Monday, September 29, 2014

Grappling with Gender issues, the Reel Deal, part 2

Bold sections by Lord Covington

In a recent post, we discussed how certain tv programs may have negatively affected Toddleworth's views on gender. Now, we are discussing the movies that he watches. We started here with Frozen. Here is the continuation:

Your wife is so fat she...... died and animated a house?
You'll notice a theme soon; Toddles is still a fan of horror and we started trying to find children's animated horror movies for him pretty early. The first was Monster House. We took it to Houston with us in February and he watched it several times while we were hanging sheet rock at Lord Covington's mother's house.

Monster House is a mixed bag for me. Two boys, DJ and Chowder, witness what they think is the death of their crotchety old neighbor, Nebbercracker, and they soon realize the house next door is alive. They assume it is haunted by his ghost, but realize it is haunted by the ghost of Nebbercracker's wife.

Agency: There are three main female characters in the film.
       The first is 'Zee,' DJ's babysitter. She likes to use traditional "sweet and pink" as active camouflage if DJ's parents are around. When they are gone, she ditches the 'nice female' camouflage for a shirtless black band shirt, and pulls her hair loose to reveal a punky asymmetrical cut. She sends DJ to his room so she can hang out with her (jerk of a) boyfriend. Soon afterwards, she kicks the boyfriend out, proclaiming "You have no respect for women!"
       The second is Jenny, who we meet while she is cleverly going door to door trying to sell candy to procrastinators. In their exchange, first they barter over buying candy with the babysitter 'emergency fund' in a way that will net them both money. Zee gives Jenny advice along the lines of "If you see a boy you like, give him his burger, not your phone number." Jenny, while sucked into their nerdy pre-pubescent boy world of video games and peeing in bottles, not only adapts well, but ends up heroically saving them both with her wits and understanding of anatomy.  Once her more well grounded logical mind accepts that there is, in fact, a Monster House, she begins applying her knowledge to the house, reasoning that  net-bag of lights in the foyer is most likely a uvula.  Later, when the House has captured DJ and Chowder, Jenny's quick wits save all of the major characters.  While the boys are hanging by a ledge about to fall into the mouth, Jenny dodges the house's tongue and leaps on the "uvula," gambling successfully that the house will have to spit them out.  While the critique below takes issue with Jenny not being the one to destroy the Monster House single handed at the climax of the movie, I think it's fair to say the House absolutely would have had two tween snacks that night if not for her courage under fire.
        The third female character is the house itself, animated by the ghost of Nebbercracker's wife. It turns out Constance Nebbercracker was once a giantess (fat woman) at a circus side show, before being liberated by Nebbercracker. she died in an accident while rabidly trying to fend off young vandals during the houses construction.
I don't know how I feel about this caricature of a woman being used as the monster.  Here is a strongly worded critique I found.  I'm not sure I would be quite so harsh, but I certainly don't think her villainous portrayal in this movie does fat women, or women in general, any favors.
    While I acknowledge the above critique as valid in this case, my initial and lingering reaction to Constance is that she is a tragic character.  In the real world, several usually traumatic events put a person where she was when we first see her: morbidly obese, locked in a cage, and tormented by strangers.  The way she reacts to the children who throw eggs at her while she was still alive was at that point, largely an unavoidable automatic response.  My reaction was not "she's fat," but "she's injured."  I would take larger issue if she were the only woman depicted in the film

Backstory/Goals: We learn that Zee was kicked out of the prep school that Jenny goes to. Zee doesn't seem to have any plans for the future other than having a cool boyfriend.
        We don't learn anything about Jenny's background, or future, from what I remember of the film. She obviously has plans, and is willing to follow through with them, as her candy selling scheme shows. Unfortunately, Jenny ultimately is only advancing DJ's goals in this story.  She doesn't get any extensions of her own subplot ( presumably clever candy scamming), she just works toward DJs.  I feel this is possibly the most negative message of the movie, and one I feel Toddlesworth and I must have a conversation about.
          We see Constance's backstory and the actions that led to her death. As a human, her goal was to protect her house, which I could believe was the first thing that had ever been hers. As the monster, her goals basically consist of consuming anyone that might be a threat to her house, and taking whatever belongings cross her property line. When the children trespass and truly wake her up, she even uproots herself from her foundation and chases them off the property.

Traditional Gender Roles: Zee is in the traditional role of teenage caretaker, but she flips it on its head in a bad way by pretty much being awful. She has rather stereotypically fallen for the bad boy. Though she kicks him out, by the end of the film there is an interaction that leads me to believe she will go running back to him.
      When Jenny next tries to approach the 'Monster House,' the two boys who have been watching the house must run to rescue her. The boys tend to compete for her attention. She is generally shown as more savvy and knowledgeable than the boys, and I assumed she was older, though she is listed as being younger. I do feel that she is basically used as inspiration to keep the guys going. DJ comes up with the plan to use cough syrup to put the house to sleep. Chowder says  "I don't want to steal drugs from my father, I don't want to go inside a monster, and I don't want to die!" Jenny says "This seems worth a shot..." And chowder immediately switches his stance to "Yes, I agree, lets do it."
      Constance/Monster House was rescued by Nebbercracker. She is violent and angry and overprotective of her household. The critique I linked above mentions how she is the embodiment of the 'woman as household' trope.
That same link above critiques that Jenny becomes a cheerleader rather than being the one to end the monster once and for all. I am not sure I agree with that completely. I do detest that she kisses him as part of her encouragement. I don't feel the need for her to take over and do it for him... it is DJ's movie... DJ is obviously the main character, The Monster House is the house across from his house, not Jenny's. All the same, I would like to see more movies where that particular critique is not needed because it is a female main character and hero.

       I think many of us have been Zee at one time or another. Being a strong, progressive woman, doesn't mean you won't go stupid over a boy. She's a relatively minor character in the film, but I liked her.
       I really liked the initial appearance of Jenny. She was decisive, intelligent, and quick witted. I don't think she gets to show those attributes off consistently later in the film.
      Constance: I feel like this character is treated more like a rabid dog than a person. As a human, she is shown first basically as a caged animal. She is excited to be freed and to have a place of her own, and then she shows anger. Anger is shown to be her only emotion as the monster house. At one point Nebbercracker talks her down, and even says 'Good girl!" and I just really got the feeling that his is how you would treat a housepet gone bad, not your dead wife. I am not sure the film wouldn't have been better by not making the house a 'character' at all. If there were some other reason the house animated, there wouldn't be a need for  a backstory of a character who just basically falls flat.

        In conclusion, I think with a more critical view of movies as messages, there often comes the complaint of "ruining my childhood."  While we are taking a feminist perspective on our media, specifically in the context of Toddlesworth's viewing, we are not immune to the feeling either.  It is frustrating to think about shows I loved as a child, wanting to share them with Toddlesworth (He Man is basically out, for example), and having ethical qualms about it.  However, I suppose while I am sacrificing some childhood memories, the childhood I am saving from the ruination of bad default paradigms is his.  If that's the tradeoff, I will make it with a confident smile.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Grappling with Gender issues, the Reel Deal, part 1

Bold sections by Lord Covington, regular text by Lady Covington

In a recent post, we discussed how certain tv programs may have negatively affected Toddleworth's views on gender. I thought it fair that we also discuss movies. While you may think movies or a single movie can't have as much influence as several seasons of a tv show, I ask that you keep in mind that these are movies a child is watching over and over.... and over....and over...

The movies that Toddles has been watch-on-repeat obsessed over in the past year include:

Monster House
Little Mermaid
Nightmare Before Christmas

We're going to try to give a summary and critique of each movie.  Originally intended to be a single blog, it became a Viking Edda ( long) and we have gone into enough detail that we feel each movie merits its own shorter post.  We do feel more strongly about some than others, so our apologies if we go long!
         The framework we will be using will look into the major female characters of the movie in terms of their:
Agency: Does the character act for herself? Does she make her own choices or have them dictated?
Backstory/Goals: Does the character have a past, or plans for the future?
Traditional Gender Roles: How much or little does the character conform to traditional gender roles?
Relatability:  Is the audience able to form a connection with this character/are they viewed as a realistic person?
We'll do this more or less chronologically, which will also correlate with our recent increase in being critical of media.

We watched Frozen in the theater before Toddles turned two, and he loved it. I don't think he was capable of staying put for the whole movie, but he got pretty close. He loved the music and tried to sing it after watching only once. I knew I would be buying it on Amazon the day it was available, and as soon as I did it became his favorite movie for quite some time. He can sing many of the songs, with his favorite of course being Let It Go. I'm sure most of you are quite familiar with how Frozen turned many Disney tropes on their heads, and I love the inclusion of adopted families and the emphasis on familiar love.
Bechdel test pass? Frozen passes the Bechdel test in its adorable opening scene.
Agency:  The film continues to provide powerful examples of women with agency. (Even when Elsa is isolated as a child, and fights against her 'curse' I see this as an active move she is doing to protect her family, even though she hates it.) Elsa runs away and chooses further isolation to try to keep her kingdom safe. There is the expedition by Anna to find Elsa, which is her choice even though it is heavily advised against by all the men around her. Finally, there is the willingness to self-sacrifice she shows when Anna throws herself in front of a blade for Elsa. Rather than be the passive object of somebody else's kiss, she ends up being the actor in the act of true love that breaks her curse.
Backstory/Goals: The backstory of Anna and Elsa is shown in the film, which is a good indicator of how their characters developed. They each have goals, Elsa tries her hardest to be a good ruler, and Anna begins just wanting to be social and maybe meet a boy. Her character is quite dynamic, she goes on the quest to find her sister, and ends up heroically saving her sister, and her love shows Elsa how Elsa can save the kingdom. Though Anna had two male interests in the film, her choices did not revolve around them, but rather her relationship with her sister.
Traditional Gender Roles: Both women are in dresses, but they are not traditional colors.  Both women are seen in leadership roles. I cannot recall another Disney princess giving a direct order, while both of these princesses do. They behave like they were raised to be authority figures.
Relatability: Anna is extremely naive in the beginning, but in a way anyone who has been a teenager can relate to. To me, Elsa's fear of her 'curse' in the beginning and fear of being a bad ruler is relatable to general fear of failure. Both women grow and change as the film progresses, making them realistic characters. Anna's eventual love interest spawned from partnership and shared experiences with Kristoff, rather than the love-at-first-sight she had with Hans. After all,

This is about as progressive a movie as Disney has made to date, we say happily.  It is not without it's flaws but it's still a huge leap for Disney.  If we are going to have Toddles watching the Disney kids cartoons ( instead of, ya know, locked up like Elsa, for example), then at least we have one not so much cringe worthy.  In Elsa, we ultimately learn that great powers come with great responsibilities.  Anna redefines Disney's usual narrative for love and focuses it on siblings rather than romance.
All in all, I hope Toddles has gained some important ideas about being a leader, and about being a sibling from this movie.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A quick art post

Here is my recently completed attempt to recreate a picture of Toddles. I definitely got off on the angles... I wish I could have seen it in the beginning phases, but that is a skill I am still developing.  As an 'inspired by' piece and not something that is trying to be a reproduction, though, I like it!

I wanted to experiment more with a palette knife, but hated the lack of detail in the face/hands. I decided I would start with my brush and get the detail parts done in a way I was familiar with, and went back and did the clothes and flower and background with the knife. I love the balance of detail and texture I achieved, and I love the idea of painting things with depth of field. I hope to experiment with these things more in the future!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Toddlesworth Vegan Vindication

Bold by Lord Covington

While the health reasons are myriad, our veganess comes from an origin of ethics.We do not believe you can truly be a good person and endorse the torture of another being for your convenience or enjoyment. Since even the most casual research into factory farms (where most Americans get all of their meat) shows you that the animals suffer greatly, we can't in good conscience be a part of that.

From twelve to my early teens, I referred to myself as a "dedicated meatgan."  All the while, I would experience nausea from eating meat, but thought everyone felt the same way.  At this point in my thinking I was probably a Young Earth Creationist, so clearly, I had multiple ideas not based on sense.  About 18, I had a moment, about to  eat a Taco Bell Taco when I finally listened to my body and just put it down and decided not to pick it up again.  Midway through college, I was sitting around the table while people were talking about why vegans were stupid, because 'you have to kill something to eat.' Always one to argue for arguments sake, I explained it wasn't about killing, it was about suffering. I paused, dumbstruck by my own reasoning, and then said "I guess I can't consider myself a good person unless I'm vegan. I guess I'm vegan now."

(And now Lady C)

He got up from the table and announced this to me, who, unbeknownst to him, had been vegetarian for all of a week and vegan for three of those days. I was actually grilling my own vegan quesadilla at the time, and musing about how I would not want to date someone who was not vegan. He was probably not expecting my reaction of a thrilled hug.  I had tried to go vegetarian once before, when I was a preteen. I didn't live in the most conducive environment for it, and so failed immediately and repeatedly, (As in, I would be eating a turkey sandwhich, realize this, and think 'man, I was not going to eat animals anymore!  I guess I will try again tomorrow.) Eventually it slipped my mind entirely until my intro to moral issues class in college brought the subject back up. A few days into my being vegetarian, I mentioned to Lord C. that I would probably be going vegan soon. When he asked me why, I thought for a moment to come up with the most concise explanation of all the reasons I had recently been exposed to. I am not a naturally eloquent person, and the best wording I could come up with was 'Because hurting things is bad." 

People asked us even years before we were ready to have kids how we would raise them, so no one in our family and older friends circle was surprised that we are bring up Toddles vegan.  We have had the occasional person remark that we are forcing our son into our way of life. That's a pretty ridiculous claim, since all people everywhere default to teaching their kids their way of life, but especially when a balanced vegan diet is shown to be much healthier than the Standard American Diet.  I mean, shouldn't everyone bring their children up as smokers? They might want to smoke anyway, when they are older.

We haven't face much opposition to our lifestyle from our families, but it does occasionally show itself in ignorance (many years ago: "Condensed milk is ok, right?") or some misplaced concept that someday something will make us go back to "normal" (Several people in my family remarked to Lord C while I was still unconscious after my car wreck that I might want to eat meat again when I woke up. In fact, the hospital had been feeding me through a feeding tube in my nose, and one of the first acts I did upon waking up was to pull it out of there!) I will admit that it is frustrating when my mom makes holiday cheap toy and candy baskets for all of her grandkids but packs the same non-vegan things into Toddles'. (This is one of the instances where I'd prefer nothing to having to unpack dozens of tiny plastic packages, check the contents, and weed out bits of chocolate...which then lay around for a week until I find someone to take them.)

In general, when people see Toddles interacting with food they are impressed by his willingness to pick up and eat a raw carrot or tomato (often on the way to the register). We never have problems getting him to eat his vegetables, and he requests "tofu and vegetables" as often as "French fries and tater tots." We believe that the ethical lessons began to pay off just before Toddles hit 2.5.

We had some issues with day care on our brief foray into public care for Toddles. We had to provide a note from his pediatrician stating he was on a healthy diet (Thank you doctor, for that.), and we (or I, while Lord C. was out of town) made and packed lunch for him each day that was as similar as possible to what the other kids would be eating. There were some slip ups getting everyone on board, especially with the number of different teachers he had on various days, but overall it was clumsy but worked.  He told the teachers that we don't eat animals because it hurts the animals, and if he wanted something the other kids had that was not vegan, the teachers told him (as we asked them to) that it had cow in it. They told me a couple of times when this had happened and he always just said "oh, ok." and asked for something different.

Basically this is the way we handled teaching him about being vegan. Especially when younger he would grab random food things, and we would sometimes have to take them away and tell him why we didn't eat it, and redirect him to a food we can eat.  ("That is cow milk, it comes from cows. We drink soy milk, it is made from plants." "Yes, that is chicken. We don't eat chicken. Do you remember why?" ("It hurt the chicken") "That's right. What sounds do chickens make?") One day when he was he was behind the front desk where we store our breakfast food for hotel guests. He grabbed a prepackaged sweet cake and held it up to me in one hand: "Can I eat this?" "No baby, it has cow in it."  "Oh. This?" he asked as he held up the banana in his other hand. "Yes, of course!"  "Ok!" he proclaimed, and happily put back the sweet cake and ate the banana.

We are trying to be sure that Toddles grows up to respect animals in other ways as well. He went through a phase when he was a bit younger where he would chase our cat and try to pull it's tail. He would also hit the dogs if they (ok, mostly just one) growled at him or made him angry.  When this happened, we would react in the same way we would if he had hit one of us.. remove him from the situation, remind him that we don't hit people, that hurts people, and get him to apologize.  We feel that by elevating our animals (rather than diminishing Toddles by saying "oh, he's just a baby, he doesn't know any better") and making sure that he understand they have the right to their own emotions and space, we are helping to teach him respect for all life.

By the way, the dogs usually accept his apology by way of face licking.

In all seriousness, though, of course we hope Toddlesworth will choose to continue being vegan as he ages. It is a deeply held personal belief for both of us, and is the closest thing I have to religious beliefs. While we don't intend to attack anyone for their food choices, we do hope we lead some people to at least question them. We both very strongly believe that being vegan is the morally correct choice, otherwise there is little impetus for anyone to choose this way of life. We do also though tend to see everything in this world on a spectrum. Someone who participates in Meatless Mondays is still doing some good, Meaty Mondays (Where people DON'T eat meat the other 6 days) are of course even better. I feel there is no way at this point that Toddles can slide so far away from how we are raising him that he would end up at the default Standard American Diet. And so, we believe that teaching Toddles respect for all life and introducing him to the default of not harming animals by consuming their bodies or byproducts is another way in which we are trying to set Toddles up to have the best possible future.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Big News and the Big Brother's Reaction

In short:

The longer version:
We made the decision to try for another baby at the beginning of the year. With our track record we thought we'd be due in October at the latest. We were so sure of it I bought some Halloween baby clothes on clearance last year. I was just being practical, right?

Things took a bit longer than we'd expected, especially with Lord Covington being out of town most of every week for three months.

In July, I took a pregnancy test on a reasonable date and got a negative. I was becoming used to this, so we waited and waited to get to try again. Finally, I realized an entire month had passed and took another test. It came back positive about as dark and sudden as a test could get. It turns out the first test may have just been a few days too early, and I hadn't taken another out of some misplaced fear of 'wasting' them. A couple weeks later we were able to pinpoint things with an ultrasound. I was about “8weeks” along before I realized, and I hadn't had any symptoms. (Of course they developed immediately after taking the test!) At the time of the ultrasound, I was10wks and 4 days, (and I am 12 wks at the time of this posting.) It was pretty amazing to see our baby look so babylike so early. When we first got to see Toddles he looked more like a tiny fish.

We had been 'prepping' Toddles for this event for a while. Before we were anywhere near trying, we had a book in rotation called “The Bear's New Baby” In it, an older sibling to be anxiously awaits the arrival of her new baby sister. “It seems like it is always soon and never now!” She is disappointed to find that her sibling is actually a brother, and not nearly as fun as she imagined, even asking if he can be returned. She learns to appreciate her little brother as he becomes a little older and more fun, but in the end tells her family she wants to keep him, but she wants the sister kind too. After reading this book countless times, it seems fitting we can tell Toddles “The baby will come in the spring!”

We have been asking Toddles for quite some time if he would like a baby brother or sister. For many months, his answer was a very adamant “NO I DON'T WANT!”

One day, about three months ago, I asked him the question I'd asked about once a week: “Toddles, would you like a baby brother or sister?”
“Weeellll....” Started off Toddles, with the drawn out pause that meant he was really considering it “...a sister!” he concluded.

It was almost like a running joke at the time, so I was a bit shocked and very pleased with his answer. Since then, he has wavered back and forth between wanting a brother or a sister, and occasionally still reverts back to not wanting one at all. Generally though he is accepting and even quite considerate. He asked for coffee one day and I told him I wasn't going to be getting any. He got frustrated and Lord C told him I wasn't going to have coffee because it could hurt the baby. (I don't have anything against moderate caffeine consumption during pregnancy, I just didn't feel like having any right then.)  Toddles rubbed my arm and said “Oh, I sorry.” I told him it was fine, and he hadn't done anything wrong. A few days ago we were laying in bed and he was rubbing his feet across my belly. Since his usual foot-belly interactions involve kicking while turning over at night, I asked “What are you doing?” “The baby like this?” asked Toddles. “Aww, that's sweet! The baby is too small to feel that right now. Later, you'll be able to feel him move and he'll be able to feel and hear us.” “Ok!” said Toddles.

A couple weekends ago, we made a three hour drive to Dallas to pick up a fancy stroller found at a great price on Craigslist. Lord Covington supervised Toddles pushing it to the car. Later, he told me Toddles had said “This for my baby brother or sister!”

Obviously we're very excited to welcome a new family member to our tiny household. We have known for some time that our 'home office' was going to be moving us to a new hotel in a different city, once it is built. Construction has started, so it will be interesting to watch the progress of the building as compared to the progress with my belly. If the move date fall within a month on either side of my due date, it is going to make things very.... interesting. If it falls after my due date, then we will have an interesting bit of time where we are a family of four living in one room.

There are also considerations to be made when it comes to our birth plan this time around, which we will be discussing in more detail on our next post!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Grappling with Gender Grief in Toddlesworth Television Traditions

Bold Text by Lord Covington, Regular Text by Lady Covington

A quick note on where we stand, philosophically.  Lady Covington and I both identify as feminists: speficially "Third Wave" feminists.  As such, even though Toddlesworth displays mostly hetero-normative / cis gendered tendencies, it is important to Lady Covington and I that he understands that he has many options, that no one of them is more "correct," and we will love him regardless of his choice of gender expression.  My only two real "have tos" are strength and honor.  As we are working with the philosophy of Attachment Parenting, and because we try always to manage the narrative he receives, we believe we are more vigilant that most about what our child watches and comes into contact with on a daily basis. However, it seems some things have slipped in under our radar.

Toddles has always said "Mom, she is like you!" about the main female character in the shows he watches. (Rapunzel, Ariel, Elsa, Sally). It is expected to be identified with the feminine, and actually very flattering to be compared to a princess. However, it didn't stop at feminine identification and went on to be stereotypical gender expectations.
For a while now, Toddles has been telling me "You like pink! I like blue!"  When I would tell him I did not like pink, or that I in fact like blue and green, the best I could get him to agree to was a compromise of purple. Not only is it always infuriating when your toddler orders you to have opinions, but it is doubly so when those are seriously gender stereotypical.  More recently, he has decided that I MUST be a witch for Halloween. I will not be being a witch, and I insist I will not each time he brings it up, but we'll have to see how the actual night goes down when he realizes I will not choose my costume on his expectations.
The most shocking thing I have witnessed happened quite recently, when we gathered him to take him home for the day. We asked "What do you want to do today?" He turned to his father and said "You fight bad guys!" (video games) then immediately turned to me and said "You wash dishes!"

Just today, Toddles chased a little girl (about a year older than him) around a play area, trying to put a flower in her hair so she could be 'A lady.' She clearly didn't want the flower , and he backed her into a corner and tried to force it on to her head.  

Again.... really?

This is yet another a signal that we have a duty to address this as parents.  It is important for us to teach him that other people have agency, and that their desires matter, even if they are refusing something he thinks of as a gift.

All of these things have led us to be even more critical of the shows we have been allowing Toddles to watch, as well as making us reexamine our own relationship dynamics.

      We feel we are very close to 50/50 on cleaning, though Lord C does play about 85% of the video games.
When we talk about clothing, William will insist he doesn't wear pink, he wears blue. He will continue to insist this, even while he is wearing a pink shirt! (We have tried to include a variety of colors in his wardrobe, even though we have distinct color preferences that don't run to very colorful.   Lord C will tell you about the dubious interactions he had when he picked out a purple diaper cover for William one day!)
          We realize that we are bumping up against the dominant hetero-normative paradigm every time we interact with anything at all.  I once went diaper cover shopping in Abilene (We used cloth versus disposable), and the sales person seemed visibly uncomfortable by my choice of purple for a male child.  She put on her best tolerant smile and said " Maybe you want him to be a little different... ok. "  If I had been alone, her confused-displeased-subtext would have been amusing in a way that made me feel smug.  Since I was with my son, I resented what I perceived her narrative push into my choices.   
           I will concede that I generally dress business casual; I wear dresses and skirts and almost never pants. However, my color scheme is dark, almost all black. I do want to try to include more color, but William has probably never seen me wear anything pink.
Lord C. Wears a similar color palette, Blacks, Greys, blues, and one red shirt. He does stand out from the stereotypically masculine in that he has long hair.  We have never cut Toddles hair, and he has never thought he needed it cut. I imagine his dad having long hair helps him see that as normal.

In our interpersonal interactions, we are both managers, so he does see us actively give direction to others almost every day. I felt the need to point out to Lord C that Toddles does see our employees do a lot of cleaning, and most of them are women. Lord C thinks that I am more likely to give orders within the household, but we both think that while we are both "Authoritative" parents, I lean slightly more towards permissiveness and he leans slightly more towards authoritarian.

In our activities, besides videogames, Lord C is slightly more likely to want to do outside activities with Toddles, including stick 'sword' fighting. I will do the same, but I am more likely to suggest a crafting or artistic activity before an outside activity. To be fair, I push outside activities as a way to not play...I dunno ..... 10000% of the video games, or have him become the indoor child I was once upon a time.

I don't feel we have left any gaping holes in our relationship dynamic to allow tons of gender stereotypes in, so the next step was analyzing the shows we let Toddles watch.

We listed several shows we have positive feelings about and started watching them at the first episode. We decided to see how quickly each of these shows pass the Bechdel test, and additionally make notes of how the female characters are portrayed in reference to appearance/(instances of stereotypically pink clothing) and agency.

We started with Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood.This is a continuation of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, taking place in the land of make believe. This animated show makes good use of music to teach lessons. "If you need to go potty, stop and go right away!"
Daniel's mom is featured wearing blue pants and a white shirt with pink Hawaiian flowers. It takes a few minutes to get Daniel to school and have mom interact with Teacher Harriet (wearing a teacher type smock and all in oranges) The show doesn't get a true Bechdel pass until almost the end of the second episode when Teacher Harriet tells a female student she's done a good job.  While we aren't currently focusing on this aspect of his learning, it is worth mentioning that DTN has a healthy representation of minorities in professional and positive roles, and interracial couples as a norm.

Next was Monster Math Squad. There are three monsters who are part of the Monster Math Squad, who all share screen time about equally. This show is great about teaching math concepts, with varied vocabulary. Slope, Speed, Capacity, etc.
One of the squad members is Lily, who is pinkish-purple and wearing  a yellow hair bow. One is a large furry yellow masculine monster, and one is a green glob which is treated as young and who seems pretty gender neutral.  This show has very short episodes, about 10 minutes each. It did not pass the Bechdel test in the first episode, but the second episode the monster they were helping was a female so it passed in the first minute or two.  The "female" monster in the show actively performs math with the other two, and in terms of math skill is interchangeable with either of the others.

The next show we watched was Super Why. We like this show for how it introduces letters and spelling concepts, but we had misgivings even before this 'test.'

In the first episode, the super readers are introduced. There are two females, Little Red and Princess Pea. I would find awesome, but their appearances leave something to be desired: Little Red is dressed in an extremely short skirt/shorts, and Princess Pea is in a purple princess dress.
When they transform into their 'super' versions, Little Red becomes Wonder Red, and manages to be wearing even less... more like a bathing suit and cape, and the princess becomes Princess Presto. Her dress becomes fuller and turns pink.  There is also Pig, who becomes Alpha Pig. He uses tools to make his super power happen. Wonder Red has a magic basket. Princess Presto uses a magical wand ("cue the sparkles! Cue the music!), and In the first episode, when she first tries to use her wand, she drops it.
Throughout the first episode, the girls don't manage to talk to each other, and Wonder Red never gets to use her power at all.

On a positive note, Whyatt actively tries to engage in childcare within the first three minutes of the episode, trying to care for his baby sister Joy (dressed in yellow and blue!) Whyatts mom stepped in when he failed to soothe her, but we weren't sure weather baby Joy should count as far as the Bechdel test or agency were concerned.

After running it through the Bechdel/ Gender Equality lens, I am deeply conflicted about this program.  Toddlesworth has spent much time watching the show, and as a result, at the age of two and 8 months he is on the verge of reading.  I know this show, as well as certainly our own efforts, have played a strong hand in his advanced skills.  I also can see that it has reinforced as a hard and fast rule a paradigm I'm not comfortable with, particularly how it has manifested in him.  I am not sure the payoff is worth it.  I will continue to struggle with the two notions.  

Team Umi Zoomi attracted Toddles on TV, and it seemed a good choice for teaching Toddles about patterns and shapes.
The team is a brother and sister, named Geo and Milli, and their robot (Bot) who help a 3D (as opposed to animated) child with a problem each episode.
Geo, has the power of Super Shapes. "I can build anything with my shapes!"
Though there is a female on the team, her powers involve changing the colors on her dress (from it's default pink) to show a pattern. "I can make any pattern with my dress!" She also has long pigtails...that measure things.  In the first episode, the person who needs help is a young girl, (also wearing pink and pigtails), so it does get a Bechdel pass in about three minutes.

I find the need to mention that at this point, even with only two examples, I find it a little troubling that in each of these shows, girls are given a magical power, while boys are given a power based on "building."  These children might very well go on to be engineers, but no matter how many magic wands they pick up, I don't see it finishing any spelling tests for them.  As a side note, how lame is pattern power? I'd much rather have shapes that can build anything than a dress that can change patterns, no matter how awesome my wardrobe would be!
Who doesn't want a vegetable dress?

Bubble Guppies isn't keyed to teaching one particular thing. Instead, the episodes tackle different things the children want to learn about, and they discuss them with their teacher, Mr. Grouper.
I haven't sat down and watched many episodes, because this is one show that Toddles watches straight from TV, on the days when he is helping us do housekeeping. It is unfortunately not available for streaming on Netflix.
As such, I'm not sure how educational it really is, but I know there is a remake of The Lord of The Rings, so it has that going for it.
Bubble guppies avoids having the token female, there are three boys and three girls in the class, which also manages to be quite racially diverse. The girls have a fairly varied color palette, even though one is in purple and one has pink hair.
There is a "Hello" type exchange less than two minutes in, otherwise it doesn't get a real pass until 7 minutes. However, there is a class discussion, where the characters talk to the viewer, and a cute musical number in between.

There were already shows in our house that were outright banned in our household: Calilou we had never watched, but I heard horrible things about online so we never tried. Peppa Pig was something Toddles stumbled across on YouTube and demanded more of. Even though I didn't find it educational, I let him continue watching until the episode where Peppa Pig asks her dad why the reflection on a funhouse mirror is the way it is. He launches into a speech about the reflection of light waves, only to have Peppa's friend interrupt him and say "So it's, MAGIC!"  "Yes, it's magic..." Peppa's father answers with a resigned sigh.  What a perfect opportunity for learning wasted! At that point we resisted his pleading and put a full stop on any more Peppa Pig.

Searching for better shows in the past has led us to Monster Math Squad and Peg + Cat; (Which we did not review but will be looking at more in the future. Even though it has a female main character, most of her time is spent talking to animals, so I believe it will take a while to pass the Bechdel test.) both have higher math skills than, say, Umi Zoomi might show, and Toddles has loved them. Doing the research for this post led us to some interesting things too:

Suggested shows for Preschoolers
The Bechdel test in Disney Films
10 Kids Movies that Pass the Bechdel Test

We'll definitely be trying out some of the suggested shows, and keeping the Bechdel and agency test in mind.
 Like our decision to be Vegan, we are taking the time to analyze gendered expectations because its so easy not to consider the ethical implications of ideas and behavior that are normal for our culture. 
Toddlesworth is determined, active, outspoken and aggressive.  He is a great big slice of Cis gendered cake, with a plehtora of qualities we prize in American Culture. We are proud of his qualities but we see where, if unchecked, these attributes can lead to negative repercussions.  Even as I made him leave the little girl alone, I could see she wasn't particularly in distress.  I could have laughed it off as a " babies being babies".  Part of me wanted to, because I'm sure he must think I have this eldritch and complicated set of rules.  However, watching him use that determination, however innocuously to force someone into his understanding of gender roles is not something I, as a person trying to be a good parent, can allow.
   I am resolved to correct this course.  I will be buying a pink shirt or two , for starters.  But that's an easy fix, so of course there's more.  We are taking the time to view shows to take them of the menu if necessary.  We are beginning to pre-screen shows as well, prevention being better than cure and all.
   Also, if he already has the notions of dominant male in his brain, then I am going to use that to my advantage.  Last night, Toddlesworth and I were taking a pre-bedtime walk.  The topic of conversation wandered to Halloween costumes, a consistent favorite of his.  He reiterated how we'd be vampires and mommy would be a witch.  I tried to take this opportunity to re-frame the conversation.  Mommy could be a vampire or a ghost or a super hero.  Likewise, we could be witches if we wanted to.  The important thing was that we could be anything we wanted.  We were not restricted by gender.  In contrast to the fit he had when Lady Covington tried to explain this to him, he seemed to find this more or less acceptable.  Hopefully he saw my approach as a chance to be and do more: to do anything he wanted to do.  Further, if we have allowed him to form presuppositions about the role of our gender and the agency it brings, then I am going to use that to make him rethink things.   
 For my part, I'm not sure how much is going to 'stick' with Toddles right now, but I think it is a really good idea for US to be thinking about it, and to get in the habit of talking to him about these issues. We can get the general concepts in now and have something to build on as his understanding of the world progresses. I'll keep reminding him that people get to make their own choices. In addition, every once in a while I'll have to tell Lord Covington to wash the dishes while I go play some video games!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Overcoming II: Love really DOES Trump fear

Perhaps it was influenced by the copious celebratory wine I've been having since returning from Too Far Away , or I just wanted to reassure my son about his reality, but I felt the need to tell a toddler who I was putting down to bed for the night the story of my father and I.  I'm fairly certain that it wasn't precisely a topic that he entirely understood, but I just foggily decided it was time.

Me: "I want to tell you about my daddy. His name was Manuel.  He would hit me."
Toddlesworth: " He hit you with  sword?"
Me: "No, Toddles, he hit me with his hands and his belt.
Toddlesworth: "He hands and bell?"
Me: "Yes, that's right. But because I know what that's like, I will Never hit you.  Do you understand?"
Toddlesworth: "Yeah."

This must have struck Toddlesworth as especially significant, because the next few mornings, as he was waking up, we had the same conversation, with him initiating.

A few days later, we were in my office together, watching Justice League Unlimited, in which Superman was fighting the monster Doomsday in an active volcano.  Watching for a few minutes quietly, Toddlesworth looked up at me and said "Manuel hit you like that?"  I was struck to significant silence for a few seconds, then said "Well, more or less, yes."

          In all fairness, my father, and our relationship has more nuance that I gave him and or it credit for as a child and or young adult.  My father was a combat decorated marine who served 3 tours of duty in Viet Nam.  He ate slept and bled United States Marine Corps and the Red White and Blue.  He was a relapsed Catholic.  He required obedience from his children and did not hesitate to use his hands to acquire it.  He suffered from PTSD, and it could in an instant become his entire personality.  Sometimes, sadly, anyone could become The Enemy.  In short, he did, in fact, hurt me.
         As a kid and a young adult, I felt nothing but rage of my own and disgust towards him, with a side of embarrassment.  This was a hurtful person who on top of that could only seem to get minimum wage jobs, which he would work 3 of to pay the bills.  I never wanted anyone to know my dad delivered pizzas as a 60+ year old.
      As a more mature adult, perhaps since his death in 2009, most of my negativity towards him has softened or dissapeared alltogether.  He was a man trapped by many chains he couldn't even see, and his decisions were the product of these ingrained factors.  He was a product of a cycle of violence, and even so he'd moved past some of it.  His father was physically abusive to his mother: but he would never in a zillion years have hit my mother.  Whoever he may have been before Viet Nam, much of that was pressed out of him during that conflict.  Also, as an adult working on raising a family of my own, I now feel a deep, misty eyed respect for a man with limited skills willing to work himself nearly death so that his family didn't go without: every pizza delivered by him was a promise that I could do something better.
       I'm not sure if it's just me projecting my desires on Toddlesworth, but he viewed the situation much like I did as a child, comic book metaphors included.  I felt I lived with an unstoppable monster than couldn't be reasoned with when I was young.  Before having a child was ever a possibility, I vowed that it would be different if ever I had one.  I feel what I'd call and unavoidable surge of my emotions talking it over with Toddlesworth.  To him, it seems, I am the protector; standing in between the monster and the  innocents.  There are many goals I have yet to accomplish with my life, but for this moment, I couldn't imagine feeling more accomplished or complete.