Saturday, October 26

Girls, Girls, Girls

Since as early as I can remember I have been very aware of gender roles.
When I was really young and beginning to read my mom would read us her favorite books from childhood, which were cloth-bound and written in the 1910-teens. The books were series about girls, written FOR girls of that time period. They were her mom's books from her childhood, and so I found them exceptionally intriguing. The books were usually about a heroine who got into various predicaments and with the help of her skillful friends, she would overcome them or solve the mystery. (I'm sure you instantly think Nancy Drew but this was a generation before she came out) No, these were about a young girl sent away to camp, or an orphan girl sent to live with a relative, or some similar type story to Sarah Crew. At any rate it was not until my adult years that I realized that these girls in 1910-ish were extremely progressive for their time. Some had paying jobs, or some form of independence and certainly a rebellious streak that often resulted in trouble. If we look back at this time period the Suffragette movement itself was only beginning and for women to have any such rights like employment or independence were certainly questionable at best. One of our heroines was even an actress who had "love making scenes" (gasp! involving KISSES with a male actor!) What a harlot!
Anyhoo, I'm glad my mom read us these. It made me see that a not-so-distant history had a very different lifestyle for girls than the one that I was afforded in the 1980s when I was growing up and reading these. It made me notice that my Nana was called "Pet" as a nickname from her husband which I thought that was pretty weird and a little derogatory, although my mom when questioned said it was an affectionate name. I just hadn't ever HER call my dad that and couldn't help but note that it wasn't shared female to male(?) Nana never called her husband anything other than "Dear"...
Recently I read LEAN IN by Sheryl Sandberg. I found about a bazillion things in her book that made sense to me,or that I related to. Her Nana was called "Girlie" so not too far off from "Pet". She noted that women lean BACK when contemplating career paths, as though we have to choose between being a mother and continuing a career. In fact when I was dealing with my post partum I read a book called "I didn't know it would be like this" which also discussed the gender roles and how women face impossible odds quantifying their decisions to either lean back or lean in to their careers or families, or try to balance both. The simple truth is regardless of which you do, you are screwed. Selfish if you continue a career, and lazy or inept if you choose to stay home or work part time.
Being a new mom to a girl I have definitely noticed my feelings about women's rights, or equality, about the world she is going to grow up in. I've seen young girls in the news commit suicide over bullying and being blackmailed by their peer boys to email or message compromising photos of themselves. I think -what can I do as her guardian to guide her through all this?
Last week my mom said enthusiastically that she wanted to buy her a toy oven for xmas. I kind of groaned and said yno, I would prefer a less stereotypical toy, maybe something less gender oriented? I pointed out a cute ride on Jeep (although pink...) for her instead. Mom said "or maybe I should get her a hammer and nails?" Good lord let's swing the other way completely? Sure or how about you get her a toy chainsaw and a red and black checkered jacket!? Wth. How about neutral, like a counting book or alphabet learning something?!
Just released in the news is this report GENDER EQUALITY INDEX where Canada ranks #20 in the world for equality. The States is behind us as #23, the best are Finland and its neighbours, and the worst are Chad, Pakistan and others at the bottom. I'm not entirely shocked but I am thrilled to see the report point out that it is the MATERNITY leave support that makes the difference between the BEST countries and North America. Specifically the policies in place are
  • mandatory paternal leave in combination with maternity leave
  • generous parental leave benefits provided through a combination of social insurance
  • funds and employers,
  • post-maternity re-entry programmes
  • My personal "beef" is this exactly since I really believe that women in general feel they need to choose their families over their careers, and why we don't have more trying to move ahead. What if they had support to re-enter from maternity leave? What if they had their spouse helping them during that time?
    Although I'm lucky to have 16 weeks paid from my employer for mat leave I confess I felt this was quite inadequate. Had I been a nurse, teacher, police officer, or even a Van City (bank) employee I would have received much more supportive maternity leave benefits for a much longer term. To boot there is no easy integration back into the workforce, you simplyt return to your regular pace, regular job immediately with the expectation that you have then retained your "prior self" somewhere to pull out on demand. (As if !!!!) But you know, had I had the option I would have loved to come back in a graduated basis EARLY to keep my head in the business, give me a much needed break from my changing home-life and effectively create a balance as I returned over time to normal hours and duties. How life changing would this have been for me.
    It's not my employer's fault that we do not have these tools in place. This is society-wide. Certainly it's far worse for my female counterparts in the USA who have virtually no PAID maternity leave benefits in their social net although they are generously allowed a full 12 weeks UNPAID to gather themselves back up. Thanks, Uncle Sam!
    For all the advancements we have made there are still so many to overcome that we will certainly not see in our lifetime. I can only journal my experiences for my daughter to reflect on in her baby book where I write everything that I feel will serve her at some future point.
    Speaking of society wide- just LOOK at the commercials we see for toys and products for young girls. OMFG. It makes me cringe. How about a BOY getting a stove for Xmas? I mean, he has loads of MALE CHEFS to point at to say hey; it's cool to be a cook. But will we ever see commercials of a boy cooking at a toy stove!? RIIIIIGHT!? Girls commercials are all about looking pretty, or household chores, etc. Hell even commercials for women MY AGE suck badly, and I point to the Cascade Kitchen Counsellor ones here!!! Two sisters fighting over their clean house or dishwasher as though this is what establishes our WORTH is how effing clean our homes or dishes are?! WTF is that?! Even the counselor is female, because it's women who talk about feelings, right. For the love of the small children.
    Guys commercials- AXE deoderants and body sprays. Sexual attraction ads. Or the KFC commercials where Husband goes in and accuses KFC employee of hitting on his wife through their deals on food. Like he owns his wife and is asserting his territorial rights over her or something. Yeah, it's everywhere.
    Watch for it, note it, think about it.
    Then question it.

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