“Why can’t ‘run like a girl’ also mean ‘win the race’?”

Thanks to @blazing over on Twitter, I just welled up watching the following, what amounts to an ad for Always feminine products.

I’ve thought about the phrase “like a girl” a lot, and every time I do, it makes me furious. It’s belittling and dehumanizing and deeply destructive, for girls and boys alike (click here to read me talking a little bit about all that) and I’m genuinely glad and grateful that Always decided to take it on. I’m already a customer, so I can’t say that I’ll switch brands or anything now, but I would if I could! Thanks, Always.

Our children, so fragile.

I wrote this essay for The Dallas Morning News a few years back, and first posted it here sometime later.
My recent post about little girls and body image brought it to mind, because it’s all the same question: How do we protect our children, when we can’t? How do we teach them to live with their own fragility (and teach ourselves to live with our own powerlessness)? So I thought I’d run it again. It’s all still true – and the kids just continue to grow and grow.

Our children, so fragile

EMILY L. HAUSER – Dallas Morning News

Sunday, May 13, 2007

the-boy1

The boy – my firstborn.

When pregnant with my first child, I had the opportunity to ask my graduate school adviser if we might discuss “my future.” With a glance at my belly, he looked me in the eye and said: “Thirty years of heartache.”

To which story my aunt later responded: “Only 30 years?”

If I’ve learned nothing else since the birth of that baby nearly eight years ago, it’s that your heart always aches. Happy or sad, there are many days when the heart feels it must surely implode from the weight of emotion, not least of course, the intense and impossible need to Keep the Babies Safe.

Right now my husband and I find our little family to be bathed in the glow of blessed days. The children – a beautiful boy and girl – are healthy, smart and funny, and in addition to delighting their parents daily, actually love and enjoy each other, too. We are the family Norman Rockwell was thinking of all those years.

It is impossible, though, not to think that this golden time will inevitably end. Human experience indicates that a day will dawn on which our idyll is at the very least tarnished. The fear, of course, is that it will be shattered.

Like everyone, I know my fair share of parents whose children have been visited by tragedy. I think of my friend whose baby died at birth and the one whose 10-year-old was shot in the head. I know a kind and patient man who lost his teenager down the hole to over-the-counter drug abuse and a warm and giving woman whose previously sunny son is now, at 22, in the grip of paralyzing depression. My grandmother buried my father when he was all of 35.

They are so fragile, these babies. So many things can go wrong, and at any moment.

Paradoxically, it is my rational self that blazes a trail for me down the road to fear. The cycle of life, human nature, acts of God – all act as constant reminders that nothing is forever, that everything, eventually, breaks, rots, dies. My children’s bones will one day lie in the earth, and there is no way for me to know that their end will not come far earlier than it should or that their days will not be filled with sorrow.

My absolute inability to keep them from harm takes my breath away. Limbs will break, hearts will break. Please God, not spirits. The maxim that joy is not complete without grief to shape it interests me not in the least – let their joy be shapeless, I think, but let it be joy.

And so it is tempting to see this time of blessing as a trick of the light, an ill-defined prelude to disaster. My siblings and I were struck by catastrophe before we could read or write, when cancer snatched our father from us as surely as it did from his mother; as I grew up, all happiness was, in fact, shaped by that grief. It is hard for me to stop.

But something about this boy and this girl who I hold so lightly, with so few tools or guards, has opened a place I couldn’t dream existed. Just as I have learned that the bittersweet ache never ends, so too have my children taught me that the heart can be quiet, and that the joy in a 3-year-old’s song and a 7-year-old’s hand is unending. That these things can never be lost, even if they are taken.

I curl around my daughter in her tiny bed and hold her warmth to my belly. I cover my son with the blanket he’s tossed aside, and watch his limbs stretch endlessly beneath it, an impossible length of boy. I pray that this time will never end. I pray for the strength to hold them when it does.

Training the world – on little girls and body image.

I maintain something of a bi-cameral approach with regard to writing about my children: I write about them, but I don’t use their names (their last name is different to mine, which helps); I write about them, but I write only happy things, or uplifting things, or things that are far in the past. Nothing that would embarrass them, nothing that is truly personal and private. I owe them that, I think. They didn’t ask to be born to me.

Today I’m going to break down that wall, though, because I believe my own daughter’s well-being actually, in a very broad way, depends on it. If you know my girl, or if you ever meet her, I’m asking you here and now: Please don’t discuss the following with her. It would, genuinely, make her sad.

The girl.

The girl.

But how am I to remain silent, when she sits in the back of my car, tears streaming down her face and wondering, in a tiny and strangled voice, if anyone will ever love her?

The girl is tall, and broad, and strong, and round. She is 10, and as she has throughout her young life, she has a belly. It’s not small – it’s a real belly. The kind of belly that many young girls have until they reach puberty, and which is usually eclipsed by the appearance of breasts. As girls grow into women, our shapes change — but they don’t usually change entirely. Mine didn’t. If you were born big and soft (9 lbs 3 oz, and she was four weeks early), you’re never going to become anything much different, unless you literally do physical damage to yourself in the effort.

“Do you think I’ll ever be skinny?” she asked in that same car ride.

No, honey, no. I do not think you will ever be skinny. “Skinny” (like “fat”) has no real value, it tells us nothing about the worth or even the health of the person, it’s a descriptor. It’s like “tall” or “blue” or “left handed” – it describes something, it doesn’t tell you that thing’s worth. Or, worse yet, we’ve made “skinny” (and “fat”) into a weapon, a weapon we use to wound people.

These are almost exactly the words I used with her in the car, words very similar to words she’s heard her whole life — or, at least, since the first time she was called “fat” and understood it to be intended as a cruelty, when she was 4. When she was 9, she could already use the phrase “objectification of women” correctly.

And the other day, in that car, tears streaming down her face, she finally said “I know, but you’re training me. You’re not training the whole world.”

My daughter is exactly as God and her genes intended her to be: She is funny and lights up a room and won’t take no for an answer. She is very smart and loves being very smart and can sit in a corner and read for two hours at a stretch. She will spontaneously dance to just about anything, and will run around the playground with her friends all afternoon if time and homework allow. She is a person of healthy appetites, in all senses: She would like a bigger bite of the world, please, and also some more ice cream, while you’re up. She thoroughly enjoys her food, except when she doesn’t, at which point she can’t be bothered to have another bite. She knows that too much ice cream isn’t always good for her body, and she is learning that sometimes “no” is the best answer — but she’s always heard “no” from time to time, and always had that “no” acted upon. Her diet is healthy, and she knows that, too, and likes it. She is also, if I may, beautiful. Gorgeous, in fact, with milky-peachy skin and deep brown eyes and hair that falls in waves all around her beautiful smile.

But the girl lives in the world that her father and I cannot reach, she doesn’t live within our arms. She lives in a world where 10 year old girls are already so bone-deep aware of how we treat women who do not fit a certain, very narrow, paradigm that they worry they will never be loved. She worries — a lot — what strangers think of her when they see her from a distance; she worries that the people who know her are kind only because they know her.

She is 10. She is healthy. She is strong. She is wicked smart. And she sat in my car, weeping about her body.

There is only so much her father and I can do, only so much real science we can bring to bear on the lies and misapprehensions peddled by the diet industry and swallowed whole by those around us. There is only so much we can do about the fact that every adult woman she comes in contact with is steeped in the same lies and misapprehensions, the vast majority of them openly bemoaning their sacred bodies and bonding over self-loathing. “I’m getting fat!” one of the girl’s friends said at school the other day, a friend who is so slight she might blow away on the next strong wing.

There’s only so much I can do. It’s already in her. And even though I never say it out loud, it’s in me too. I hate it, but there it is, telling me how little I’m worth because I refuse to punish my only body for being something other than that which I am told it should be. I cannot tell you how much it hurts me, how furious it makes me, to know that this is what she feels and what she faces. I’m weeping as I type. And there’s almost nothing I can do. I cannot train the world.

But maybe, maybe – if we all work together, maybe if we’re kinder to ourselves and each other, more loving toward these fabulous machines that move us through our lives, less willing to accept shaming that cloaks itself as wisdom – maybe together, we adults can make the world in which our little girls are growing into wonderful women a better place. Maybe.

Please help me. We’re the adults. My daughter, and probably yours, needs our help.  They need our love.

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UPDATE: My Twitter friend Kris Lindbeck sent me the lovliest essay I may have ever read about human bodies — all of them. Please click through to read. “I’ll tell you what people look like, really: they look like flames. Or like the stars, on a clear night in the wilderness.”

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UPDATE 10/6/13: All of a sudden this post is getting a ton of love from Facebook, and I’m very grateful — and Facebook is not the easiest thing to search, so I honestly don’t have any idea why today, or what the source(s) is (are). If it’s you – thank you!

More than just a princess – RAWR!

Via Bust magazine, this:

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(I can’t wait to show this to the girl!)

For more on Goldie Blox, click here.

“Staggering worker caseloads…”.

The Illinois General Assembly is in session this week, and they’re looking at actually putting more than $900 million back into the budget, a small piece of it intended for the Department of Children and Family Services. In a bill sponsored by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago),

nearly $25 million would go to the Department of Children and Family Services [DCFS]. The agency’s budget had been reduced by nearly $90 million.

The increase would allow the agency to avoid deep layoffs that had threatened Director Richard Calica’s reorganization plan, agency spokesman Dave Clarkin said. The ongoing child welfare department shuffle includes shoring up the critical frontline with 138 additional child-protection investigators, reducing middle-management positions and deploying recruitment specialists across the state to help move children more quickly out of the foster care system and into permanent homes.

The Tribune has reported staggering DCFS worker caseloads, overdue investigations, a clogged child abuse hot line, untimely day care inspections and troubling child deaths that raised questions about whether more could have been done to intervene.

“Troubling child deaths…”.

If you live in Illinois, you can help by calling your state representatives to tell them you want to see the DCFS budget restored — and if you don’t know who your state representatives are, or what district you’re in (which I’d say is a pretty regular occurrence at the state level) you can call 217-782-4141 to find out. (Plus which: State legislators get a lot fewer calls than their national counterparts do – your call has an even bigger impact when you’re calling downstate). (Or upstate. You know).

Links:

Please, please: Call.

OMG arglebarglelkgfiu…ok, crying nao: Super Dad is super.

Nils Pickert’s five-year-old son likes to wear dresses.

This post is lifted entirely from BuzzFeed, which lifted it from this translation of the original German:

My five year old son likes to wear dresses. In Berlin Kreuzberg that alone would be enough to get into conversation with other parents. Is it wise or ridiculous? “Neither one nor the other!“ I still want to shout back at them. But sadly they can’t hear me any more. Because by now I live in a small town in South Germany. Not even a hundred thousand inhabitants, very traditional, very religious. Plainly motherland. Here the partiality of my son are not only a subject for parents, they are a town wide issue. And I did my bit for that to happen…

I didn’t want to talk my son into not wearing dresses and skirts. He didn’t make friends in doing that in Berlin already and after a lot of contemplation I had only one option left: To broaden my shoulders for my little buddy and dress in a skirt myself. After all you can’t expect a child at pre-school age to have the same ability to assert themselves as an adult. Completely without role model. And so I became that role model…

Being all stressed out, because of the moving I forgot to notify the nursery-school teachers to have an eye on my boy not being laughed at because of his fondness of dresses and skirts. Shortly after moving he didn’t dare to go to nursery-school wearing a skirt or a dress any more. And looking at me with big eyes he asked: “Daddy, when are you going to wear a skirt again?”…

To this very day I’m thankful for that women, that stared at us on the street until she ran face first into a street light. My son was roaring with laugher. And the next day he fished out a dress from the depth of his wardrobe. At first only for the weekend. Later also for nursery-school.

And what’s the little guy doing by now? He’s painting his fingernails. He thinks it looks pretty on my nails, too. He’s simply smiling, when other boys (and it’s nearly always boys) want to make fun of him and says: “You only don’t dare to wear skirts and dresses because your dads don’t dare to either.” That’s how broad his own shoulders have become by now. And all thanks to daddy in a skirt.

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“That how broad his own shoulders have become by now.” Oh, man. If that’s not a parenting goal, I don’t know what is. Now excuse me, I have to go blow my nose. – elh

Dear GOP: This two & a half year old black scientist would like a word.

Why am I posting the following? Because it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want.

But mostly: Awwwwwwwww! And he shares with Daddy! Come for the Science, stay for the kisses at the end!

Plus: You know you didn’t actually know this, so thank God this young man came along to teach us all.

(I tell you what though, little man is going to be very confused when he discovers the actual size of the stuff that he’s talking about).

h/t Colorlines

The 12 year old boy: “I think my heart just melted.”

A very wee girl meets her sister for the first time:

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I… can’t… even….

PS The title of this post is a direct quote, the boy’s reaction to this clip mere moments ago. In the meantime, I’ve heard him saying in an undertone (and with an audible smile in his voice) “Youokyouokyouok!” I tell you what, that’s even better than a return of Firefly to the small screen. I’m good.

Good stuff: I want to grow up to be this little girl.

I do believe that I could watch the following nine seconds of awesome on endless loop, all day long.

I am particularly fond of the look on her face in the very last split-second.

 

Make it better now.

It’s not enough to tell LGBTQ kids that “it gets better.” We have to make it better now.

I would like to say that clarity of thought came to me on my own, but it didn’t — I needed a Canadian to tell me.

I became vaguely aware of Canadian comedian Rick Mercer sometime in the last several months, I think in the same time period that I was discovering Jack Layton (or maybe before, when I was learning about Canadian politics). Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait for Mercer to die before I figured out I should be paying attention — he’s kind of an angrier/ more blatantly patriotic/ more blatantly activist Jon Stewart (if I may mix my satirists and my nation-states), and I not infrequently have no idea what the hell he’s on about, because I’m American. But I like him and his Rick Mercer Report.

He opens his shows with a Rant; the following ran after last month’s suicide of Canadian gay teen Jamie Hubley, 15 years old.  Jamie’s suicide note makes clear reference to the entirely admirable and often beautiful It Gets Better Project: “I don’t want to wait 3 more years. This hurts too much. How do you even know It will get better? Its not.

Mercer is himself gay (a thing he doesn’t mention in the clip, but to me he comes across as assuming people already know — in a subsequent interview he said “I don’t know how many times a guy can come out of the closet in this country”), and this rant is a thing of towering, beautiful fury:

It’s no longer good enough for us to tell kids who are different that it’s going to get better. We have to make it better now, that’s every single one of us. Every teacher, every student, every adult has to step up to the plate.

Two important caveats: I absolutely do not mean this as a knock against It Gets Better. Much as we adults should make it better today, we can’t. There is no magic wand, and providing hope is of immeasurable importance — is genuinely life-saving, I believe. The point is that we really need to try harder, and make it clear to all and sundry that we are making that effort.

And Mercer himself, in his justified rage, makes a crucial mistake: He says “every year in this country 300 kids take their own lives,” and then makes it sound very much as if all those kids were victims of anti-gay bullying. Clearly that’s not the case, and it’s worth pointing out. Some kids are utterly without hope for other reasons.

Having said that — please watch this (it’s all of 1 minute, 35 seconds long) and pass it around. Show it to kids you know — I wish I could put it on endless loop in the hallways of America’s middle- and high-schools. Last week’s news of the lesbian homecoming couple in California was delightful and affirming, yet the plain truth is that far too many kids still wake up afraid, every day, simply because of who they are.

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And PS: If you’re interested in more Rick Mercer, I loved this whale-watching trip he took (rather improbably) with opera star Measha Brueggergosman (click here) and this, the most recent rant, which both amused and informed about Canadian politics (click here). Basically, this American <3s Rick Mercer, is what I’m saying.

Thanks to melanie, commenter at Ta-Nehisi’s blog, who called my attention to the anti-bullying Rant.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

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