Friday, October 6, 2017

5 Reasons Princess Culture is Toxic to Girls



It began before I had even evicted her from my body. Loved ones sent us shirts emblazoned with the term "princess." Family members referred to her as such. Books featuring Snow White and Cinderella and scepters began trickling in. By the time our daughter was born, the trickle turned into something akin to a volcanic eruption.

Now that our daughter is a year old, I joke that I spend half of my parenting time beating back princess culture.

Like most parents who opt to avoid the cult of princesses, we've found the people in our lives remarkably resistant. They think it's harmless, or cute, or that we are depriving her of something "natural." After all, as everyone knows, in tribal societies across the globe and across time, princess gowns magically appear on a girl's first birthday.

Except they don't.

Participation in princess culture is a choice. Parents have the right to determine what comes into their home, and we have elected not to allow the cult of Disney princesses to become a part of our lives. We might eventually find this impossible. Parenting is, after all, a long journey of humility during which one is repeatedly reminded how very very very wrong they are. For now, though, we are electing to protect our daughter from something toxic.

Why?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

10 Questions Liberals Need to Answer About Gun Control if They're Really Serious About Saving Lives


Monday morning, we collectively began what has become the post-mass shooting ritual. People grieved for about three seconds. Then they patted themselves on the back for their righteous beliefs, shared memes about those beliefs, fought with people on social media about gun control, mocked their friends and family, and did absolutely nothing to stem the tide of violence in this nation. Conservatives insisted that the problem isn't guns; it's violence, culture, or something else. Liberals demanded to know what it will take before conservatives will accept some minimal gun control.

They're right to ask. Make no mistake: the NRA and its ilk are selling human lives for profit. Republican lawmakers are letting people die so they can get more donations. It's despicable, and our side is right to condemn extremists for the monsters they are.

The gun advocates who do no more than offer "thoughts and prayers" sicken me. But here's where I diverge from most of my liberal friends: I am equally disgusted by liberals who reflexively call for gun control, but who are unprepared to answer conservatives' tough questions. 

I hate guns. Guns have killed people I love. I've written about the correlation between gun ownership rates and murders of women, the link between high gun ownership and police officer deaths, about research-supported policies to reduce gun violence, and the correlation between gun ownership and mass shootings.

The problem is that what we are doing isn't working. Memes about how stupid and evil Republicans are make us feel good. They don't change minds. They may turn moderates into zealots. They make everyone more entrenched. 

If we really want to see things change in this country, if we really want to end gun violence, then we have to address the other side's concerns about gun control. Sure, a small fraction of gun collectors are unreachable. They'll oppose gun control no matter what. A much larger percentage are reasonable. They have valid concerns about how to draft gun legislation in a way that's not racist, needlessly restrictive, or intrusive. 

You don't have to like guns. You don't have to agree with the other side, or relish the fact that they make some good points. But if you are serious about preventing gun violence, you do have to engage. Otherwise "we need gun control now" is no better than "thoughts and prayers." It's empty. Its only purpose is to make liberals feel good about themselves. 

Liberal friends, we have two choices: we can retire to our liberal enclaves, smug and satisfied that we are right, and unwilling to meaningfully engage with the other side. If we do that, we get to feel superior. We also get to watch people continue to die. Or we can consider the very legitimate questions that Second Amendment defenders raise, find solutions together, and solve this problem once and for all. 

If you're not willing to consider the other side, then you're willing to sacrifice human lives at the altar of your own smug sense of superiority. That makes you no better than the NRA you condemn. Before you make your next Twitter or Facebook post calling for gun control, consider addressing one of these issues instead: 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Welcome to Parenthood: Advice for New Parents That Might Actually Help

People love giving parenting advice. Those of us who are parents know how profoundly difficult nurturing, raising, and caring for a human being is. We want to help, even when our advice is condescending or misses the mark. Non-parents want to help, too, but tend to greatly underestimate how difficult parenting is.

The result is an onslaught of useless parenting advice that, at best, wastes our time. At worst, this parenting advice makes us feel shamed, incompetent, and alone.

We've now made it through a year of parenthood. Most of what I've learned has been through trial and error. Much of it is highly specific. What works for us won't work for someone else. That's true for all parents.

A few things remain constant. Here's what I've learned about parenting that, I think, is applicable to most parents.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Childbirth is Not Easy. The Natural Birth Movement Needs to Stop Insisting That it Is.


Few women have been pleasantly surprised by how easy and pain-free childbirth is. Yet a zealous natural childbirth movement continues to tell them that birth can be--should be, perhaps--easy. This article, which insists that painful birth is a "myth," is the newest example of this ridiculous claim.

I'm a huge supporter of natural birth. That's why I had one. I believe that, for the right woman, an unmedicated birth can be deeply empowering. Natural birth can help women see their hidden strengths, and regain control over their own bodies. 

When we start telling women that birth is easy, though, we remove all the strength they stand to gain from the challenges of birth. It's time for the natural childbirth movement to stop lying to women. Birth is rarely easy. And when it is, it's a fluke--not something the woman earned with enough meditation and natural childbirth classes. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Here's How You Can Really Help Women in the Postpartum Period


In the two weeks following the birth of our baby, I spent every shower crying. My parent friends tell me that this is normal. For many of them, the stress and pain of the immediate postpartum period extended well into the first year of parenthood.

The phrases my friends use to describe their postpartum experiences--"Worst year of my life," "wanted to die every day," "still struggling to overcome my rage and trauma,"--don't neatly fit into the blissful postpartum narrative of easy motherhood most women are fed. In fact, I don't know a single woman who describes the weeks following childbirth as enjoyable or easy. Instead, they talk about childbirth recovery like a hellish crucible. 

I got through the immediate postpartum period, and I never developed postpartum depression. I was lucky. Many people I love have not been so lucky. Weirdly, none of them mention hormones--even though the popular press continues to blame vague "hormonal shifts" for years of postpartum suffering. Instead, their suffering correlates with very clear, very fixable needs: more paid time off, better pain management, more help around the house, greater understanding from loved ones, a chance to talk about their births. 

Every couple of years, another study comes out with the exact same finding: postpartum mood issues are common, many women don't discuss their symptoms with their doctors, and treatment is inadequate. We collectively shake our heads about this, as if it's some sort of mystery why women are struggling. We often do this while ignoring the clear and obvious needs of women recovering from childbirth. Mental illness happens for many reasons, and not all cases of postpartum depression are preventable. Yet all women--yes, all women--who have given birth need support. Very few get enough of it. 

So if you really want to help someone recover from birth, if you really want to increase a woman's odds of avoiding postpartum depression, here's what you can do. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Things White People Need to Stop Saying: 10 Simple Rules for White Liberals Discussing Racism


Until recently, almost no one openly endorsed neo-Nazi sentiments. The election of white supremacist Donald Trump changed that. Now we have to be sensitive to white supremacist feelings by calling these monsters members of the "alt-right." That's scary enough. Here's what's even scarier: it's given white liberals a free pass.

Now that racism is so visibly associated with the vocal belief that people of color are inferior and a willingness to kill them, many white liberals can pat themselves on the back. "We're not racist!" they gleefully proclaim. "Look at those neanderthal Trump supporters and their torches. I've never burned a torch or run over a black person. I even have a black friend! I can't possibly be racist."

I've spent much of my life trying to engage with people who think this way, so they can understand how their more palatable and muted form of racism enables more aggressive forms of white supremacy. In the wake of the Trump presidency, these smug white liberals have become a lot more certain they're not racist. Meanwhile, their brethren of color grow ever more desperate. I've watched dozens of social justice groups disintegrate as people of color clamor to be heard, white people silence them, and racism becomes more and more pervasive.

Then the white liberal racists insist that the divisiveness is the fault of people of color. If they would just be quiet, we could defeat real racism.

White people: the only way we can defeat real racism is for smug white liberals to admit to their own racism, fix it, and then unite with people of color to end this plague once and for all. For that to happen, we need to change the way we talk and think about race.

Here are 10 simple rules that can move the conversation forward. They won't protect you from call-outs or uncomfortable conversations. They shouldn't. Those conversations need to happen. These rules can, however, prevent you from saying something profoundly damaging to a person of color.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Please Don't Call My Daughter Pretty.


My baby is pretty.

It's not something she earned. It's not a skill. It's an accident of genetics that may or may not stick around. 

Yet everywhere I go, people stop to tell me how pretty she is. I am always gracious, but I've had enough. I want people to stop calling my daughter pretty. 

I can already hear the whining and gnashing of teeth. "What kind of monster doesn't want her daughter to hear she's pretty? Doesn't she want her kid to have good self-esteem?"

Not if that self-esteem is built on something she didn't earn and didn't work for. Not if it's built on something there is no reason to value. As a recovering pretty person myself, I know that pretty often ends up being a prison. I don't want to lock my daughter in the cage of pretty before she has the chance to explore the other, more valuable, things she can be. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Politicization of Sleeping: Just One More Way to Blame Moms for Everything


When I was pregnant, I swore I would never share a bed with my baby. We planned to have her in our room for at least a year, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, and to then make a final decision about her sleeping location.

We're science people. We knew that sleeping in the same bed as our baby increased her risk for SIDS. So we were bound and determined to find another way.

That is, until we went weeks without sleep, realized the science isn't as straightforward as it seems, and gained a healthy appreciation of how politicized all parenting decisions are.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

I Made a Person. I Also Do Everything Else Men Can Do. Tell Me How That Makes Women Inferior.


*Note: I originally published this piece on Daily Kos at the urging of a client. 
I had a baby 11 months ago. There’s nothing terribly impressive about that. After all, women have babies every day. And we live in a society in which, if women do something men can’t, we treat it as unremarkable. Birth is unimpressive, but scoring two points higher on a spatial reasoning test? Now that is amazing! 
It’s this sort of ridiculous reasoning that enables us to accept, with a straight face, that men are in some way superior to, stronger than, or smarter than women. I’m tired of it. So I have a question for the men who continue to argue that women aren’t destined for careers or are too emotional or whatever the sexist argument is this week: I made a person. I did it while doing everything men do. How does that make me inferior?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Bodily Autonomy Protects Kids From Sexual Abuse: Here's How to Teach It


Every year, more than 60,000 cases of child sex abuse are reported--and that accounts for only a third of the total estimated cases. It's no wonder we parents are so paranoid about strangers, sexualization, and the way people perceive our children's clothing.

The problem is that we parents often allow our emotions to trump our reason. We whip ourselves into a frenzy about strangers, when research tells us that 90% of children are abused by people they know. Teaching children about stranger danger won't work. Instead, children need early and frequent lessons in bodily autonomy. Here's what we're doing to protect our daughter from sexual abuse.


Monday, March 13, 2017

It's Anti-Feminist to Shame the Parents in the Video of Kids Crashing the BBC Interview


Earlier this week, a hilarious video of two kids crashing their dad's BBC interview began making the rounds on my Facebook. Since Jeff and I both often work from home--often without childcare--it seemed like a window into our future. Being interrupted by children on live TV is probably near the top of every working parent's list of worst nightmares. We both found comfort in the sympathy most people seemed to feel for the two parents in the video.

The sympathy and amusement didn't last long. Within a day or two, people in my newsfeed started calling the video sexist. New Statesman published a ridiculous article calling the video "patriarchy in a nutshell." Because apparently all feminists have time to do is criticize other women and their parenting.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Before You Meet the New Baby: 10 Tips for Visiting New Parents


I love babies. When my friends have babies, I have to take deep breaths to calm myself before I meet the adorable little human larva. I understand the inclination to rush right over when a loved one has a baby. It comes from a place of compassion and humanity, and when dealing with harried, exhausted, struggling new parents, rushing right over can be a blessing.

Visit under the wrong circumstances, though, and you'll be lucky if the new parents invite you back.
No two families are alike, so defer to what your friends tell you. Not sure how to be a useful visitor? Follow these guidelines.

If you want to know a little bit more about newborns and what new parents are likely experiencing, click here.

Friday, February 24, 2017

A Guide to Effective Activism When Activism Becomes Fashionable


For the first time in my life, activism is cool. Donald Trump may indeed be making America great again--by forcing white people to realize how prevalent racism is, by getting people who had no problem with surveillance under President Obama to assert a right to privacy, by impelling people to rise up and proclaim that dissent is indeed patriotic. For most of my life, I felt like my interest in changing the world made me a weirdo. Now, you have to be engaged to be cool.

It's wonderful. It's a chance to spur real change in this country. But activism as a trend can become activism as style instead of substance. That doesn't have to happen. Here's how to make your activism meaningful, whether you've been doing it for 30 years or 30 days.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Tyranny of the Good Mother: How We Use Beliefs About Motherhood to Control Women


When I was three years old, I decided I had had enough of life as a mere mortal. The bedtimes, the grueling chore load, the parents who just didn't understand the oppression of life at three...it was all too much.

I needed an upgrade, and that's why I became the Virgin Mary. I donned a veil, demanded to be addressed as Mary, and regaled my parents with tales of the birth of my son, our lord and savior.

It was the last time I was widely regarded as a good mother. Because once a woman becomes a real mother, everyone--even self-styled feminists--is eager to regale her with tales of the many ways she is failing.

Friday, February 17, 2017

7 Ways Social Justice Organizations Unintentionally Exclude Mothers


Many social justice organizations continue to presume that a child-free, unencumbered activist is the default--and perhaps the ideal. It's why no one bats an eye when meetings last five hours, protests are dangerous, and spaces are hostile to children. You can't have a diverse, intersectional organization that excludes mothers. Exclusionary practices hurt marginalized mothers, particularly poor ones, the hardest.

Eighty-one percent of women eventually become mothers. So as I've repeatedly hammered in this blog, if you care about women, you need to care about mothers. Most social justice organizations don't intentionally exclude mothers. But as any caring activists should know, if you're not being intentionally inclusive, you're keeping people out.

Addressing the many unintentional ways social justice organizations exclude mothers makes activism accessible to a much broader coalition. That means more effective movements and more rapid change.

It's Not 'Political Correctness' to Treat People With Decency and Engage in Rational Debate


Republicans love to scream about political correctness run amok. They claim that requests for slur-free speech have killed the First Amendment. And then, inexplicably, they demand freedom from criticism of their own speech--never, it seems, noting the contradiction.

Whining about political correctness, of course, has never been rooted in reason. Opponents of basic decency are inherently unreasonable. That's why my husband has begun insisting that, some day soon, Donald Trump will look directly into a camera and proclaim, "I never ran for president." His supporters will lambaste anyone who points to evidence that he did indeed run.

So I'm reluctant to address whining about political correctness. But I hold out hope that at least some Republican opponents of political correctness can be persuaded.

Monday, February 6, 2017

What is Patriarchal Motherhood?


When I refer to patriarchal motherhood, I'm referencing two distinct phenomena:


  • The sexism women face as mothers; and 
  • The unchecked assumptions associated with being a mother in a patriarchal society. 

So what is patriarchal motherhood? It's like the air we breathe: omnipresent, and so taken for granted that it goes largely unnoticed. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Life These Days: A Typical Day at Four Months

Every day, Athena does so many things I want to log. She started saying "Mama" last week, and it sparked a panic that one day she'll want to know about her childhood and I'll have failed to log it all. Of course, no adult actually seeks out an hour-by-hour log of their childhood. My agony over the failure to catalog every event is just one prong of the maternal guilt our society demands of all mothers.

I think I will start using this blog to log some of Athena's life, though. We're very much in the haze of new parenthood--that time that everyone says they forget, that time which childless people cannot possibly understand. Our lives are filled to the brim. There is no spare time, and we must rigidly adhere to a schedule if we are to have any leisure time at all. Most people tell us it gets better, but I sort of enjoy having such a full existence. It helps me feel less guilty about the things I'm not doing.

So here's what a typical weekday looks like for us. If you're planning to have a child and intend to breastfeed, aim for gender equality, and practice attachment parenting, life will probably look pretty similar for you.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Surprising Source of Sexist Oppression Against Mothers: Feminist Social Justice Activists


I have a casual acquaintance who likes to tell mothers they're "monsters" for gendering their children. Another acquaintance enjoys attacking mothers on Facebook for putting their children in gendered clothes. These people truly believe they are making the world a better place. They're both childless--as are most feminist activists who think it's appropriate to correct the "sexist" behavior of mothers.

I understand where they're coming from. The notion that any specific personality trait necessarily flows from gender or sex is the source of much oppression. We'd all be better of if we did away with gender socialization. There's tons of evidence that there is no benefit to gendered clothing, and that these clothes reinforce damaging, limiting gender norms in both boys and girls.

Attacking mothers, though, serves no purpose except to increase the misogynist onslaught most mothers face on a daily basis. Ultimately, corrections from well-meaning feminist activists only instruct mothers that they're incompetent. Remember, mothers, no matter what you're doing, you're doing it wrong.

Women get attacked on all sides. Embrace genderless parenting and 20 conservative family members will be thrilled to lambaste you. Put your daughter in a frilly dress and you're a traitor to the feminist cause.

Feminists should know better, particularly given what feminism teaches us about women's right to control their own lives, to make their own decisions, and to not be constantly subject to public scrutiny solely because they dared to leave their homes.

Here's why self-identified social justice warriors need to think twice before judging mothers.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Thanks for the Parenting Advice, Asshole


Dear Self-Appointed Expert on My Child and My Parenting:

Thank you so much for taking the time to tell me I'm doing parenting wrong! Few things bring me greater joy in life than when people assume my parenting jokes are the literal truth/treat the tiny slice of my parenting they see as the sum total of all that happens in my house/convince themselves that I am so stupid that I have never, not once, bothered to spend even a second of my time researching parenting issues.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Why Mothers Need to be Included in Social Justice Movements, and How to Do It



More than 80 percent of women eventually become mothers. Research consistently shows that motherhood escalates inequality between men and women. For many women, this escalating inequality, coupled with the need to forge a brighter future for their children, is radicalizing. This is especially true now that we have a misogynistic, racist, sexual predator for our president. As groups organize to fight back against Donald Trump, they must remember that mothers have a significant investment in securing a brighter, freer, more feminist future for their children. When people are fighting for their children, they fight harder.

Mothers want to participate in social justice movements. Because they're raising the next generation of activists, their contribution is invaluable. If your movement excludes mothers, you are excluding the majority of women. Mothers make up a larger segment of the population than almost any other group. So if you can't bring yourself to care about including mothers, it's time to examine your internalized misogyny.

I've written in more detail about the exclusion of mothers from social justice movements here. So if you think you're being radical or something by excluding moms, I strongly encourage you to read that piece before going any further.

What can social justice movements do to include mothers? Plenty.

Stop Whining, Ladies. Motherhood is Easy

Breastfeeding is one of the many easy things about motherhood.

A few times a day, I take a break from my relaxing, perfect, new-mother life to peruse the Internet. I inevitably find a bunch of whiners. Women posting to message boards wondering why their husbands won't do their fair share. Moms complaining about the challenges of breastfeeding, the agony of postpartum recovery, the fact that no one takes their pelvic floor issues seriously, the boss who won't pay them for maternity leave, the other boss who fired them for getting pregnant, and the family members who keep showing up, demanding to be entertained, and criticizing their parenting.