will be the one to make the (very significant) decision about where to live. 

I don't think that people are racist if they haven't dated outside of their race, but I can't see how someone can be "opposed" to interracial dating without racism factoring in to that point of view. 

I also know firsthand how societal and familial pressures can imperil a budding interracial relationship, but I think that the fear Nittle discusses of not wanting to share culture is the largest contributing factor to those views. If we cannot treat each other as human beings--which inherently requires the sharing of culture, for it is in human interactions that culture is formed--then I don't see how we can even envision, let alone reach, a "post-racial" society, no matter how much we claim to want one.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sing a song

I have a confession: I'm not much for lullabyes. Or kid's songs in general, really. They all seem high-pitched and pretty annoying. Plus, it's not like the lyrics are really very positive, anyway. Case in point: "rock-a-bye baby in the treetop, blah, blah, blah, down will come baby, cradle and all." Disturbing, really.

So, instead, I sing songs that I like. Tonight's musical selections included the usual: "In My Life" by The Beatles, "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding (which has the unfortunately depressing lyric of "I've got nothing to live for, and nothing's going to come my way"--once she gets a little more cognizant, I might start skipping that part), and "Change is Going to Come" (the Sam Cooke version, of course).

Music's been on my mind lately. I've been listening to the new Kanye CD My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on loop in the car, and I know this is not appropriate.  The lyrics are explicit, and I'm going to have to stop soon. I know she's only two months old, so I'm probably not doing irreparable damage yet, but she'll understand words soon.

Another thing I've noticed is that when I drop her off at daycare, when there aren't a lot of kids in the room yet, the teacher is sometimes listening to the pop station on the radio. Now, I get it; if I were in a room filled with infants all day, a little adult music would be a welcome background noise. (They also listen to several kids' albums). And it's the radio, so anything "bad" would be edited out. But really, does it matter if the girl in "Make it Rain" is saying "You wanna see some (silence), I wanna see some cash." The soul-crushing misogyny seems to remain in tact. Seriously, just watching this makes me sick to my stomach:

That's right ladies--setting back the women's movement one chorus at a time.

Now if you'll excuse me, my daughter just woke up, and I think I'm going to go sing "Jane Says" to get her to sleep.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Untapped Potential of the Unborn

Peggy Orenstein wrote an article for NPR about a disturbing trend: Disney marketing reps in the maternity ward. She notes that Disney recognized an untapped market and  that "[c]hildren are not becoming consumers of its products until preschool, resulting in a good three years of potential revenue loss."

To rectify this glaring oversight in the marketing strategy, Disney is now sending reps to the bedsides of exhausted new mothers to peddle their wares. Their primary target? Little girls who need to know the importance of being a "princess" as quickly as possible. (The princess culture is a topic of Orenstein's new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter--which is currently about 80th on my to-read list, placing it in the top third).

She points out in the article that children are particularly susceptible to these marketing ploys, developing brand recognition as young as 12 months. The most disturbing aspect of marketing to youth (which was my main complaint about those commercials during the Nick Jr clips a few posts back), is that these are children too young to analyze the manipulation of advertisements.

The truth is, some studies show that children under 8 years old can't distinguish between ads and entertainment. Until then, they don't fully comprehend that advertising is trying to sell them something. That gives marketers an unfair — not to mention predatory — advantage over our kids.
And not only are the kids vulnerable, but the hours immediately following my daughter's birth were some of my most vulnerable moments. I had not slept in 55 hours. I was overwhelmed with emotion, excited about the future, and in an unfamiliar environment. There were people in and out of the room, many of them trying to sell me things (overtly or covertly). Did I want the professional photographer to come by? What about a commemorative footprint with my daughter's name to hang on the hospital wall?

Reading this article also reminded me of another disturbing marketing ploy in the maternity ward. Orenstein says of Disney's efforts that "[t]he idea is to encourage mothers to infuse their infants with brand loyalty as if it is mother's milk."

The line about mother's milk made me remember that I had been given a "gift bag" in the hospital. The nurse asked me if I would be breast or bottle feeding so that she could give me the right bag. I told her breastfeeding, so she brought me a bag filled with this:

 Yes, Similac sponsored a "breastfeeding" bag (which did contain some nursing pads and cheap breastmilk storage bottles) chock full of samples and coupons for Similac formula.

It wasn't until I read this post over at Just West of Crunchy that I really recognized how disturbing this type of marketing is. The post is about some problematic aspects of the Medela products, but the part that stood out to me was about the World Health Organization's International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

Included in this code is this provision:
“Manufacturers and distributors should not distribute to pregnant women or mothers of infants and young children any gifts of articles or utensils which may promote the use of breastmilk substitutes or bottle feeding.” (Article 5.4)
Similac obviously has no ethical qualms about tossing that suggestion aside. And even more disturbing is that one of the booklets in this "breastfeeding gift bag" (titled "The Art of Feeding" for "Similac StrongMoms") has a section on "Supplementing and formula feeding." In this section, it suggests to women who will "be gone for an extended period during the day on a regular basis" that they will "want to start the conversion to formula a few weeks ahead of time."

Here is something I did not know before giving birth: breastfeeding is f'ing exhausting. For serious. 
It was tempting in those first few weeks to crack open one of those free formula samples and get some sleep, but I fought off the urge.

I don't think there's anything wrong with choosing to formula feed, but there's obviously a whole different gift bag for women who make that choice. Can't Similac just target them instead of trying to dismantle the efforts of breastfeeding moms?

Advertisement is a subtly pervasive omnipresence, and it seems like we should have some safe spaces. Can't the hospital room be one of those?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sweat, Baby, Sweat

Sometime between 9 and 1 tomorrow, my new treadmill will be delivered. (Using my previous experience with delivery companies as a guide, that probably means by about 6).

I need to lose about 25 pounds. I wish I could blame this on pregnancy weight, but the truth is I gained 39 pounds while pregnant, I was down 30 of those in the first week (9 pounds of that was the baby, and a lot of it was water weight), and I've since lost another 10. I'm actually under my pre-pregnancy weight. 

That doesn't, however, mean my pre-pregnancy clothes fit right. I can get most of them on, but let's just say the lay of the land has shifted--much like a river bed after a particularly violent storm, or a sack of oranges after you beat them to a pulp. My body is not my own, and I do not want to become too comfortable with this stranger.

Since the doctor cleared me to work out again about two weeks ago, I haven't done a whole lot. I have played some Wii Fit, which is a lot of fun. It's also kept me motivated to see my weight drop steadily on the game, though that's probably due much more to breastfeeding than it is Super Hula Hoop. I do think the Wii Fit yoga and strength training exercises are worthwhile, especially for someone at my fitness level--which is to say slightly above that of a not-too-active arm chair.
Me, gearing up for downward-facing dog.
But that's all about to change. This treadmill will replace our old treadmill, which we purchased at Wal-Mart with the best of intentions. It's just that my husband likes to run on treadmills, and apparently the ones at Wal-Mart aren't designed for that (seriously, they are "walking" treadmills, or maybe--on a good day--"jogging" treadmills). We finally had to call it quits with this particular piece of machinery when it began to eat it's own belt after thirty seconds of turning on, causing whoever or whatever happened to be on top of it to fly violently to the right--more of a workout than I bargained for. 

This new treadmill is good for running, so hopefully it will find a more purposeful home here. 

My husband and I have a deal. He gets to work out at his fancy-schmancy boxing gym two nights a week, and I get to work out the other two, each of us taking baby-duty while the other goes to the gym. This sounded really good in theory, but then I started to think about the logistics. On my two nights, I would have to get off work, pick up my daughter from day care, bring her home, wait for my husband to get home from work, feed her, drive to the gym, work out, and then come home. At some point I would need to eat, and since I am the cook in the family, I would also have to cook dinner. Oh, and fight the guilt of spending the only waking hours I see my daughter on those days in a car, at the gym, or in front of the stove. It wasn't looking good. 

But now that the treadmill is in the picture, I have a new plan. I can run at home on my gym nights. It will be so much quicker without the drive. 

I know, I know, of mice and men . . . but I have back-up plans, too. I am still going to go to the gym a few times a week and lift weights, just over my lunch break at work. This isn't unrealistic since, before getting pregnant and put on lifting restrictions, I used to do this regularly, and I miss it. 
These are lofty goals, but I'm giving myself a lot of time to accomplish them. In the end, I want a workout routine I can stick to for the long-term. If it takes some bumps to get it going, that's okay. 

"Stop Looking at My Moms"

While perusing Love Isn't Enough, I came across this video:

This is the video in which a 14-year-old rapper tells would-be oglers to lay of his mother. 

The poster at LIE found the video to be a refreshing glimpse into the potential of today's youths to right some of the injustices in our society. To wit:
This is a young man that gets what so many grown men seem to continually fail to grasp. Women have the right to walk down the street without constant harassment. It is not a compliment to be treated like a sexual object, as though you have no value. Perhaps if these oglers would take the time to realize that all women have value and people that love them, they would learn that overt sexualization is truly harmful. Watching this video gave me hope that the next generation will truly confront many of the isms that we have internalized.
So I read that, started watching the video, and thought about it. Though the lyrics weren't particularly wowing me, the kid is only 14, and it's not bad. I hadn't gotten through the whole thing, but I was generally agreeing with the poster's take on it. Then my husband sat next to me on the couch.

 Him: (incredulously) "What are you watching?"
Me: "A music video."
He watches a bit of it, then shakes his head: "This is a damn shame."
Me, pausing the video: "Why?"
Him: "First off, it appears the mother and the father aren't together--he's being raised in a single parent home. What you see that give rise to is a condition where young male development is really stunted. They view their most meaningful relationship with a woman as one with their mother." Then he brought up the movie Baby Boy. "In that movie, there's a scene where the son (Tyrese) is in a fight with his mother's boyfriend (Ving Rhames), and in that scene Ving Rhames says something like 'You think she's your woman. She's not; she's my woman.' Basically, Tyrese is stuck in a child-like mind state; he couldn't get past his mother being the only real woman in his life  So in the video he's doting on his mother and casting out a warning to all potential suitors, isolating his mother to himself. He is protecting his mother, but that has a consequence of isolating her. And it gives him a skewed view of relationships. As he gets older, that relationship can tarnish a little bit. Potential inadequacies of a single-parent home, when he's old enough to realize them, may cause him to blame his mother for not giving him what he needed."
When I told him about what the LIE poster said, he says that the first thing he thought of was all of the problematic societal issues it brought to the forefront. 

Wow, quite a different perspective. I want to think like the LIE poster and see this as a positive sign for our future, but now I'm re-watching it and feeling a little less hopeful. 


Thursday, February 3, 2011

As I Always Suspected . . .

Dresses are bad for you. And it's fine for little girls to learn to cook, as long as it's mud pies and they get dirty!