Monday, 1 January 2001

Don't call me Sweetheart

by Arlene, Blondie Boy's Grandma

The power of words – well for starters there are few more devastating weapons or ones more capable of inflicting lasting damage.

As a feminist – however aging! – it makes my blood boil to hear language used as a mechanism to objectify and denigrate women. My particular quibble is with the pejorative use of terms of endearment. How often are the words “love” and “sweetheart” accompanied by a sarcastic tone to indicate that a woman’s viewpoint is irrelevant. Call me “love” if you mean it and what’s more, don’t call me “love” or “darling “ if you don’t know me.

On the positive side and with my mum’s hat on, I like to think of words as way of empowering children, of making them know they are loved, capable, valuable human beings. I hate to be in a supermarket and overhear a parent telling a child not to be so stupid. The very least our children deserve from us are kind and positive words; words of reassurance which build their confidence and let them know they can achieve anything.

If my own children are able to say that they know they are loved then I am right about the power of words. However, reading this, they might say, “For God’s sake, Mum!” Did I mention the power of words to embarrass?

Call me Mommy?

by Sabrina, the BFF

As a first time mother of a 2-month old, I’ve been thinking a lot about labels lately. Particularly the term “Mommy”. I am incredibly happy and proud to be my son’s Mommy, just as I am happy and proud to be my husband’s Wife. We’re still working out what being his Mommy means, and chances are that will evolve for the rest of our lives.

I’ve found that people outside of my family feel comfortable referring to me as Mommy, and that’s an issue for me. I’ve never been good at conforming to expectations that come with a label. When my husband and I were planning our wedding, I was often told what the bride-to-be wanted. I sat through 20 minutes of an elderly florist explaining to me why I really wanted red roses and lots of them. (I didn’t hire him, but I didn’t have the heart to storm out on a 90-year old man who wasn’t going to listen to me). I was told about how I’d dreamt of this special day since I was a little girl. Which was patently false. I did picture being married and having a life with the man of my dreams, but I never dreamed of being “the bride”. Wedding planning was hard for me, because as a seriously Type-A over-achiever, I struggled with not meeting people’s expectations.

Now I’m a mom. And yes, I love this little boy more than I ever dreamed possible. But as a mom-to-be, I had no interest in getting a plaster cast of my pregnant belly, or wearing shirts that said “Baby on Board”. I already dread the idea of getting a Mother’s Day card with a 3 page sappy poem on it (I much prefer lame greeting card humor). As a new mom, I like to think I’ll be able to hold onto my own sensibilities and values while raising my son. Most of all, I hope I impart the knowledge that people are individuals. He is no less a boy if he doesn’t want to play sports or get a certain car. I hope he grows up knowing that labels can be a useful starting tool, but people are much more than labels. To my mind, gender equality starts when everyone is seen as the individuals they are.

Slut Walk

This weekend, the city where I live is going to have its very own “SlutWalk” (if you aren’t aware of this movement which hopes to assert or remind people that a woman, no matter how she dresses, should be safe from physical or sexual assault, you can read about it here

I’ve known about this movement for awhile, and while I support the goals, the name makes me cringe every time I read it.  “Slut.” I’ve read the assertion that these walks are going to help women take back the word. Personally, I’d rather not take it back. And using it in the context of a march asserting a woman’s right to make decisions about her body and her sexuality is beyond ridiculous to me.

At its core, slut is a demeaning term which reduces a woman to an object that doesn’t need to be treated like a person, an object who no longer has the same presumed rights to decide what she does with her body. It is also implies that the value of a woman is closely tied to her sexual inexperience. 

Calling a woman a “slut” isn’t simply saying she is a woman who enjoys sex, is open with her sexuality or who may in fact be promiscuous. It is taking choices she has made at one moment in her life and reducing her permanently to those choices. As a feminist, I support a woman’s right to make decisions about her body and her sexuality. Sure, some of those decisions might be healthier or less regrettable in the long run than others, but unless she puts her life in danger, they shouldn’t define her. Most importantly, the right to make a decisions about your body isn’t a one-time thing. A woman can make the decision to fool around with a random guy at a party one night and the next week decide that she wants to be more reserved.

What perhaps bothers me most about the term is the fact that it’s most commonly bandied about in regards to young women, teenagers and college students. At a time when young women most need support, while they try to negotiate changing bodies, surging hormone and try to figure out relationships and their place in the world. When I thought about writing this, I imagined overhearing my son calling a girl a slut (he’s only a year now, so at this point I’m not too worried about it). I remember the term being used alot in high school, sometime even in reference to girls who wouldn’t put out. A guy I was friends with told me at one point that the theory was a girl would be more likely to “give in” to a guy if everyone already thought she had. It depresses me to realize how right he was. Girls were probably as likely as guys, if not more likely, to use that term to hurt and demoralize someone they had a problem with.

So instead of taking the word back, let’s just bury it.  Let’s work every day to define violence against women (or men) as indefensible, and let’s work so girls and young women grow up feeling empowered to make the right decisions for themselves and to know that if the decisions they have made start to feel wrong, they are always free to change course.  

Hosted: Feminism & Children's TV Merchandise

Sharon (aka @gavroche2000) 

I don't have any children, so you will have to excuse my lack of daily experience with them. However, I do have two small nieces, one of whom is almost 4 and therefore a person, or rather, in the eyes of the media, a consumer.

Since she was born, my partner and I tried to get her gifts that were both fun and educational. This meant lots of books, but also themed educational toys such as the modern version of speak n' spell. Now, these days, when you go into a toy shop, many items are themes according to the popular child "celebrities" of the moment. Batman, Harry Potter, High School Musical, whatever. And these well known icons, more often than not, are from television, so we know what awesome power it can have on kids. If you can have all of your learning tools, your books, your lunchbox , your thermos, your clothes, all branded with Bob the Builder, your exposure to him should be a healthy one.

So Little Niece's mum is with me on the phone. I'm looking at a mountain of electronic reading toys, I explain. What would she like for her birthday? "well, she's really into Peppa Pig right now. Everything has to be Peppa". Fair enough, I think. I'm not wild about her because all the merchandise is pink, but, in her defence, she is a pig, thus pink by definition. So I got the reader helper, deftly by-passing the cooking set (which was not available, I noticed, in any "boy" colours or themes). I ensured that Peppa Pig was a balanced programme and then happily gave Little Niece her gift.

That was last year. This year she is into Dora the Explorer and I have heard of her. She's great with the exploring, but I have been told that a boy explorer has had to be introduced because "people" protested. We can't have a female protagonist without a boy to prop her up? *facepalm* . Also, she's had something of a makeover recently and is now a "fashionable tween". Do those pumps keep your feet protected in the jungle, Dora?

But I acquiesced, partly because I can't police children's desires and partly because she REEAALLY wanted it. But I remember that my childhood was filled with televison characters who were both inspirational (Sesame Street, Nils Holgerson) and not (Thundercats, My Little Pony, Smurfs) . Whether I like it or not, these shows were formative experiences, the legacy of which remains with me today. So I think it's our collective responsibility to look at children's programming critically and call the makers of them on anything that is disappointing or just plain wrong. Because our kids clearly won't.

But you know what? At least she wasn't pink.

Feminism Starts in the Home

Elizabeth Creehan

I believe being a feminist means that a woman has the right to make her own choices. Of course, those choices are always bombarded by outside pressures. But as a feminist, I have the ability, the intellect, and the moxie to pave my own way. Any way I see fit…and feel good about it.

Becoming a mother is when I found myself in the midst of the culture wars. Was I a woman first? A mother first? Maybe a mo-man or a wo-ther?

When I was pregnant with my first child, some told me I should stay at home for a year and then go back to work. Some co-workers eyed me suspiciously. Others just assumed I would stay home.

Well, since it was my life, I thought I’d make the decision. A copywriter for a marketing communications company in Cincinnati, Ohio, I worked full time from when my daughter was 3 months until she was 12 months old. I enjoyed the work and its continual variety and challenges.

However, my heart increasingly told me that I wanted to be home full time with my daughter. She was my passion, my joy, and my can’t-miss opportunity.

What I ended up with was the best of both worlds. As a mother, I was home with my daughter, having a blast. As a writer, I could freelance. I was there to change the diapers, but I also could exercise my brain beyond diaper duty.

It’s been the right choice for me.

My now ten-year-old daughter talks about what she wants to do when she grows up. I know her dream of a career will change thousands of times, but when she was in her teacher frame of mind, I wanted to scream “Yes, do that!” As a teacher, she could have a job she loved and have summers off…perhaps to spend with children.

But as a feminist, I know it’s her choice. Just as it was mine.

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