The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Posts Tagged ‘children’

The pastel divide

Posted by Nic Heath on November 11, 2009

Code Pink, posted by Lauren Sandler at Mother Jones’ Culture & Media blog, examines the implications of the gendered pink-blue split among children. Gender as represented by pink and blue goads me particularly because it is emblematic of the first step of applying gender to an individual; the first aesthetic step in a socialising process that will ultimately determine or at least heavily influence lifelong behaviour, relationships, occupations, treatment at the hands of others, education etc.

Dressing a newborn in either pink or blue is not a benign social tradition. Like expecting a woman to change her name upon marriage, it is an unquestioned convention that is hugely symbolic – in this case of the enormous gulf between sex and gender, and the widespread indifference to this disparity. In contemporary society pink and blue each carry codes of behaviour that children comprehend at a very young age. From Code Pink:

“Pink itself isn’t the problem; it’s the message it conveys. That troubling message…is that girls and boys are deeply dissimilar creatures from day one. Lise Eliot [a neuroscientist and the author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps—and What We Can Do About It] argues that the pink-blue split shapes some enduring assumptions about babies’ emotional lives—at a time when girls’ and boys’ brains are almost entirely alike.”

A girl in pink will be encouraged to be passive and appearance obsessed. She will have different opportunities to her brother in blue, and different expectations placed upon her. Despite her own personality, she will have been shaped by forces beyond her control all her life – without ever really exercising her choice.

Monica Dux highlights how dramatically young girls can be affected by adherence to gender colour-codes and its accompanying behavioural baggage.

“Like raunch culture, the fairy princess aesthetic and its associated paraphernalia serve to entrench an extremely narrow idea of femininity, impressing on young girls that they are pretty, flighty little objects to be admired and marvelled at, rather than active young things seeking out adventure.

“This reinforces a passive understanding of what it is to be female, encouraging fantasies that are focused less on action, and far more on how you look. Of course, fairies and princesses can have adventures, but hyper-feminised modes of dressing put the focus squarely on appearance, teaching girls that self-worth is measured by how pretty you are, and not by what you do.”

The gender split that begins with the pink/blue dichotomy has other more sinister effects.  Kate Townshend, a British primary teacher, has written about ‘gender in the playground’ for the F-Word. Calling on her experience in the classroom, she links infant pink to the sexualisation of young girls – a topic which has had a great deal of media attention in recent years.

“They don’t call it grooming for nothing, and it starts with the indoctrination of ‘pink’ for girls from infant-hood onwards. Or so say the organisers of Pink Stinks, “a campaign and social enterprise that challenges the ‘culture of pink’ which invades every aspect of girls’ lives”. They argue that by the time they reach their teens, female children have a life-time of learning to become sexual objects behind them, so perhaps we should be far from surprised when 10-year-olds start clamouring for the latest porn star t-shirt, or worrying that their legs are too short…

“These kinds of attitudes hurt children of both sexes, not least because they leave them bereft of positive examples of male-female interaction in the media world they tend to worship and adore. But though they lack the words to articulate it, it seems obvious in some of the schools I go into that the boys know things are weighted in their favour, at least in the short term. By 11, they have already learnt that calling a girl fat effectively finishes the argument. It doesn’t matter whether she is actually fat or not. It has become a code word which makes it clear that since female self worth is built upon looks, it is easily destroyed by male indifference or antagonism.”

All of this is fairly self-evident. What is illuminating is that this convention, so entrenched as to be accepted as reflecting human nature, is a relatively recent social development:

“Assigning colour to gender is mostly a twentieth century trait. It should be noted that it is a practice limited most often to Western Europe and the Americas. It would also seem that the effect of colour-coded gender differences (pink for girls, blue for boys) existed oppositely initially.”

As Sandler explains in Code Pink, “this was a nod to symbolism that associated red with manliness; pink was considered its kid-friendly shade. Blue was the color of the Virgin Mary’s veil and connoted femininity.”

Which makes pseudo-scientific breakthroughs that support an evolutionary basis for every perceived gender difference, from a woman’s predeliction for shopping to a man’s fear of commitment, look ridculous – such as this one linking the pink/blue split to blue skies and blushing berries in our prehistory.

Still, pink for girls and blue for boys remains the dominant code used to consider sex and gender, and this stereotype is exploited and perpetuated by advertisers.  

So colour-coded gender and the ideology it represents – clearly such an effective marketing tool – is not likely going anywhere soon.

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Posted in Parenting & Family | Tagged: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

How Can Feminist Mums Avoid Being Humourless Childhood-Ruiners?

Posted by Mel Campbell on September 14, 2009

Jo Case has a fascinating article at Kill Your Darlings that focuses on a new book from Spinifex Press called Getting Real: Challenging The Sexualisation Of Girls. This is a topic The Dawn Chorus has discussed before, and these posts have always attracted lots of comments from mums who talk about the challenges they face trying to raise both boys and girls in the face of so many gendered cultural imperatives, from obsessing over the colour pink to seeing one’s body as a constant renovation project.

In a way, the comments people have made on blog posts like this – especially ones that come from personal experience of parenting – interest me more than the issues of female sexualisation (raunch culture) in the media, which are so mainstream it’s dispiriting, especially when they’re conflated with “empowerment”. The impression I get is that on one front, mums feel strongly enough about the issue to ban Barbies and pink things, to refuse to buy slutty pre-teen clothes and to stand up to schools and organisations who condone sexualised behaviour and attitudes.

Then there’s a subset of parents who appear to find this stuff amusing and ironic. Before the story got a little too old, I was planning to write a story for The Enthusiast about the quality of ‘edginess’, and the way that to involve children – who are consensually imagined as ‘pure’ and ‘innocent’ – in these knowing gestures treads an especially keen edge between propriety and obscenity. Indeed, as the Cotton On example reveals, certain companies actively market their products as ‘edgy’; part of the appeal to their consumers is that other people might find them offensive, and hence these consumers feel more sophisticated because they ‘get’ the joke.

That, for my mind, is the most confronting aspect of parenting – especially of girls. Are you going to be the kind of humourless, daggy mum who interferes in everything that’s cool and is a source of mortification to your children (“You just don’t GET it, Mum!”), or are you going to be a hip mum who helps your kids navigate pop culture rather than trying to restrict their access to it?

I mean, as adults we all fondly tell stories about the wowserish parents who banned junk food and served pitiful Pritikin imitations of the foods kids love; who prevented us from watching commercial TV, or even any TV at all; who wouldn’t buy the ‘cool’ clothes so we had to look like dicks in front of our friends; who wouldn’t buy the in-demand toys such as Barbies and Cabbage Patch Kids. (Oh boy, I’m showing my age with that one!)

But this just goes to show that kids don’t ever forget this stuff. Time can transform an embarrassing mum into an endearingly daggy one, but do we have to accept being an embarrassment to our children as the price of ‘protecting’ them from a culture they desperately want to participate in? Do we ‘know better’ than our kids or should we perhaps try to find some middle ground with them, rather than being the inflexible person banning things?

One of my main worries as a feminist is that feminism is so often about being angry and disapproving; it rarely seems hip unless it concedes something to raunch culture. Just last week I was thinking, “No wonder people say feminists are unattractive; nobody likes hanging out with angry people.” Perhaps we should also consider what we’re teaching children about feminism if their main experience of it is telling them what they’re not allowed to do.

Posted in body image, Family, Parenting & Family | Tagged: , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

McClelland Talks, Says Mostly Good Things

Posted by caitlinate on July 24, 2009

Attorney-General Robert McClelland today announced a series of (potential) changes to the family law system in Australia. These changes are aimed at tackling domestic violence and child abuse in Australia and altering the way the courts operate in terms of these issues. In the introduction to his speech he stated:

“I believe that at the moment there are still too many families that slip through the safety net. Complex problems rarely have simple solutions and they can’t be overcome by taking action in isolation. To address violence we need to identify holes in the system, and collaborate to tighten the safety net. It’s not enough to look for holes in the law, or in court processes or in the delivery of services, or any of these things on their own. Our safety net must provide the tightest protection possible for families negotiating the family law system.”

This is obviously in large part politician speak (he says ‘safety net’ three different times, somewhat unnecessarily) but I feel that his heart is in the right place and that revamping or strengthening the way the system works is a good thing. I do, however, have some reservations, in particular that the focus of this speech and these changes seems to be to the system after the fact – so after when the abuse occus rather than working on prevention in the first place.

The four main announcements he made are outlined in bold.

• A training package for family law system professionals and the development of minimum screening guidelines;

Training and information for ‘professionals’ within the system is a really amazing thing and I’m glad they are prioritising this. A lot of the problems that victims and survivors of violence have with legal system professionals (including the police) is that they are untrained and unaware of the impacts and complications involved in violence and abuse. This often results in behaviour/advice that can be further traumatising or unhelpful.

I am a little concerned that these training packages will be of a bureaucratic nature. The best way to inform people about the requirements and experiences of abuse survivors is to have survivors communicate about what they need or needed and the best ways to proceed. Nonetheless, it does seem that they are taking cues from the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children’s April report ‘Time for Action’ which came from a lot of community and survivor consultation.

The ‘minimum screening guidelines’ mentioned aren’t really elaborated on but I think McClelland’s talking about mandatory reporting levels and altering what he terms ‘inefficient jurisdictional boundaries’

• A pilot of legally assisted mediation for families experiencing violence;

I think this is an interesting one. The Howard government pretty much banished lawyers from some aspects of family law disputes, preferring separating couples to use counselors for mediation. McClelland has commissioned this pilot project to instead fund lawyers for mediation in cases where violence is alleged. He states:

“In assisting families to exercise choice in resolving their separation disputes, I am funding a pilot program to provide legal representation in mediation sessions to families who have experienced violence or are at risk of it.”

This could be positive. I don’t think that someone should have no legal support or recourse when the partner they are separating from has been violent towards them or their children. However allowing lawyers to the table could bring about two negative possibilities. One that bullying abusive lawyers will be in the room and it will be about forcing one party into submission. Secondly that if one partner is in a more stable financial position they will be able to hire a more experienced lawyer who can work for more favourable outcomes for their client – regardless of if they’ve been violent.

• A review of the family court practice and procedure, lead by Professor Richard Chisholm, a former Family Court judge;

This review seems to be about expanding the current model for dealing with children who have been abused or in abusive situations. Currently in use is the Magellan case management model – introduced in 1998. It brings together the family courts, police and child protection agencies to ensure the Court has all the information it needs to make decisions “in the best interest of the child” but is incredibly flawed. The current laws require the Family Court to presume the “best interests of a child” are served by a meaningful relationship with both parents after divorce, regardless of if one parent has been abusive. It forces parents into ongoing relationships with violent ex-partners and requires them to regularly hand over their children to the care of said ex-partner.

Chisholm is going to be consulting experts and examining whether the practices and procedures in the family courts encourage appropriate disclosures of family violence, and whether appropriate support is provided within the family court system for families who have experienced or are at risk of violence.

• An enquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to identify gaps in the law and reinforce the previously mentioned ‘safety net’.

This inquiry will look at two important issues raised in the National Council’s report:

1. It will examine the interaction of State and Territory laws relating to family violence and child protection with Commonwealth family laws and criminal laws to determine whether changes are required to better protect women and children; and

2. It will examine the impact of the inconsistent interpretation or application of laws in cases of sexual assault occurring in the context of family violence, on the victims of violence.

I can do nothing but applaud the fact that this enquiry is happening and cross my fingers that the outcomes will be positive for victims and survivors of violence, abuse and assault.

Overall I find the announcements to be on the positive side, even if only because action is being taken and family violence is being taken seriously. Some of the measures that will be introduced do raise questions but I don’t feel that any are to be damned but rather watched closely to see what the results are. I do wish that this was all less about enquiries and reviews and about real and substantial action being taken. However if the ‘reviews’ and ‘enquiries’ involve talking to communities, affected groups and survivors then I think extended evaluation is probably a better thing that rushed but ineffective action.

Finally, one other thing of interest McClelland mentioned is the following:

“Measures to address family violence will assist the Government’s effort to halve homelessness by 2020, as we now know that family violence is the principle cause of homelessness among young women with children.”

This statement displays, to me, an understanding of the wide and varied effect that domestic violence has on families, individuals, women and children, something of a relief after the draconian attitude of the previous government.

Posted in law, Parenting & Family, Politics, violence against women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Now Even Nine Year Old Girls Can Enjoy The Pressure To Look “Perfect”

Posted by Clem Bastow on August 13, 2008

First, an admission: I missed the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing. Largely because I was nowhere near a functioning television, but also because I had my doubts (echoed by Mark Mordue’s excellent piece in The Age) about China’s festival of nationalism disguised as a gee whiz opening spectacular. However, I read enough coverage to know that they had their own “Nikki Webster”, a little girl performing as a focal point of hope and innocence.

What a pity, then, that it has emerged the girl who appeared in the ceremony was a miming ring-in, hired because the nine-year-old girl who actually sang the Hymn To The Motherland was deemed not to be “pretty” enough for the worldwide telecast:

The ceremony’s music director, Chen Qigang, revealed that Lin had not been singing but miming to a recording by another girl, Yang Peiyi, who was dumped from the starring role because she wasn’t as pretty and had uneven teeth.

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Posted in body image, Media Watch | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

The Ethics Of Clothing – How To Dress For Polygamy

Posted by Cate on July 3, 2008

So, you’re down with the No Sweat shoes, you don’t wear fur and you like buying fashions that are ‘refashioned’ or ‘upcycled’ as all the entrepreneurs are calling it. Clothing that is made by small businesses, not factories with a nod to history. Well, you now have another option.

Women from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) have released their own fashion line and online shop. You may recall the FLDS, a polygamous sect in Texas where over 400 children and teens were taken into custody The children were taken into custody after someone called a hot line claiming to be a pregnant, abused teenage wife. Officials said girls were being “groomed” to accept sex with their middle-aged “spiritual husbands” as soon as they hit puberty and boys were being indoctrinated to perpetuate the cycle of abuse, but disturbingly no arrests have been made.

So what kind of fashions might they provide?

According to The Age:

The austere dresses with long-sleeves and high collars, loose-fitting pants, long-johns and modest blouses worn by members of the sect are reminiscent of 19th century American pioneers and highlighted the sect’s isolation.

They are starting with children’s and babieswear. The website is painfully slow to load, but news media reports a significant interest in the clothing as it is ‘modest’ and well made. A lot of feminists (myself included) are horrified by some of the ‘tweens’ fashions out there. From tiny bras and g- strings to t shirts like these from Jay Jay’s:

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Posted in Fashion | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »