The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

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.


Venus women's razor


Schick Quattro Titanium men's razor


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 »

Morons On Radio

Posted by caitlinate on July 29, 2009

I’m not really sure where to start with this one. There’s so little analysis need, it’s just fucked.

The rather odious team of Kyle Sandilands and Jackie Henderson host the 2DayFM radio breakfast show “The Kyle and Jackie O Show” out of Sydney. One on their segments on the show is a lie detector test, publicised on their website as:

“Cheating, drinking, lesbian marriage – we’ve revealed it all as we strap Sydney into the dreaded Lie Detector.”

A brief survey of the website also brings up other segments of, uh, interest. I won’t link to them but there is a photo gallery featuring shots of Sandliands’ wife – Tamara – from a recent Ralph magazine shoot, a segment where they scare their boss with a snake and he “screams like a girl” and a competition for ‘Sydneys smallest man’ where if you show the on-air duo your penis and it’s small they will give you money.

This morning for the well hyped lie detector segment a woman brought her daughter in to interrogate her about her experiences with sex and drugs. Before the interview even started the young woman said to Sandilands:

“I’m scared … it’s not fair.”

The interview should have stopped here. It didn’t.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Media Watch, Parenting & Family, sexual assault, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

The Latest On Government-Funded Parental Leave

Posted by Clem Bastow on September 30, 2008

With Australia being the only OECD country other than the United States that doesn’t have some form of compulsory paid-parental leave, one could be forgiven for thinking that Parliamentary debate on the topic has been pitifully slow. Well, presently a number of reports have indicated that such a scheme is needed in Australia (a nation says, “duh!”), and the Productivity Commission has put forward a proposal that would see working couples (both hetero and same sex, which makes a nice change) who have a baby given up to $11,854 in paid leave, rather than the existing $5000 baby bonus. The bonus would be remodelled as a “maternity allowance” for stay-at-home mums.

The 18-week scheme would be at the adult minimum wage of about $544 a week, and would be expected to benefit about 140,000 mothers a year. Mothers would be able to share the paid leave with their partners, but only if they were deemed the primary carer. An extra two weeks of paid leave would be available to fathers or same-sex partners.

Only those who have been in the workforce for at least 12 months would be eligible for the proposed scheme, which would cover the self-employed, contractors, and part-time and casual workers. Employers would be “paymasters” of the scheme, initially making the payments and then being reimbursed by the Government.

Women who are not in the workforce would be eligible for a $5000 “maternity allowance”, replacing the baby bonus. They would also get family tax benefit B and their partners would still be eligible for the two weeks’ paid leave reserved for fathers.

Both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull have flagged their support for the proposals, but many – including Liberal families spokesman Tony Abbott – have suggested that the proposals are skewed towards working mothers, with stay-at-home mums getting a bum deal.

“I would have very serious reservations about a government-funded scheme that isn’t matched by equal government benefits for mothers who aren’t in the paid workforce,” Mr Abbott said.

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Posted in Family, Media Watch, Politics, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

That’s ‘Essential Baby’, Not ‘Get A Load Of These Babies’

Posted by Clem Bastow on September 19, 2008

Essential Baby is Fairfax Digital’s web presence for mums and parents, covering all things baby – from pregnancy to Baby Crocs (god, I sound like a marketing executive). So it figures, then, that they would run a story about the breastfeeding rates of various countries (apparently Norway is beating Australia 90% to 65% when it comes to breastfeeding, largely because that country provides better support to breastfeeding mothers, according to the experts questioned in the piece). It’s quite an interesting insight into the way certain countries choose to assist (if at all) mothers who choose to breastfeed.

Which is why I am having trouble working out why the Fairfax Digital team decided it would be best to create this little graphic/blurb to use on The Age Online as a click-through feature:

A note to the design team: babies are suckling on them, not FHM readers.

Posted in Family, Media Watch, Sexist Stock Photo Watch, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Tick Tock Goes The Biological Clock

Posted by Clem Bastow on September 11, 2008

The idea of women having a ‘biological clock’ when it comes to having babies has long been a favoured punchline in the battle of the sexes (not to mention television situational comedy and chick lit). But is it a compelling reality (for some women) driven by, well, biology, or simply a societal pressure that has made its way into our collective subconscious? A group of NSW researchers seem to believe it’s the former:

The Garvan Institute of Medical Research is targeting professional Sydney women aged between 25 and 35, warning that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not enough to preserve fertility, and IVF cannot be considered a fail-safe back-up plan.

Newtown gynaecologist Gabrielle Dezarnaulds said women have a fixed number of eggs to last them a lifetime and fertility drops sharply from the late 30s as the number and quality of eggs dwindle.

Success rates for assisted reproductive technology also decline the longer a woman’s biological clock has been ticking, she said.

“I’m not saying you should get pregnant before a set age, but go and chat to your GP, even if you’re not aiming to get pregnant immediately. Work out a time frame when you might start to, and if you are ready to have a baby, get on with it.”

Generally speaking, when research/opinions like these are aired, there is always a bristling amongst women (myself included) who sometimes feel it paints them as little more than baby factories who need to get cracking; the former Howard Government’s “one for you, one for the country” initiatives did little to ease these worries.

But is it worth considering what bearing waiting to have children may have on those of us who choose to have babies? There is something to be said about scientific (rather than societal) ideas of when the female body is most fertile. What are your thoughts on the issue – do you have a biological clock, and is it ticking?

Posted in Family, Media Watch, Sex And Love, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Pink Pastel Princesses: Gender Conditioning And Girlhood

Posted by Clem Bastow on August 13, 2008

Melbourne Author Monica Dux had a fascinating piece in The Age this week questioning whether dressing daughters as fairies, princesses and ballerinas – in a range of pinks that would make “blush and bashful” Shelby from Steel Magnolias reach for a sick bag – is healthy, or even whether it might be at the root of the issues surrounding the apparent sexualisation of teens.

We’re living in a period of growing sensitivity about how we depict our girl children, revealed most tellingly in the commotion surrounding Bill Henson’s art, and restated in the objections raised against the July cover of Art Monthly. We have also heard a chorus of commentators passionately condemning the rise of “raunch culture”. We are warned that girls are losing their innocence prematurely in our media-saturated world. Bratz dolls, pole-dancing kits marketed to children, and even David Jones catalogues have all been censured for intensifying the sexualisation of young girls.

Yet amid all this anxiety, we seem to be overlooking the pink elephant in the nursery, the one in fairy wings and a tiara. 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.

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Posted in Family, Media Watch | Tagged: , , , , | 21 Comments »

NSW Government Lobbies Canberra: Child Support For Lesbian Mothers

Posted by Clem Bastow on July 22, 2008

NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos is pushing for the Federal Government to make amendments to the Family Law Act to ensure that children born to lesbian couples will not be left without child support if their parents split up:

“Now that NSW has taken steps to establish the parenting presumptions of mothers in same sex de facto relationships, it makes sense to have a system whereby children are protected if the couple splits,” Mr Hatzistergos said.

“Under current provisions of … the Family Law Act, co-mothers are not recognised as a legal parent in child related proceedings in the Family Court.

“It is important that we work together to ensure legal recognition is provided to all families, that the interests of all children have economic security regardless of family make-up.”

It’s hard to believe we still live in a world where all parents are not created equal, but it’s heartening to see that there are people in government who are trying to make things fairer for all. It will be interesting to see whether Rudd’s team takes the NSW Govt.’s suggestions onboard.

How do you feel about the Rudd Government’s performance so far?

Posted in Family, Media Watch, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Should Parents Be Worried About HPV Vaccine?” How About Women?

Posted by Clem Bastow on July 9, 2008

This CNN article raises some of the emerging concerns about adverse reactions to the Gardasil HPV vaccine; some girls and women who get the course of jabs are experiencing side-effects ranging from nausea to, well, death (apparently). The American stats are as follows:

Gardasil has been the subject of 7,802 “adverse event” reports from the time the Food and Drug Administration approved its use two years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Girls and women have blamed the vaccine for causing ailments from nausea to paralysis — even death. Fifteen deaths were reported to the FDA, and 10 were confirmed, but the CDC says none of the 10 were linked to the vaccine. The CDC says it continues to study the reports of illness.

But what bothers me about the piece is not so much the worrying emergence of stories such as Oklahoma’s Jesalee Parsons, 13, who developed Pancreatitis after her shot (which is, to be sure, horrifying), but the way CNN has pitched the piece: its title is “Should Parents Be Worried About HPV Vaccine?”

Fair enough, it’s a question that needs to be asked, as many of Gardasil’s recipients have been young girls. But what about those of us over 18 who went and got the injection ourselves? Are we irrelevant? Do we only need to, as The Simpsons‘ Helen Lovejoy likes to scream, think of the children?

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Posted in Media Watch, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Do Ad Execs Even Listen To The Songs They Choose?

Posted by Clem Bastow on June 26, 2008

If you watch Australian commercial television with any regularity lately you will have seen the new “Miles More Smiles” ad for Nurofen For Children. If you’ve not seen it you can watch it here.

From its comforting female voiceover we can assume is aimed squarely at mums – advertising loves to sound like a helpful friend giving some inside tips to frazzled mothers, and I say “mothers” because according to advertising, the only thing fathers are good for is getting stuff wrong. (See? Sexism isn’t just harmful to women, blokes!)

The gist of the ad is all about how it works for up to eight hours, presumably giving your baby more time to smile. It’s all a bit Anne Geddes, but rather sweet, thanks mainly to that lovely “because you’re gorgeous” refrain. Aww, sweet, isn’t it?

Pity, then, that the Nurofen ad execs didn’t think to do a proper listen-through to Babybird’s (admittedly fabulously) creepy ballad to exploitation, the casting couch and DIY porn in a car yard. Some highlights from the verse:

Remember that tank-top you bought me?
You wrote “you’re gorgeous” on it
You took me to your rented motor car
And filmed me on the bonnet

You got me to hitch my knees up
And pulled my legs apart
You took an Instamatic camera
And pulled my sleeves around my heart


You said my clothes were sexy
You tore away my shirt
You rubbed an ice cube on my chest
Snapped me ’til it hurt


You said I wasn’t cheap
You paid me twenty pounds
You promised to put me in a magazine
On every table, in every lounge

…And then that lovely chorus starts up again. I realise it’s only the chorus on the ad, but to anyone who knows the song, the verse inevitably follows in your mind. Honestly, guys, is the world of advertising so fast paced that you can’t spare 3:42-minutes to listen to the whole song? Particularly when there are children involved!

Posted in Watching The Ad Breaks | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »