Hide Your Gays

I never thought I would fall into the Hide Your Gays trope. Yet I’m writing interactive children’s books for a public broadcasting station and when I wanted to create a lesbian school teacher I felt I had to ask permission in my character notes.

Can we have a queer relationship? PLEASE??

My boss is openly gay and the other woman I work for is hugely liberal and they responded to my note saying, yes, but the company would never allow it. Children’s books + Public Broadcasting does not equal queer characters. We compromised that the teacher would be in a queer relationship but that we would never see her partner and it would be our little Easter egg.

I am ashamed that I felt the need to ask if creating a queer character was okay. These books are small and over half the information I draw up for these character will never see the light of one my stories. I would never think to ask if it’ okay to have her be vegetarian or that she has 2 brothers. But the moment we breach the topic of sexuality, the rules change. Hurdles spring up. I need to justify my decisions and get permission.

pride

So long as queer characters are hidden in the recesses of authors’ minds we won’t see changes to queer stereotypes in the media or in real life. Queer children won’t have queer role models and the heteronormative culture we live in will continue to prosper as the culture. It’s a step that I created this queer character, but it’s not a step in the right direction because queerness is still considered subversive and unsuitable for children.

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More than Happy Mother’s Day

Just like my post for International Women’s Day, I want to do more and encourage more for Mother’s Day than just buying Mom flowers or chocolate or wishing her a “happy mother’s day”. Mothers need rights and suffer through the same sexism of other women, but with an additional layer that’s rarely touched upon. How will chocolate or flowers ease someone’s oppression?

When I was in Elementary school, one year instead of the traditional art project or craft fair where we would buy our moms useless trinkets or coffee mugs, we instead made coupons. The coupons said anything from: “this coupon is redeemable for one hour of alone time”  to “redeem this coupon for a week’s worth of housework” or “your child will wash the dishes tonight” and the list continued. In its own small way, this set of pieces of paper, no more valuable than monopoly money, did something no other mother’s day gift could: it recognized the strictures surrounding mothers and sought to alleviate them.

Mothers do too much to even try to name it all-I know my mother did, and still does, make great sacrifices for me and my brother-and mothers are oppressed to a higher degree.

There’s a great book on feminism called “Full Frontal Feminism” by Jessica Valenti (founder of feministing.com). Although it is informal in its presentation (it reads with a smart and witty voice, short chapters and the facts she provides never bog down the material but enhance it, although as  a warning she tends to swear and be blunt) it is a worthwhile read for anyone wanting to know more about modern feminism and the issues facing women in the world today.

There’s a full chapter on the injustices facing mothers. Valenti quotes a study done by the University of Connecticut and the University of Minnesota which showed that:

not only do moms feel undervalued by the people in their lives, but they also don’t feel appreciated by society in general-nearly one in five moms said she felt less valued by society since becoming a mother (162)

And this is just feeling undervalued as a person. In terms of being undervalued in the work force, married women with children make 73 cents to the man’s dollar, single women with children make 56-66 cents to the man’s dollar, and women without children make 90 cents to the dollar.

Women are told to have children and be super-moms, but once they have children they’re in a worse social position than they were before. They are then undervalued at home and at work.

This is why the coupons idea was so phenomenal. My teacher recognized that mothers go through so much  in their daily lives that a box of chocolate and one day out of the year can never make up for the sacrifices mother’s make for their children or the harassment mothers put up with on how to be a good parent. The coupons took Mother’s day and turned it into a week, a month, or however long it took for those coupons to run out. It took some responsibility off of mom’s shoulders and distributed it around to the rest of the family.

Now mom has a chance to do something for herself for an hour and not feel guilt ridden.

My brother and I are adults now and I am so proud to see my mother living her life. I regret that we didn’t take more responsibility sooner and let her have her own life and her own identity when we were much younger.

My mother is a healer, a yoga teacher, a health coach and a woman who is not defined by her biological function of producing my brother and I. When I hear about the schooling she does, the belly dancing classes she’s enrolled in, the friends she Skypes with, I’m reminded that she has every right to be an individual.

Motherhood should not force women to give themselves up some standard, or lose their individuality in an effort to raise children.

If you’re interested in finding a mother’s day gift, try to find something that addresses the core of mother’s day: that mothers need to be valued and respected. Give mom a day off from chores and let her know that you appreciate what she has done for you and your family. Let her know that Mother’s Day may only be once a year, but motherhood is a lifetime and should be treated with dignity.

For more information on the rights of motherhood visit:

momsrising.org

This blog is dedicated to my mother, who is the most positive influence I could ever ask for in my life. Thank you.

What we are taught about sex and gender

Until last year I did not know there was a difference between the terms sex and gender. I feel foolish to say so now, but I’m wondering how many others were just as shocked to learn the two words were not synonyms? I was in a class on how to write history and we dipped our toes into gender and feminist criticisms of historical practices. At the time I was angered by the entire interlude of feminist criticism. Why would I want to learn about feminism? What could feminism teach me about being a woman that I didn’t already know just from being alive? In my mind at the time, women were not oppressed.

When my teacher asked us to define gender and sex I was amazed at how many people were able to contribute to two very distinct definitions. I was even more amazed that two definitions was nothing like I had been taught. Gender as a performance of cultural norms and sex as biology was a new concept. I was raised with such a strong aversion to the word sex that until that moment, it had no other meaning than procreation. Gender was the neutral word my family could say and use comfortably. We never referred to sex to refer to sex organs.

I can’t be the only one who was raised this way. Although I know that it is up the parents to decide when and how they will teach their children sex education, why is there such an aversion to the word sex? If it is more accurate to describe one’s sex then why do we substitute gender?

I wonder if my education on sexuality would have been different had I known that sex was not procreation. If I had known and had been less afraid to explore what sex and gender were, I might not have grown up wondering why I didn’t like men, but that I didn’t like women either. I might not have struggled to find a word to identify myself. I might not have waited until tenth grade to become a comic book fan and buy shirts from the boys’ section. My gender and my sexuality would have been mine to explore earlier in life.

When gender and sex have the same meaning dialogue between parents and their children can never be exact and the crucial stage of questioning sexuality becomes more difficult to reach.

I do not pretend I would have been comfortable if my mom or my brother had used sex as a term for biology, but I would have learned to accept it. I would have grown accustomed to adult language and adult ideas. I would have grown up around feminist ideas whether anyone in the house knew so or not. There is no greater gift to identity than the right words to use and a no-fear attitude toward approaching sexual differences.

You’re an Ugly Feminist so…

It’s no secret that the stereotype of the feminist is an ugly  man-hating lesbian. Because of this cruel imagery girls don’t want to be feminists. It’s not attractive and, as we all know, a girl’s only purpose in life is to attract men.

My brother believes whole heartedly in this stereotype. Months ago, before I was even remotely interested in feminism my brother showed me a video of RamZPaul on youtube discussing (and I use this term lightly) what feminists think of Legos. While I am hesitant to recommend his video to anyone, as it is extremely misogynistic, homophobic, racist, you name it, his video proves a point about why feminism is still needed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TrUNNKPC4E

Mr. RamZPaul’s point in a nutshell, is that feminists wanted the Lego corporation to make Legos for girls and that when the Lego company obliged, the feminists called sexism. RamZPaul’s response to the feminists speaks for itself.

I bring this misogyny up for three reasons. My brilliant friend introduced me to a wonderful feminist youtube channel feminist frequency and Feminist Frequency also tackled the Legos and  feminists debate.  When I found this 2 part video series explaining how Lego markets specifically to boys and how this is not only sexist advertising, but greatly inhibits both young boys and girls, I remembered the video my brother had shown me. Though I had never agreed with RamZPaul to start with, I now understood RamZPaul had it entirely wrong. Feminists did not ask Lego to make Legos for girls; they asked that girls be included in the Lego play experience. No where did anyone ask for Lego Friends  or a pink and purple pastel world separate from the ‘real’ boy’s Legos.

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So, my second reason for including RamZPaul’s video is that I attempted to show my brother the Feminist Frequency video in return and he would not even watch far enough to hear her argument. According to my brother, not only is RamZPaul correct but that the woman of Feminist Frequency is a feminist and therefore her points are automatically wrong. He claimed to already know her arguments before she voiced them and told me flat out our discussion was not worth having because  he wouldn’t debate something he knew to be true. He left the room after he called the woman an ugly feminist. He did not need to listen to her and he did not need to listen to me either.

It is not just strangers on youtube who have these opinions. It might be people you know or are close to. Which brings me to my third reason for talking about RamZPaul: the more the word is spread that people do in fact act upon and perpetuate sexist ideologies the more men and women will know feminism is still necessary. If a woman can be dismissed for voicing her opinions on what affects female childhood development and and have her words twisted into what RamZPaul claims to be the truth then feminism is necessary. When a woman’s argument is invalid because she is ugly and she is only ugly because she is a feminist then more and more women need to become aware of the issues that affect them. Sexism is not always blatant and that is what makes it so real and so scary.