Monday, 31 May 2010

Something a little less serious

A catch-up post in dot points:
  • Lily is completely obsessed with the Faraway Tree series. She has had it read to her (and listened to it) so many times now that she is talking in Faraway Tree language: "It was simply marvelous." "No, that's just horrid." etc... She is also making up "Saucepan's silly songs." They are quite funny.
  • Lil's also been sick for over a week now. She's been up and down in that time and seems to be properly on the mend now, but it's been a long week. Poor kid.
  • I am heading up to Sydney on Thursday to do a faculty presentation on my thesis and meet with my supervisors. It will be very useful, but I am sort of dreading it. I know that the list of things that I still need to do will be long and daunting...
  • A lovely friend of mine gave us a pressure cooker as a present for leaving her our house to sit while we were in Mexico (they were moving to NZ and needed somewhere to be after their stuff had gone on ahead). It was ridiculously generous since it was just as beneficial to us to have people staying in our place and taking care of the garden etc. But, it has also been a revelation. I LOVE IT. I really like cooking, but it can be quite stressful to try making dinner when Lil is already hungry and is getting impatient and demanding. The pressure cooker means that everything is so quick to make and I can do other things while dinner is cooking. Win, win, win. It also makes cooking dried beans so very much easier, which means that I am resorting to far less cans.
  • Lily and I finally planted our bulbs last week. I am hoping that it wasn't too late, as I love seeing the daffodils and tulips popping up in the Spring. I helped Lily to make little labels for the pots, but we didn't make them water-proof enough and they are fading already. Fortunately it will be fairly obvious what they are (if they survive).
  • Winter has really arrived here in Canberra. It is cold. It has also been raining quite a lot, which is very un-Canberran. The absence of blue skies is starting to get me down a little - though, of course, the garden is very happy.
  • My pregnancy is progressing well. We had a 20 week scan a little while ago and found out that we are having a boy. A new adventure! We are planning to call him Charlie. He is a very active little munchkin - especially in the early hours of the morning and whenever he can hear his big sister's voice.
  • I made this banana bread with choc-chips on Saturday morning. It was truly delicious. I can highly recommend the recipe. (But, of course, you can rarely go wrong with anything from Molly).
  • That's all for now, I think. I hope that you are well. I plan to get back on tops of things when Lil is back on her feet. Expect some Wintery photos and maybe even a few lunchboxes.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Discrmination by another name...

[To give you some context as to why I am writing this: see this post at Bitch PhD (and particularly check out the comments), this post at Feministe (and, oh my goodness, check out the comments); this post at Blue Milk; and this post at Student Activism.]

The funny thing about in-built privilege is that so-often the bearers of said-privilege really have no idea that they are exercising it or that they have come to feel themselves entitled to it. Instead, they justify it with all sorts of excuses and by reference to the prevailing status quo - as though 'the way things are' are, by definition, 'the way things ought to be'.

A few examples (past & present):

White privilege under Apartheid South Africa
(This continues to be exercised everywhere, don't get me wrong. It is just easier to point to blatantly obvious examples.) This privilege consisted in part of carving out 'white only' spaces and having draconian rules for when and how black people (and people of other colour) could enter such spaces.

Another less overt form of discrimination (and one that continues in most places in the world) is that many white people treat people of colour with less respect than they treat other white people. They talk down to them or overlook them altogether. This can mean that they receive a message that they have less value than white people, that they do not have their needs taken into consideration, and even that they will not be served in a shop, etc.

This is discrimination, pure and simple.

Male privilege under patriarchy
Historically, and still in many places and cultures, this privilege consists of carving out 'male only' spaces and occupations into which women might only be admitted if they conform to the bahavioural standards established to conform to the dominant-adult norm (i.e. act as though they have someone at home taking care of the house/children/etc; do not discuss their children/family obligations/'women's issues' etc; quit if they become pregnant/married; think & act in 'male' ways; etc). "Obviously" some occupations and spaces have remained off-limits because they are "clearly" unsuitable (having been established around the needs of the dominant-males). This might include anything from men's clubs, to voting, to governing, to military or front-line positions, etc...

Another less overt form of discrimination is that many men treat women (particularly women of a particular age, weight, appearance, etc) with less respect than they treat men. They talk down to them or overlook them altogether. This can mean that they receive a message that they have less value than men, that they do not have their needs taken into consideration, and even that they will not be served in a shop, etc.

As a feminist it is fairly easy for me to label all of these attitudes as discrimination, pure and simple.

Able-bodied privilege
While sometimes this is exercised in a very blatant manner, with people openly excluding disabled people from accessing certain spaces and (particularly) occupations, most often this privilege is exercised in a more subtle manner. Many many public spaces have been constructed in such a way that many disabled people have difficulty accessing them and/or difficulty in making use of them (i.e. shops & restaurants without ramp access and with insufficient space to fit a wheel chair, parks with stairs, offices located on higher levels of building with no lifts, a whole range of places that do not have accessible toilets, etc.). All of these spaces have been constructed around the capabilities and needs of able-bodies adults and we take this status quo for granted. In fact, many people view requests for alterations to be unreasonable or even as an expression of privilege!

Another form of this less overt form of discrimination is that many people treat people with disabilities with less respect than they treat able-bodies adults. They talk down to them or overlook them altogether. This can mean that they receive a message that they have less value than able-bodied people, that they do not have their needs taken into consideration or even that they will not be served in a shop, etc. (This may sound familiar by now, but, of course, it plays out in different ways and in different contexts than it does for able-bodied people of colour or women).

All of these practices and attitudes are discrimination, pure and simple.

And then we have children...

Adult privilege within our culture
This consists of carving out 'adult only' spaces into which children may only enter if they adhere to behavioural standards established to conform to the dominant-adult norm (i.e. adhere to a particular decibel level; remain seated rather than moving around; keep all emotions firmly in check; think & act in 'adult' ways, etc.). "Obviously" some spaces will remain off-limits because they are "clearly" unsuitable (having been established around the needs of the dominant-adults). This might include anything from cinemas, to a certain class of restaurant, to theatres, community meetings, or any of these "after a certain time of day", etc...

Children also suffer from less overt forms of discrimination. Most public spaces have been constructed in such a way that children have difficulty accessing them and/or difficulty in making use of them. Often it will be difficult for them to use the toilet without assistance and the sink will be too high for them to wash their hands. Their feet will dangle from the chairs and their natural inclination to stay mobile and to explore their environment will be constrained by tightly packed tables, low-level breakables, or a general atmosphere of intolerance. All of these spaces have been constructed around the capabilities and needs of able-bodies adults and we take this status quo for granted. In fact, many people view requests for alterations (most often made by parents, rather than children themselves due to the lack of agency of most children) to be unreasonable or even as an expression of privilege!

Additionally, most adults will feel entitled to treat children with less respect than they treat (able-bodies) adults. They talk down to them or overlook them altogether. This can mean that they receive a message that they have less value than adults, that they do not have their needs taken into consideration or even that they will not be served in a shop, etc...

Once again I'm going to go out on a limb and label all of these attitudes as discrimination, pure and simple.

Update: I had intended to point you in the direction of Anji's excellent Adult Privilege Checklist at the end of this post and I forgot. Hopefully, some people will still wander over there now...

...

In case you just want a small taste of it, here's a few samples of some of the comments at Feministe and Bitch PhD (all emphasis is mine):
I think there should be more of a social expectation of parents to consider the adults around them. I think that parents should not only expect to be talked to when their child acts up, and they don’t respond, but also expect to apologize to the stranger they may have upset or disrupted.
...
In fact one parent asked me, when I told her to discipline her child if they should stay home until their child behaves, and not go out. I say yes! Most likely they made the choice to have that child, and a part of making that choice is the responsibility that comes with it.
...
[Question:] "Tell me would, would you tell a disabled person to leave a restaurant because they were being to loud or making you uncomfortable?"

YES. If a disabled person was in a restaurant banging silverware on the table, or yelling at the top of their lungs, then YES it would not be bigoted or prejudiced or whatever of me to be both annoyed by it and to request that person leave the restaurant.

There are certain restaurants, I think, where it’s more “family friendly” and this kind of behavior is tolerated (I’m thinking of places like Red Robin.) But a fancy, quiet restaurant? Not acceptable, whether it’s a disabled person or a child.
...
Part of the “interacting with society” you think is so important includes getting told off, coldly glared about, and snidely whispered about when you behave like an idiot. Consider our contempt for your children just another useful learning experience for them.
...
I don’t like being around kids, the same way I don’t like being around loud, obnoxious people who monopolize conversations and can’t talk about anything except themselves, and I make no apology for that. If your child can behave like a reasonable human being [read 'adult'] in public, then good for you. But I get really, really tired of watching parents let their kids run amok while shrugging off the damage with “S/he’s only a chyyuuld.”
...
I, for one, would not tolerate a grown adult behaving that way [screaming for a drink] in a public place. Actually, not many people would. So if you’re really going to try to equate children with adults when deciding where and when they should be allowed in public, then you really ought to consider the social responsibility that that expectation creates. As an adult, I would NOT get away with things that children do in public for very long. So if you want your toddler to be considered the same as me, an adult, then your toddler should be responsible for behaving in an adult manner.
...
I don’t mind children in spaces like restaurants, as long as the children are well behaved. This largely is the responsibility of the parents (and largely the parents’ failure when the kid is a monster). […] I have zero patience for or tolerance of children who don’t behave.

I have never been and never will be fond of kids or want to be around them much. That has nothing to do with being feminist or antifeminist. It has to do with the fact that I don't like kids any more than I like peas. I do not want to hear children screeching in an expensive restaurant at 9:00 at night, when they should be in bed. I've seen parents bring their children into bars at night! I am civic-minded and I accomodate other people's children in appropriate situations as much as possible, but don't tell me that I have to start dressing more modestly because your sisters have children now (my now ex-boyfriend).
Now I think I need to have a lie down.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Naked Motherhood - part one (the horror hours)

I started pre-natal yoga classes the other week and I picked up this book called Naked Motherhood by Wendy LeBlanc.

Oh how I wish that I had found it before I had Lily; before I even decided to get pregnant. Honestly, I could have been so much better prepared.

In the book Wendy LeBlanc explores all those 'hidden truths' about the experience of motherhood - from the fact that pregnancy can often unexpectedly knock you for six, to the fact that so many women are so unprepared for the reality of labour that they wind up traumatised, to the myth that your life will go back to normal within a few months of the birth, and so on...

In researching for this book, LeBlanc surveyed and interviewed a diverse group of women around Australia and so her conclusions are not based solely on a small circle of friends or her own experience. Instead she provides a wealth of examples, in addition to statistic information to back up her findings. And some of those findings are pretty telling:
  • 43% of mothers surveyed expected to be exhausted during the first twelve months of their first baby's life
  • 90% reported an impact on coping; 63% in the severe to extreme range
  • 67% of women surveyed expected their sleep to be interrupted by their first babies
  • 84% reported an impact on coping; 63% in the severe to extreme range
  • almost no-one expected these interruptions to go on for more than three months
  • all expected their babies would sleep for long periods of time throughout the day
Logically I knew that babies woke up often during the night and that my sleep might be interrupted while Lily was very young. I was nervous about this, because I have always been very attached to sleeping and felt that I 'needed' at least 8 hours every night in order to function. I figured that after the first few months we would work out how to settle her easily and that I would have the chance to sleep during the day, 'since babies sleep so much'. Ha.

Lily slept for a maximum of 40 minutes at a time during the day until she was about nine months old (and for most of those she was attached to me) when she finally started sleeping for about 1 hour & 20 minutes twice a day (for a short blissful period). Often it would take me over an hour to settle her beforehand. She slept for no more than 3 hours at a time at night for almost 3 years. For long periods she would wake up every 40 minutes for a feed. Sometimes she would have only just come off before the 40 minutes was up and so only 5 or 10 minutes would elapse between feeds. To say that I was exhausted almost feels like an understatement. Sometimes I felt as though my very sense of self had been shattered.

I was utterly unprepared for this.

Another thing that LeBlanc covers is the 'horror hours'. Again if I had even heard of these I had not listened. As she puts it:
Studies have shown that the average baby cries for three hours per day, the majority of which occurs between the hours of 6pm and 9pm. These are the 'horror hours'.
At this end of the day the mother is tired too. She may have been on duty for twelve hours already. Still there are hours stretching ahead filled with walking and consoling and feeding and cajoling before she can sit down and relax-or sink into a blissful sleep herself. By five in the afternoon a mother may feel she has given every inch of herself throughout the day and now has not a drop of giving left in her. Yet, somehow, she must go on giving of herself until either her partner arrives home to relieve her or her baby sleeps. [p.43]
Lily had reflux when she was born and this gave her terrible heartburn that got worse as the day went on. By the time it got to about 5:30pm she was exhausted and in pain and would start screaming. At first we had absolutely no idea what to do. We tried everything. We walked her, bounced on the swiss ball (something that often worked at other times), rubbed her tummy, gave her a warm bath, sang to her, rocked her, fed her, etc... and she just kept screaming.

I hate the sound of babies crying. It breaks my heart and I want to stop it by comforting them. But this feeling is nothing compared to how I felt about my own baby. I would have done anything to make her feel better. I felt like I was a complete failure as a human being (and, of course, as a mother) because I couldn't make her feel better. It felt as though the sound of her crying was ripping me apart. Again, I never expect to be challenged so completely.

(Eventually, we did discover that if I put her in the hug-a-bub (sling) just before the horror hours and sang her to sleep then we could walk around outside and keep her asleep for the duration of the horror hours. We started an evening ritual of wearing and walking Lily around the city and didn't go home until after 8:30pm when we knew that if she woke she was less likely to scream. AND she grew out of this stage at around 2 months.)

So, yes, those would have been useful things to prepare myself for (if I had been willing to listen), particularly because LeBlanc shares a wealth of sensible suggestions for dealing with all of these issues.

However, what I like the most about this book is the way that she uses it as an opportunity to tackle another huge facet of motherhood - the fact that it brings you face to face with the ugly side of TEH PATRIARCHY.

To be continued in Part Two (I had really better go to bed)...

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