It’s no secret that I’m very firmly in favour of procreating at some point. (I went through a stage in my teenage years of being terrified at the mere idea of pregnancy, thanks to watching my mother go through her third pregnancy when I was 12, but that seems to have passed now.) Actually, for the last couple of months I’ve been broody to the point of wanting to change my contraception so that I can’t just “forget” to take my pill. But I got over that. Exam stress has a wonderful way of making you forget about hypothetical babies.
So, because I’m possibly too honest for my own good, I was talking to J about this odd broodiness, and that led quite neatly into The Baby Name Discussion. That’s always good for a laugh – J’s traditional father has inadvertantly ensured that my surname will be passed on to my children.* When we moved on to first names (there are remarkably few that work with my surname, but I’m damned if I’m giving it up!) J suggested that we call our first son, if we have one, by J’s fathers name. And then I threw a shit fit.
Firstly, because I can’t imagine anything worse than giving a child of mine a name that could only have been popular in the 50’s, and probably wasn’t even popular then.
Secondly, because I could imagine his reaction if I suggested we named our first daughter, if we have one, after my mother.
Thirdly, because – well, you should probably just read this post.
Eventually, I prevailed. This is because (a) I am more stubborn than J is, (b) it was a crap idea, and (c) my womb, my rules.
Pointing out that J has his father’s surname, and that therefore all of our children would have a link-by-name to their paternal grandfather, probably helped.
But mainly it was (a) and (c) that did it. As before, when a discussion has got grouchy, my strongly worded response was that if it mattered so much to J that he couldn’t compromise, then he should feel free to find somebody else to reproduce with. And yes, trolls of the internet: it matters enough to me that I would go and find somebody else to reproduce with. The moral of this story is that compromising is fantastic, as long as it’s not you that has to do it.
*We’d discussed hyphenating, which I hate, and discussed using one name as a middle name, which is what will happen. J’s dad, thinking that we were planning on hyphenating and presumably terrified that J’s surname would be less visible, insisted that J’s should go first. So it will. As the middle name. Mine will be the “real” surname. There’s a small, petty bit of me that is just waiting to see his face when he realises….
For a little while now, I’ve found my feminist focus shifting. After a while, I felt like I’d got a permanent sense of deja vu with the big blogs and their interminable blogwars and even more interminable US-centrism. So I stopped reading most of them. (I’m also quite sensitive to blog layouts, for some reason, and it’s no coincidence that the ones that I stopped reading first were the ones I found difficult to look at. Womanist Musings is a good example of this, as are Pam’s House Blend and Pandagon.)
To fill in the gap, I headed down under. Hoyden About Town is a long-term favourite of mine, although they too did some very strange things with their layout recently. Luckily for me, they give the option of reading HAT in the old, simple blog format, or I’d’ve had to stop reading them, too. Anyway, I also started following Blue Milk. And Spilt Milk. And so, despite not being a parent, I kind of got suckered into reading about feminist parenting. I love it. I think of it as gentle feminism, the kind that’s part of a nice chat about your day. I also would like to have kids one day – I don’t mind how. (My parents were seriously considering fostering before Mum unexpectedly got pregnant with my brother when I was 12. If pregnancy doesn’t happen for me, I’d do that. At least, I think I would.) So it’s nice to read about people who are just a bit ahead of me in life. And because I spent my teenage years in a house full of nappies and lego, and being woken up at 2am for a surprise bonus cuddle, I can already relate to a lot of it.
So, it’s been nice. Gentle. Easy reading, if you like. And I do like – that’s why I read them, and that’s why I write for Teaspoon of Sugar, the whole point of which is to be nice and gentle and easy.
Imagine my surprise, then, when the blogwars came to Blue Milk! Well, not quite – she’s steering clear of the threads of doom, and I don’t blame her one little bit. I thought I’d seen all of the blogwars, but this kids-in-public-spaces meltdown must have passed me by last time it rolled round.
It just seems ridiculous to me. Ridiculous and unnecessary. Arguing about whether kids should be in bars or watching late-night films is just daft (age ratings and the discretion of the management: it turns out we have them). I hate those kinds of discussions anyway. They seem no different to the arguments I’ve had with men about street harassment, who try to “win” by pulling ever more stupid arguments out their arses – you know, the “but what if a woman was walking down the road in nipple tassels and a tutu, *then* could I stare at her?” arguments. For the kids debate, you get “but what if a parent took their kid to a BDSM club, *then* could I say that kids don’t belong in public?”.
To the people who make those arguments, I say now: fuck you all.
Children are people too – and by that, I don’t mean that children are defective adults, just like I am not a defective white person, or straight person, or man. I mean that children are people, and therefore not animals, not dolls, not burdens. People. Some children can’t communicate verbally. Well, and nor can some adults. Some children display behaviours inappropriate to the situation they are in. So do some adults. Part of living in society is understanding that not everybody is just like you, and not everybody can behave the way you want them to. This is basic stuff.
But even more basic is this: I didn’t sign up to feminism to have other feminists police my moral standards, whether that’s to do with what kind of period control I use, or where I take my imaginary child. Well, ok, I didn’t sign up to feminism at all – there’s no membership card, no joining fee, no contract. Which is just as well, because right now I feel like asking for my money back. Reproductive rights are a feminist issue. Not just birth control, not just abortions, not even just parental leave issues, but also real children. The children that a lot of the feminists in the thread’o’doom don’t ever want to see, hear or interact with in any way. Thanks a lot, ladies. I’m really feeling that supportive sisterhood I’ve heard so much about.
In more hopeful news, I see that Tigtog from HAT and Chally from Zero At The Bone are now moderating the thread’o’doom, which might mean a bit less shit gets hurled. Even so, I think I’ll be sticking to the nice, quiet, parenting blogs for a while.
A day or two ago, my alarm clock woke me up by broadcasting the dulcet tones of John Humphrys (he of BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme fame) into my bedroom. This is perfectly normal and nothing to be afraid of.
However, as I lay there, probably more than half-asleep, I thought I heard some mention of a story about babies having a lower risk of death if they were born in normal office hours. This did not feel normal, and, since J claimed to know nothing about it when I asked him later that morning, I assumed I’d merely been dreaming.
“The analysis of more than one million births in Scotland over two decades found the risk of death for babies born out of hours, while small, was a third higher than for those born in the day… Those born between 0900 and 1700 on Monday to Friday were classified as being within normal working hours, all others as out-of-hours, the British Medical Journal reported.”
This is one of those times in which I simply don’t know what to do with the information I’ve been given.
And one 11-year-old girl had done some research (link loads as a powerpoint presentation) into “boy, girl relationships, in other words, a girl and a boy going out with each other”.
The research was really interesting (and a bit sad) in and of itself, as she – a muslim – focussed on attitudes of different religions and found, unsurprisingly, that the majority of children of every religion she sampled, including her own, were disapproving.
But the bit that really made my heart ache was the conclusion:
“I’ve learnt a lot in this research and If I could do another research, I would research about racist bullying. Most schools in England have more white people than any other colour. Some people like to gang up on people and bully them because of their race.”
Yeah. I remember that.
Valentine’s Day: raises money for Clinton Cards and jewellery companies.
Vagina Monologues: raises money for women’s organisations. Spawned the V-Day movement.
Which is why I’ve persuaded Lee that we needed to get tickets to see Jenny Eclair et al shouting “cunt”, having orgasms and generally pissing about. Yay for friends that you can go to the theatre with! Especially now that the Fems isn’t a weekly thing for him anymore.
I shall of course report in later, probably with a somewhat garbled account involving frequent mentions of the name “Bob”. This will be the second time I’ve seen it. And Sam, who was with me the first time, bought me the script for my birthday. One day, maybe I shall perform it, astounding my old drama teacher, who told me – harshly but fairly – that although I could possibly be a director in a group of my choosing, I was not a good actor. Of course, that was back in the days when a group of sixth-formers performed The Vagina Monologues, which students in our all-girls school were banned from going to if they were under sixteen. Now I’ve seen it, I understand that some of the monologues could be pretty unnerving for a sheltered middle-class thirteen year-old. But at the time, I remember being very indignant, on the grounds that I had a vagina, so why the hell couldn’t I see a play about it?!
Perhaps it is this kind of thing that makes me so enthusiastic about a) decent sex education and b) The Vagina Monologues!
There are some things that really make me appreciate having a feminist partner. Like his now well-developed habit of turning to me, deadpan, and exclaiming “OMG! Shoez!”. And, more specifically for this post, his habit of telling me when something particularly bizarre has made it into his personal radar. Like this story.
J: Have you seen the news story about how working mothers are destroying children?
Me: Um.. no, I’ve been watching snow all day.
J: It was on TV earlier and I just wanted to stand up and shout “WHAT?!!!”. *pause* Well, actually, I did shout “WHAT?!!!”. I just didn’t stand up.
So, in honour of the story meriting standing up to shout, I thought I’d dissect it a little.
First off, the full report can be found here. I started looking at it thinking that the BBC had cherry-picked the most news-worthy snippets. And, in a way, they have. Most of the report summaries seemed sensible and reasonable in content, and for six out of the seven categories (friends, lifestyle, values, schooling, mental health and inequalities) there was little to object to. Perhaps a seemingly spurious statistic in the friends category – that “for women [the age at which they had their first sexual experience] dropped from 21 in 1953 to 16 in 1998” – could have been omitted, or at least balanced with the corresponding statistic for men, but otherwise, I saw nothing that really bothered me.
But then comes the summary on family.
Frankly, compared with the other summaries, I found it to be poorly written, and nowhere near as coherent. A condensed version of each paragraph of the main summary could be:
- More women with babies of 9-12 months work outside the home, compared to 25 years ago.
- Women’s economic independence has led to a higher rate of divorce/ separation.
- “Children, whose parents separate are 50% more likely to fail at school, suffer behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression.”
- Parents should not stay together if the conflict between them is bad; but children are less likely to be aggressive/ depressed “the more they see their separated father”
- “it is a real worry that in Britain around 28% of all children whose parents have separated have no contact with their fathers three years after separation”
- *statistics on the prevalance of parental separation*
- “So to reduce the level of conflict in family life, parents must give more priority to their relationship. This would do more for children than anything else.”
Women with money = more divorce = more depressed children and therefore “parents must give priority to their relationship”. Even though “parents should not stay together if the conflict between them is bad”.
The whole thing is just bizarre. Especially since in the long version of the family report, they cite statistics from Refuge that say that half of all cases of domestic violence occur in households with children. What they don’t mention is the statistics that then say that “in over 50% of known domestic violence cases, children were also directly abused”. It is not inconceivable, then, to assume that at least some of that 28% of children without contact with their fathers have very, very good reasons for it. It would be pretty strange for a woman to extricate herself and her children from an abusive relationship, only to then voluntarily allow that man contact with the children. And, similarly, is it not reasonable that those children who have been abused by their fathers, and are not in contact with them, might indeed be more likely to display symptoms of depression?
I am not impressed.
I’m not impressed with the BBC for deliberately sensationalising a report that was, in general, very good. And I’m not impressed with the report itself, for giving the BBC the opportunity. And what’s really depressing is that, while the BBC have picked up on it, the Daily Mail haven’t. I’d have staked a fortune on it being the other way round.
I saw a comment recently online to the effect that US President Obama’s daughters are rapidly approaching adolescence, “faster than Dad would like”.
So I thought I’d say a couple of things.
Firstly, that it’s always annoyed me when people call somebody “Mum” or “Dad” – or any variation on the theme – if they clearly do not have that kind of relationship with them. My paternal grandmother, for example, always refered to my mother (her daughter-in-law) as “Mummy”. For quite some time, Mum didn’t realise that my grandmother was addressing her, since not even my siblings or I call my mother “Mummy”! Of course, my gran was convinced that Mum was not answering just to be rude to her, and made our visits a little hellish. Joys.
Secondly, I really, really hate those horrible “Dad” stereotypes.
In short, because they’re just another nasty offshoot of the patriarchal stereotypes of men generally.
In long, because not only are they just another nasty offshoot of the patriarchal stereotypes of men generally, but because I feel that they are an insult to just about every good father out there. Including my own.
The two most pervasive stereotypes that I’ve found are:
A: “Daddy” doesn’t want “his precious little girl(s)” to grow up.
For the record, my father has no interest in the state of my hymen. He does want me to be healthy and happy, and to that end, we did indeed once have a conversation to the effect of “have fun, just don’t get pregnant or infected with anything”. Now that that’s done, I don’t expect to ever have that kind of a conversation with him again. He knows I’ll take care of myself, he knows I know what I’m doing, and I talk openly with my mother about being on the pill. So I’m sure he’s been informed – in general, at least – that I’m not likely to get pregnant any time soon.
B: “Daddy” secretly always wanted a boy.
When my mother was pregnant for the third time, nearly eight years ago (and possibly also when she was pregnant the second time round – but I wouldn’t know about that, as I was 1 at the time), my dad got a lot of well-meaning comments which strongly implied this. You know the type: “Oh, I bet you’re hoping for a boy this time!” or, “wouldn’t it be nice to have a son to play football with?!” – that kind of thing.
And you know what? Seriously, my dad never cared. He just wanted a healthy baby. And you know what else? It’s really, really fucking insulting to his two daughters, to say, when they’re standing right next to him, “oh, I bet you’re hoping for a boy!”.
What, are two daughters not good enough? Seriously? Am I, by virtue of the fact that my gonads are inside my body instead of outside, worth less to you? Does a tiny little floppy thing inside a nappy mean that much to you? If so, you’ll make a shitty, shitty parent. And I’m glad I’ve got my dad and not you.
I don’t think that the commenter I picked up on was saying what they did in a malicious way. I do think that perhaps what they said was not as thought out as it could have been. And I do think that stereotypes should be challenged. Because they are rarely true, and rarely complimentary.