Gender + Motherhood

I discovered something last night: audiobooks. The only time I’ve really heard about audiobooks until recently has been my Gran telling me which murder mystery book she has been listening to on tape from the library. The thought of it always made me sneer a bit… I didn’t feel like it was *real* reading. But good on her, because she can knit while she listens and that seems like a better use of time than watching TV – WAIT, hold up – doing craft + reading at the same time?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m just a little bit thick.

Suddenly I’m seeing audiobooks being plugged everywhere: on my favourite youtube channels, on instagram, on advertisements. Every hipster I know is listening to an audiobook. Is this the new podcast? I looked into it, and the only reputable looking audiobook app seemed to want to charge $14.95 per month PLUS the cost of books… this seems a little steep to me, particularly when you don’t get a hard copy book to shelve lovingly in your bookcase; it’s just an audio file. I gave up and decided to go back to netflix and podcasts (of which I have a number now I totally love… perhaps a discussion for another post).

It was late last night, I was getting into bed to work on a hat and suddenly I was thinking about audiobooks again. Wouldn’t it be great if I could crochet and listen to a good book at the same time? I had a sudden revelation: I can borrow audiobooks from my library, for free. A few fast taps of the thumb later and I had an app which is linked to my local library, and was listening to this.

I listened to the whole essay last night, which finally brings me to the topic of this post, gender and motherhood.

Before I had kids, I didn’t believe that girls and boys were different in any way. I thought any differences in behaviour or attitude were purely due to parental influence.

A few years into motherhood, and having seen my friends raising boys, or boy and girl combinations while I’m raising girls only, I have changed tack a bit. I realise fully that boys and girls are very different. However, I still believe that stereotyping is alive and well, even in those of us who have the very best intentions not to change the way we parent based on the gender of our children. I am beginning to think of it as invisible stereotyping. That is, invisible to the perpetrator, perhaps not so much to the outside eye. Gender stereotyping is so ingrained within us that, without careful reflection, it is carried out with little notice.

I was at the house of a very dear friend yesterday who has three boys, around the same age as my three girls. We have been friends for a long time, well before we had children. We have always laughed at how different the boys are to the girls and vice versa. But then there’s this extra layer, the invisible stereotyping layer, that I have been noticing more and more.

The example that comes to mind is this. We’re at the coffee shop with our kids. A rubbish truck drives past. My friend looks at her boys, who are staring at the truck and says, “Look! It’s a big rubbish truck!” The boys get excited and watch the truck driving off down the street, maybe saying something like “Truck! Truck!” Later that day, my friend, seeing the boys’ interest in the truck, takes them down to the fire station to look at more trucks. She buys them a t-shirt each with a truck on the front. Their enthusiasm builds, and at home they all draw pictures of trucks. In addition, at their birthdays, they are given a variety of toy trucks as gifts (including one from me…).

Rewind, back at the coffee shop, I’m on the other side of the table. The rubbish truck drives past. I look at my girls, who have also turned to look at the truck. I might say, “Oh yes, look, a truck!” The girls watch the truck driving off down the street and say, “Truck! Truck!” Later that day, I take them home, set them up at the table and get out a stamp collection that someone has given us as a gift. It’s a fairy set, they absolutely love it. We draw pictures of the fairies in their houses and talk about what fairies might eat for dinner. It doesn’t occur to me to foster their interest in the truck in any way.

This is just a small observation, and as much as I hate to admit it, variations of this example have happened numerous times over the years. My friend told me yesterday that she had taken the boys down to a busy corner to watch some trucks drive past. I had also been walking through a carpark with the little yesterday and she had pointed at a big truck saying “Tain, tain!” I said, “Actually, that’s a truck!” and kept walking. I didn’t mention the truck again.

What does this say about us? My friend and I are both well educated, modern women (we like to think). Neither of us are particularly girly, or boyish. We’re both into human rights, and believe women to be strong and independent. But even if we don’t want to admit it, we are raising our children in different ways, and those differences are largely based on their gender. Neither of us are right or wrong and I’m not illustrating this to make a judgement in any way, merely to voice my observations.

Being one of four girls, having three daughters of my own and a niece, having gone to a girls school, I have grown up in a world of girls and women. I don’t know a whole lot about boys. I also personally have zero interest in trucks, which of course are used in this post simply as an example of something that is typically viewed as masculine as opposed to feminine. How can I make sure I am allowing my girls to express themselves freely, in a world where even I am shaping their perceptions and ideas towards a version of an outdated stereotype?

I tell them monthly, weekly, daily: they can do and be whatever they want. But do their toys, their clothes, their school uniform, my guided topics of conversation and interests – do they express the same message?

These are questions I don’t know the answer to. But it feels good to have a conversation about it, I think. I’m inclined to agree with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, we should all be feminists. What are your thoughts?

Rejuvenate

C3XoM0WWMAE53FJ.jpg

Over the weekend I spent my first night away from the baby (toddler is a much more accurate description). It was the first night in over 19 months I haven’t felt the threat of a midnight wake up call as I toss and turn in the dark. The first full evening in over 19 months I didn’t have to feed anyone aside from myself, I didn’t have to bath anyone, put anyone to bed, read anything other than my book, watch anything other than the sun setting across the forest filled horizon. No one required anything from me for over 24 hours.

And it was BLISS.

I went away to Glenlyon with my three little sisters. It was the first time in our entire lives that the four of us had been away on our own, without any hangers-on. We slipped into the gentle ease of sibling-hood. No arguments about what to eat, where to go, what we wanted to do. No worrying about inconveniencing anyone, or having to ensure everyone is having a good time. We all eat the same foods, we drink the same drinks, we do the same things. So. Easy. Aside from our combined indecisiveness. But we survived that ok too.

We read books.

Spoiled ourselves with a long luxurious lunch at a winery.

Bought wine.

Drank wine.

Had takeaway pizza.

Re-enacted being chased in an apocalypse on the side of a hill.

Collapsed in fits of laughter.

Watched a daggy movie.

Ate chocolate.

Read books in bed when we woke up.

Had multiple toilet stops.

Went window shopping.

And spent time remembering what we are grateful for.

We all went home to our partners and families feeling full and lucky. It really is so important to take the time to pause our lives, if not for a whole weekend, just an hour, or a moment, and to remind ourselves of the good things.

I’m back in time for the year to really begin. KB went back to work today after six whole weeks off, kinder starts tomorrow, school goes back on Wednesday, and I begin Yoga Teacher Training on Sunday. We are hoping to move house and we both have professional changes and updates in the wings. A big year ahead, but luckily for us, it’s an exciting one too. I hope you all get the chance to have a little inhale before February, wherever you may be.

#itsinthebag: better late than never

IMG_1569

I recently read this post on the lovely Jodi Wilson’s blog about the #itsinthebag initiative. I was looking for a worthy cause to prepare something for this Christmas, and this fits the bill. I prefer not to donate money at this time of year, only because it’s hard for the girls to understand how they are helping. Something tangible that they can see and help prepare teaches them a lesson that an online click of funds from here to there cannot. I am also especially passionate about initiatives for women and girls; being one of four sisters and having three daughters of my own (and a niece!) it is an issue very close to my heart. Of course there is always a place for monetary donations, and we do donate what we can to our selected causes during the year.

#itsinthebag is an initiative which traditionally cares for women in need, who are often forgotten. A handbag is filled with items of use and a note to show that someone cares. This year, they are also including bags for teenage girls aged between 14 and 18. Please differentiate your bag for teens with a yellow ribbon tied around the handles.

I read about this on Friday night, so when doing our food shop on Saturday we threw some extra items in the trolley: a hairbrush, some gel pens, tissues, sanitary items, hair ties and a few other fun things. I whipped up a tote bag and Bird, the Pixie and I will write a card tonight. We will post it all tomorrow.

Unfortunately collection points have closed for this year (as you know I am quite unprepared for the big day this year) so if you do want to take part, you will have to post your bag. Details are on the website.

Please see this post on Jodi’s website and the official website for more details.

 

when lego was just… lego

IMG_6214

As a child I used to play for hours with our basket full of lego. I remember making towns and homes and parks and imaginary worlds and moving the little people all about. We have a big basket of duplo from the 80s that my grandmother gave us when she moved house, but the girls are now ready for the smaller sized lego pieces.

Birdie recently got some lego and when we brought it home I was surprised to note that almost all the blocks were pink and the only person in the box was a blonde princess. She has a bed with roses on it and a dress and a rabbit with its very own crown. And a wand. It wasn’t until this point that I realised (in horror) that in this day and age there is “girl’s lego” and “boy’s lego”. What I would refer to as “lego” is now “boy’s lego”. And from what I can gather they seem to come mostly in kits where the need for imagination is limited. I bet you all knew this already, right? I was telling someone about this horrific discovery only to have them reply, “Oh, I know, isn’t it great! Now the girls can play lego too… it’s so cute.”

As you can imagine I had to quickly change my tune…

Before I had children, I thought gender stereotyping was a thing of the past, but as a parent I now realise it is certainly alive and thriving. Why can’t my girls play with plain old lego? I should point out that Bird absolutely loves her pink lego… But there were no towns or families or parks to be made with the princess stuck in her lonely old castle. As far as I could see she didn’t have many things to do aside from faff about in her royal bed or look at herself in her royal mirror and wave her pink wand every now and then. With her crowned bunny. Who also has a wand. But can’t hold it. So.

Just like at the Pixie’s swimming lesson the other week when the teacher instructed her in a little dainty voice to “kick, kick, kick your little princess toes!” and to the boy in the class in a gruff deep voice: “kick, kick, kick those big strong legs!”

I don’t know about all the other parents of girls out there, but I know I want all three of my women to grow up with strong legs that can carry them through the ups and downs of life, rather than “little princess toes”.