18 December 2006

on modesty and responsibility

Okay, so blogging is obviously the last thing I should be doing right now, but I do need the occasional break from laundry and errands and packing. And I've actually got a real post in mind today! It's something that I've come across repeatedly lately, and something to which I've already admitted being somewhat shallow about, but it's provoked a conflict between my maternal side and my feminist side, which usually manage to co-exist quite nicely, but once in a while I run into a hurdle.

One of the biggest reasons I've always been a little bit sad about having only boys is the clothes. Sure, I have an adorable neice who I can buy clothing for, but I hardly see her, so it's not quite the same. Boys' clothes are all dinosaurs and rocketships and vehicles and sports, which gets pretty old pretty quickly. But girls have skirts and dresses and lots of colors and styles and accessories! (Like I said, shallow. I should probably just get a doll.)

But for a while, I've been noticing a trend in girls' clothing. Styles that used to be marketed only to adult women have started being marketed to teenagers, and now pre-teens and younger. It's always been the case, I think, that little boys' clothes are imitations of men's clothing, and now girls' clothes are starting to imitate women's clothing. The difference, though, is that there's an element of sexuality in women's clothing that doesn't exist in men's clothing, and that sexuality is beginning to trickle down to younger and younger girls. There is something that really makes me uncomfortable about seeing young girls in halter tops and miniskirts and teeny bikinis, about seeing thongs and tiny bras in the girls' department in a clothing store. It's not that I think girls shouldn't be comfortable or wear whatever they want to, but I think that the sexualization and objectification that is imposed on adult women by American culture shouldn't be pushed onto young, pre-sexual girls.

I've been browsing some parenting blogs lately, and recently came across the Moms for Modesty statement. I agree with a lot of what they say: encouraging modesty and refraining from sexualizing girls, teaching girls to value inner beauty, supporting retailers who sell age-appropriate clothing. But one part of their statement really caught my attention: "I believe that it is unwise and unfair to taunt boys and young men by permitting my daughter(s) to dress in an immodest manner. "

As a mother of boys, I have a real problem with this statement. Sure, I believe in keeping girls' clothing girlish, but not because I believe that girls have any kind of duty to protect boys from being "taunted". Something I firmly believe, and which I've already begun to teach James, is that you cannot control or change the behavior of anyone else; all that you can do is control your own reactions to the behavior of others. I believe it's unwise and unfair to assume that all boys will react the same way to seeing a girl dressed "immodestly", and I also think it's unwise and unfair to expect girls to have to predict and prevent the emotional and hormonal reactions of boys. I think it would be far more effective to encourage boys to control themselves no matter what a girl is wearing.

This attitude is something I've seen before, primarily from right-wingers and particularly from religious types. It's this idea that men and boys are somehow unable to control themselves in the face of hormones, and so it's the job of women and girls to lead them not into temptation. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a former neighbor of mine, which makes me cringe every time I recall it.

We were talking about this very issue: modest clothing for girls, and particularly teenage girls. She was in favor of modest clothing, not, apparently because of any benefit it might have for the girls involved, or even because of her religious views. No, her husband had told her that men are so visually stimulated, much moreso than women, that to see a young girl in a midriff-baring top drew his attention not only to the exposed skin, but to the suggestion of skin covered as well. In my neighbor's words, seeing a teenage girl in revealing clothing at the mall turned her husband's thoughts to that young girl's vagina. She believed that girls should dress modestly to prevent the visual temptation of men.

I was pretty appalled, and practically ran home to ask Greg whether that was really a universal male quality, as my neighbor's husband claimed, and Greg was as weirded out as I was. Either Greg is a very convincing liar, or my neighbor had managed to convince his wife that his disturbing reactions were not only not disturbing, but normal and typical. And perhaps he really does believe that all men are like him. But my experience tells me that this is not true.

So as a mother, as someone who thinks children are exposed too soon to the ugly things in this world, I would like to see young girls dressing more girlishly. The rampant sexuality of American pop culture is creeping into younger and younger minds, and I'm really uncomfortable with that. Women are objectified at young enough ages already; we don't need to lower the bar. But as a feminist mother of boys, I believe that women and girls are deserving of respect no matter what they're wearing. To focus on and disparage the clothing choices of a person is to show disrespect for that person. I want my sons to be able to look at a girl in low-rider jeans with exposed thong and see her not as a walking vagina, but as a person. Above all I want my sons to understand that they are responsible for their actions. If a scantily-clad girl turns their heads and inspires lustful thoughts, she is not responsible for the emotions her appearance has invoked in them. My sons are the only people responsible for the thoughts that run through their heads, and how they express those thoughts.

To expect a girl to alter her appearance in anticipation of the reactions of boys is like expecting a restaurant to eliminate desserts from its menu for fear of exciting the gluttons. It's an unfair burden to place on girls, and it excuses boys from taking responsibility for themselves. If I were a man, I think I'd be a little insulted at the implication that I am unable to control myself in the face of temptation. So let's give men and boys some credit here -- human beings, regardless of gender, are capable of controlling themselves. The idea that they're not is harmful to both girls and boys.


17 December 2006

beginning to feel like christmas

We are two days from leaving for Washington for Christmas with Greg's family, and we just had an early Christmas celebration with my mom, and we have been listening to Christmas music and watching Christmas movies and finally, finally it is starting to feel a little like Christmas around here.

I don't know whether it's the lack of snow, my refusal to set foot inside a mall, or if I'm just too busy planning this year, but I really haven't been in the Christmas spirit much at all yet. So it was a little surprising to feel so festive this weekend for our early Christmas.

Some photos:

The "Christmas Eve" spread I prepared (with lots of help from Wegmans)

The boys waiting to open gifts on "Christmas" morning

James modeling his new Star Wars t-shirt

The Christmas stocking I knitted for the boys

Yes, I knitted only one Christmas stocking for my two boys, because I am a self-taught knitter who makes lots of mistakes, and this was the first thing I've made that wasn't a scarf or a simple hat. Regardless, I'm pretty pleased with my handiwork. I was also pretty pleased with my "Christmas Eve" dinner -- the first I've ever prepared. Just let me say, thank goodness for prepared foods at the supermarket, because it was very tasty and I barely had to do a thing. Also, cranberry-cinnamon goat cheese on French bread? Quite possibly one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten, ever.

But the best part of the weekend was watching my boys enjoy their new toys, and seeing the imaginative ways in which they played with them. Little people riding stuffed dragons, Superman fighting Storm Troopers, Batman as part of a plastic ham and cheese sandwich. They make me laugh.

Today and tomorrow will probably be devoted to cleaning and packing before we leave in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. I'm making no promises about the quantity or quality of my blogging until after the new year. So until next time, whenever that may be.


14 December 2006

this is a little too early

Today in the mail I received a package with a letter informing me that it's time to register my child for kindergarten.


Okay, even though we're still less than halfway through the school year, the nursery school he's currently at starts holding open houses and accepting applications in January every year, so I know it's not really too early. But there's an element of competition to nursery school that doesn't exist in public kindergarten, where they have to take everyone whether they like it or not. You wouldn't think they'd need so much advance notice. But no. I've got a 12-page packet full of forms (mostly health information) to fill out before scheduling a registration appointment for early January.

The biggest problem with all of this, of course, is that our future, our summer and fall of 2007, is one big ol' question mark. We don't know when Greg will finish his PhD. We don't know where we will be living or when we'll be moving there (though we recently got a notice that we're expected to move out of student housing at the end of August next year, so we'll be moving sometime before then). Now I have to start worrying about kindergarten preparation, without knowing where James will be going to kindergarten? No fair.

Luckily, James is not interested in or excited about kindergarten at all, so he won't be disappointed by the uncertainty. I don't know why exactly, but so far he's pretty resistant to the idea of kindergarten. First he said it was because he didn't want to learn to hold a writing implement correctly, but now that he's got that down, he's coming up with other, seemingly random, excuses. Today he doesn't want to go to kindergarten because he doesn't know any math or science (incorrect -- he knows a good amount of both for his age) and he's worried about having too much homework (I'm guessing this comes from being good buddies with a 2nd grader). So I suppose he'll be relieved if I can't get things together to register him for kindergarten. Which, really, is not a serious worry. I know he'll end up going to school somewhere, and I'm fairly confident that he will love it.

But this is just another thing to add to the list, another item to cram into those summer months that are already starting to look a little crowded. I am not really looking forward to that.


11 December 2006

weekend highlights

My sister and I had a nice little mini-vacation in Washington DC. We managed to pack a lot of interesting things into one day and one morning. I'd have to say that my personal highlights from the weekend were the museum in Ford's Theatre, and the Vietnam War Memorial, for many reasons. I was also impressed by seeing the Constitution in the National Archives, and the FDR Memorial.

Ford's Theatre was a lot more interesting than I was expecting, and I was expecting it to be interesting. I was kind of amazed by the quantity of memorobilia, and it was startling to see just how widely Lincoln's death was mourned, how passionately and deeply people felt about his assassination, especially when I imagine what the reaction would be if the current president were assassinated. Not that there wouldn't be a lot of grief from many people, but I can't imagine loving a president the way people loved Lincoln in his time.

The Vietnam Memorial affected me in a surprising way. Seeing photos of young soldiers propped up against the base of the wall really drove home the fact that the Vietnam War is really not that far behind us. To think that some people visit that memorial because they are still grieving someone close to them was sobering in a way that the WWII memorial, for example, was not. It is a part of our past yet still very present for many people.

I hadn't even known before my trip that there was an FDR memorial, but it's really quite large and beautiful, with four separate outdoor "rooms," one for each term of his presidency, and lots of waterfalls and inspirational quotes carved into the stone.

Other notable events for me:

  • Falling in love with Van Gogh's painting of Roses, which I'd never seen before, as well as delighting in many Monets in the National Gallery of Art
  • Eating swordfish, gnocchi, and pomegranate for the first time
  • Being photographed with R2D2 and C3P0 (my kids were so excited to hear about that)

Being surrounded by so much history and government was kind of inspiring -- especially seeing the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights in the National Archives. It was a reminder that despite how dissatisfied I may be with the current government, there is a tradition in this country to be proud of. I guess I felt some faint stirrings of patriotism in my cynical little heart. And now I'm really looking forward to going back some time, to taking my kids to all of the museums and monuments and memorials and teaching them about history, democracy, civic pride.

Oh, my, I believe I'm getting a little starry-eyed here. Anyway, it was a nice weekend, a much-needed break from my wonderful (yet demanding) children, and some quality time with a person I love. There are photos (lots and lots of them -- we got a new, huge memory card for the camera last week) posted on my Yahoo page if you're interested in seeing how goofy we were.

Edit: I can't believe I totally forgot to mention the amazing Rembrandt exhibit we saw, and an equally amazing exhibit of Bibles before the year 1000. Both fascinating -- could have easily spent hours looking at each.


08 December 2006

friday photos

We have our first real snow! This was the view from my back door this morning:

I like to joke that the first snowfall of the year immediately makes everyone forget how to drive. You either have someone inching along at 10mph on clear roads because there's snow on the sidewalks, or you have someone who's forgotten to brush off their windows and mirrors flying past you, spraying slush, at 20mph above the limit. People instantly become idiots on the road.

This morning, my friends, I became one of those people. I was rounding a curve and when I hit the brakes I started to slide. So I let up on the brakes but I couldnt' change direction or I would've hit another car. So I crashed into the curb. Luckily the only injuries were a hubcap knocked askew, and a little bruising to my ego. I suppose, though, since that's the closest I've come to a traffic accident in 9 years of driving, I'm still doing pretty well.

Yesterday I decided to try to take Christmas photos of the boys, since I'll need to send out Christmas cards in the next week before we leave for Washington. Well, here were a couple of the better photos to come from the photo shoot:

Looks like we'll have to try again.

But not this weekend! Here's the really exciting news of the day, much better than snow: in a few hours I am boarding a plane to DC to meet up with my sister for a nerd weekend. This is the first time that I've traveled on my own since having kids. This is also the first time Greg has taken care of the kids alone overnight. So it's a big weekend for all of us.

Hope y'all have a great weekend too!


04 December 2006

ethical compromises

As I mentioned yesterday, sometimes when you're on a budget you have to make compromises that you wish you didn't have to. This is something I've struggled with for a while, and I know my sister has written about this before as well, though I couldn't find the post I was looking for after browsing her archives this afternoon.

It's a conflict that's hard to resolve at this point. Ideally, according to my values, I would like to support local businesses, support businesses which are socially and environmentally responsible, support environmentally friendly and sustainable agricultural practices, and avoid giving my money to those businesses or organization that espouse values contrary to my own. With that in mind, I went on Saturday to check out a local craft fair: Metro Justice's Alternative Fair, which was offering "fair trade, earth-friendly and/or locally produced goods that support a just and sustainable world." I was hoping to find some holiday gifts for the people still left on my shopping list.

And at first I was enchanted -- it was a progressive's ideal alternative to the mall. There were lots of booths for progressive organizations -- the ACLU, the Sierra Club, CodePink -- and other booths full of handcrafted gift items, as well as homemade treats to eat. But as I wandered around, I began to get more and more discouraged. Sure, I would love to buy organic fair-trade Peruvian coffee beans, but on our graduate-student budget, it's more practical to buy beans of questionable origin for half the price from the local coffee chain. There were some gorgeous hand-knit scarves, but I could knit something almost as nice myself, for less money. Everywhere I turned I saw things I would love to buy in support of the principles I believe in, but it seems you have to be a wealthy progressive to do so.

I got so frustrated that I left after only twenty minutes or so, and nearly cried on the way home. It's frustrating that the default products in this country are mass-produced by workers who are either exploited or underpaid, and support corporations that use every loophole on the books to evade social responsibility. Ethical business practices are not the norm. Caring for other human beings and for our earth are not priorities for the business world -- the bottom line is money. And when you don't have much money, you have very few options about who you're giving yours to. This is why we bought our Christmas tree from the Boy Scouts, and why I shop at the Salvation Army -- both organizations discrimate against homosexuals, a position I'm not keen to support with my business, but their prices are hard to beat, and on our budget, that's really the deciding factor.

All of this is on top of beginning to read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which, like Fast Food Nation and other books of that genre, has me desperately wishing we could afford to buy produce and meat from sources other than corporate farms and agribusinesses. It's depressing that the morally and ethically responsible choices are not available to everyone, but only those with enough dough. And sure, within a year, once Greg gets a job, we'll have enough money to start buying grass-fed, free-range beef or sweatshop-free apparel, but the fact that my circumstances will change doesn't do anything to address the problems that require one to pay more to be an ethical consumer.

I don't know whether there's a real solution to this problem. Our country has long been promoting quantity over quality: consumerism is vital to our culture and economy, and more and bigger and cheaper are always better. It's a culture that focuses more on money than on people or the earth, and I worry that we're too far along this path to make any meaningful changes any time soon.


03 December 2006

sunday photos

We've been having a busy, fun weekend. Yesterday we got a Christmas tree --after shopping around, finding some very expensive (and beautiful trees), we bought one from the Boy Scouts, despite their anti-gay position, because when you're on a limited budget, sometimes you have to compromise your convictions. That's a post for another day. Anyway, here's our tree, which James helped decorate, and which Evan has not yet tipped over, and not from lack of trying:

Then today we met some friends at the science museum. We'd never been there before; we'd always assumed that James was still too young to get much out of it. But we had some free passes, so we went and found out that it's really a lot of fun for all ages. They have a really cool dinosaur exhibit right now, and lots of interactive things to do there.

Which is scarier, James or T-Rex?

Evan found a dinosaur just his size.

James, spinning.

They called this a kaleidoscope, but it was really a mirrored enclosure. Still looked cool.