Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Seeing the Future Through Spit-up Tinted Lenses: How Does Parenthood Shade Our Perspectives?

I saw Miss Representation this weekend, and it was very good. If you haven't heard about it yet, check out the trailer.

Newest Miss Representation Trailer (2011 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection) from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

As I watched, one thing that stuck with me was the frame in which the documentary unfolds. It opens with an ultrasound picture and voiceover from writer/director/producer Jennifer Siebel Newsom explaining that finding out she was having a daughter prompted her to look at the world with a different perspective. That new perspective was the catalyst for the film. 

Another major element of the film was work with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. In Miss Representation, Davis says that watching media with her children was her inspiration to start questioning the gender disparities and eventually form the institute. 

Then I thought back to reading Peggy Orenstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter, a book that examines the rise of "girlie-girl" marketing and media portrayals. She, too, cited her own experience with her daughter as the motivation for the project. 

I started this blog as a way to focus my thoughts during my pregnancy. Recently, I launched my other blog--See Jane Juggling--as a space to analyze children's media for messages on race and gender. While race and gender were concerns of mine before having my daughter, it was her birth that sharpened that focus and made me more passionate about it. 

Why? How does parenthood inform our motivations and perspectives?

I think, for me, becoming a mother gave me responsibility over a real, tangible piece of the future. We are all responsible in the formation of the future; the things we do (or don't do) have a real impact on the lives of people who will be here after we are gone, but that's a very abstract concept. Having a child puts a (literal) face to that future, and that face is of someone I care about deeply and completely. What before seemed like nice things to get around to suddenly became imperative. 

Miss Representation ends with Gandhi's call to "be the change you wish to see in the world." But change is slow. Most of us will not see the change we truly hope for. We may see incremental steps toward it, but the actual realization of our deepest hopes and dreams will probably not come in our lifetimes. That can be hard to swallow. That can be enough to stop us. 

But having a child messes with the temporal nature of our perspectives. I'm no longer just fighting for change I can see in my lifetime; I'm fighting for change my daughter can see in her's. 

It doesn't take a child to be inspired, and it doesn't take being a parent to radically change the world or fight for a cause, but it does seem like the perspective of parenthood can be one of the ways we find the motivation for that fight. 

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