Sunday, April 19, 2015

Pretty Girls Kill Things. Is Our Outrage Sexist?

Today, the internet brought us the viral news of Kristen Lindsey's callous decision to murder a cat (who was likely someone's pet) with a bow and arrow and then post her proud kill shot on Facebook. Lindsey, a veterinarian, is being publicly shamed for this act and has since lost her job.

Popular sites like Jezebel, Huffington Post, and Telegraph have covered the story, and a Facebook page in support of justice for the murdered cat has 31,000 supporters at the time of this writing.

I saw the photo of her gleefully holding up the murdered tabby and felt my heart ache. I pictured my own cats in his place and felt rage swell at Lindsey. I'm not condoning her actions, and I'm not saying that she shouldn't face the legal and social ramifications of her decisions. This isn't a post in defense of her.

Still, as I read the comments on some of these articles, I couldn't help but feel something was amiss. It made me think of other high profile shame campaigns surrounding similar poses of women with their prey.

A few years ago, Melissa Bachman's photo of her with a lion she killed sparked similar controversy. As this post from Mirror points out, several people were disturbed by her smiling face and joyful response to the kill: "If she gets enjoyment from this then there is something seriously wrong."

South Africans who were angered by Bachman's actions even started a petition in an attempt to bar her from the country.

Most interesting to me, many of the headlines about this story focused on Bachman's other extracurricular interest: cheerleading. Posts from Huffington Post, Slate, and many others focused on her identity as cheerleader both in the headline and the reporting. They were clearly playing up the disconnect that this young, pretty, petite woman could be a vicious hunter. The Huffington Post article even opens with the line "Don't let her diminutive size fool you."

Recently, Ricky Gervais tweeted a photo of Rebecca Francis posing with a giraffe she killed. The outrage was similarly swift and extreme.

It's clear that the general public does not like seeing pretty young women pose with animals they've killed, and I can certainly understand why. It's disturbing to me (even as an omnivore) to see people taking pleasure over their kills.

But I think there's something interesting (and by "interesting," I mean sexist) about how we're so quick to publicly shame and punish women for trophy hunting but tend to ignore men doing it. A quick search reveals hundreds of Facebook pages filled with pictures of (mostly) men posing just like Bachman, Francis, and Lindsey did. Take a quick look at the feed for Big Game Hunting New Zealand, North American Hunting Club, Safari: Hunters, or any of a variety of community pages for hunting, taxidermy, and big game, and you'll see hundreds of photos that look exactly like the ones we're so outraged about here.

It makes me think that our anger is less about defending the defenseless animals and more about policing what activities in which we'll allow women's participation, especially if they are women who otherwise fit our cultural standards of femininity and beauty.

I'm not telling you not to be angered at these displays of killing for fun. I think that guidelines of ethics and morality certainly implore us to question these urges and the way our society supports them. I also understand that in many cases the individual circumstances complicate the public judgment (killing a pet or an endangered animal, for instance, impacts us differently than killing a deer).

But I think we also need to make room for some gender nuance in these judgments. Is part of our knee-jerk reaction tied up not just in the face of the dead animal, but also in the pretty face of its killer?

Photo: Jim Wrigley Photography,

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Caught in a Parenting Crossroads: Labels vs. Help

I spend a lot of time thinking about labels. I've written about them before, and they're especially important to me because I don't believe there's any such thing as an "authentic" self. We create our sense of selves and our place in the world based off of the way we position (and are positioned) with and against the world around us.

There are many reasons to resist labels. They're overly simplistic, denying the complexities and messiness of real lives. They can become shorthand ways to dismiss and deny.

But they're also unavoidable. We use labels because we need language to make sense of the world, and that includes making sense of ourselves. Having terms for who I am and where I see myself helps me to function on a very basic level.

It's with all this in mind that I find myself at a parenting crossroads. My daughter has always been headstrong and "spirited." In fact, a friend of mine posted this Scary Mommy post about spirited children that reads like the field notes from someone observing my child. She is fearless, opinionated, passionate, and stubborn.

Many of the traits that wear me out most are ones I am sure will serve her well. I am heartened when I read posts like this one from Role Reboot about the phrases we need to teach little girls. "Stop interrupting me." "I just said that." Those are right up there with my daughter's go-to favorites "I'll do it myself" and "Hey, watch this!" Especially when I compare my daughter's spirit and drive to my own childhood anxiety and shyness, I am convinced that she has many, many strengths for facing a world that will try to wear her down.

But the realities of those perceived strengths are harder to figure out. She's been in daycare settings since infancy, and even before she could talk I got reports from her teachers about her defiance. As the expectations put upon her to cooperate and follow directions grew, so did the negative feedback. "She doesn't listen." "She won't sit still." "She argues with her peers." "She throws tantrums."

She'll grow out of it, I told myself. In the meantime, I worked on sticker behavior charts tied to rewards and lost privileges. We read books about good manners. We role played. We worked and worked and worked. Some days were better than others, but the reports from school continued, and her behavior at home grew worse. There were meltdowns over minutia. She started hitting and kicking and screaming. I dreaded going to a restaurant or grocery store. Her behaviors seemed typical for a two-year-old, but she's four.

I started eating up friends' Facebook posts about their own behavioral challenges as signs that things were fine. I would watch other children on the playground and play compare and contrast even though I knew that wasn't the way to go about this. But feeling like it was normal was a comfort, so I sought out confirmation.

Until I couldn't anymore.

I started to get anxiety about picking her up from daycare, the time of the day when the meltdowns were the worst. Some days it would take half an hour to get out of the building, and even though I'd sit and finish her puzzle with her, look at all the classroom projects of the day, explain the plans we had at home, I'd still end up carrying her screaming and red faced over my shoulder as she kicked her shoes into the street. She'll be too heavy for this soon, I thought to myself. What am I going to do?

Some days her behavior was so bad that I felt trapped in my own home, afraid to take her anywhere. I would break down and cry uncontrollably after the fourth meltdown in as many days, exhausted and isolated.

Often, her screams would turn to sobs. Between hitched breaths, she'd pant out "I don't know how to stop, Mommy. I don't know how to listen. I want to be good, but I don't know how."

That was the trigger for me: watching her struggle and say that she felt out of control. It wasn't just that she couldn't find a way to fit into the expectations of the institutions around her; she couldn't find a way to fit into her own expectations.

So I took her to a therapist, and she loves going. They play and play, and somewhere in there she works through the things that are bothering her. Last week, the therapist met with me to talk about her progress. "I think she has a sensory processing issue," she said. "I'd recommend occupational therapy."

I left the meeting and bought an e-book version of The Out-of-Sync Child, hungry for information, for answers, for help. I found checklists like this one and felt waves of relief as I ticked off each and every symptom. Yes! This is it!

Everything from her nonexistent response to pain to her desire to climb to the highest point of the playground and jump off to her tendency to chew the neck of her shirts into oblivion were on the lists. And it all makes sense when you read about it. These needs for sensory experiences seem connected and meaningful.

More than anything, though, it makes me feel less powerless. If she needs more stimulation in very specific ways, then I can do that. I can buy trampolines and plan more activities that require pushing, pulling, and spinning. I can look at Pinterest boards of games designed to cross the midline. I can do massages. I can sing the "Hokey Pokey" ten times a day. I can do something to help her.

Part of me really wants to embrace the label. Does she have Sensory Processing Disorder, a controversial condition that isn't recognized as a clinical diagnosis but that is nonetheless getting placed on thousands of children?

Like any label, there are risks and benefits. And, like any label, those risks and benefits tend to fall along lines of belonging and exclusion. Labeling her can bring assistance, but it can also push her to the margins. Labeling is always a double-edged sword, but when you're so young, it feels particularly sharp.

Maybe it's not a disorder. Maybe it's just a typical expression of a spirited child pushed up against growing societal demands that kids sit still and follow directions at earlier and earlier ages. But if the treatment is jumping, running, lifting, pushing, pulling, and playing, then is mislabeling really so bad?

This feels like such a tightrope walk to me, and I want to make sure that I'm walking it with her interests in mind instead of my own. I don't want to grab onto a label to make myself feel better if it ends up hurting her, but I also don't want to push away a real problem in an attempt to make it disappear.

I'll tiptoe slowly and do my best, as seems to be the course of so many parenting crossroads.

Photo: Allison McDonald, SpDuchamp, Snugg LePup