Stereotyping Brothers and Sisters

While perusing Facebook this morning, I came upon an ad from Pottery Barn Kids for sibling plaques. I couldn’t read what was written on each of them, so I googled.

For the sister plaque:

  1. A best friend for life. 2. Player of dress up. 3. Teller of stories in the dark. 4. Keeper of secrets.

For the brother plaque:

  1. A best friend for life. 2. Builder of forts. 3. Teller of stories in the dark. 4. Player of catch and shooter of hoops.

The reason why the plaques caught my eye in my Facebook feed is because I have a daughter and a son. Unfortunately, they don’t fit the generalizations so neatly woven into the shabby chic decor. (It’s also why I’m not linking to them.)

My son plays dress up–superhero, astronaut, magician, firefighter; but most frequently a thoroughly unique combination of a number of costumes–more than my daughter.

My daughter, who plays softball during the fall and spring, can catch, throw and hit better than my son can. (She’s in an instructional league; we encourage both children to play sports in the fall and spring to help build self-esteem, learn teamwork and take direction from a coach.) She builds forts and is way more interested in science than my son is.

Despite my goals to raise them the same way, my children have very, very different personalities and in conversations with their school counselor I learned there are anatomical differences during brain development that can legitimately lead to stereotyping. (For example, the part of the brain that governs self-control develops later in boys than in girls, so boys have a harder time sitting still in school.) (Also, I think birth order can have an effect on their personalities, too.)

I know Target’s recently abandoned the attempt to categorize toys as belonging to girls and boys. Toys are toys; they are girl toys if girls play with them and boy toys if boys play with them. I prefer the term “children’s toys.”

Pottery Barn Kids charges $69 each for its sibling plaques. One would think it could invest a little more time and energy into including copy that wasn’t so stereotypical.

Stereotyping Brothers and Sisters

Women Can’t Win

Last Friday, in Pittsburgh, a woman was killed allegedly after declining a man’s advances outside a bar.

Even though women are taught that “no means no” since roughly adolescence, women can’t say no without repercussions. Because men are ill-equipped to deal with rejection.

Aziz Asnari addresses this (indirectly) in his latest standup special that’s on Netflix. I can’t find a clip of the most profound moment in his routine, when he asks women in the audience if they’ve ever given a guy a fake number, if they’ve ever been followed by a creepy guy, if they’ve ever been harassed when accepting (or declining) a drink or while walking down a street. Most of the women in Madison Square Garden raise their hands, and the men, for the most part, are shocked.

Women can’t do anything correctly because they’re simultaneously taught that they are sexual objects–literally nothing more than their reproductive systems, politically speaking–and that as sexual objects they must repress their sole ability to incur lust and rage in men. As someone who’s nearly 40, it’s expected that I maintain my body to please my husband. I buy wrinkle-defying cream; I visit the gym several times for strength training, functional training and cardio; I go to a pricey salon to have my hair professionally styled. I do all of this to maintain my status as a sexual object.

On the other hand, when I’m at the gym, men ogle me when I’m working out. Men make fun of each other by suggesting a man who’s been in the restroom for too long must be “taking out his tampon”–making sure I’m in earshot. (A double insult: a woman as the butt of a joke AND reducing her to her menstrual cycle.) Sure, there are women’s gyms, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to expect to be able to work out without getting looks or comments from the men there.

When I get my hair cut, my stylist always asks me what’s for dinner that night. Not what I’ve been reading, not what I’m watching on television, not what I think about current events. What I as a woman am serving my family for dinner. (I don’t talk too much at my appointments because I don’t like to talk a lot in general to people who don’t know me that well and because it’s a pretty relaxing place to be.)

In truth, I do cardio to reduce my risk for heart disease. I lift weights to reduce my risk for osteoporosis. I buy moisturizer because it makes my skin feel nice. I get my hair cut because I like the way it looks. The only person I feel who has the right to reduce me to my reproductive system is my gynecologist, and she does her job so well that I feel like an entire person, not just a uterus, when I visit her.

Anyway, back to the woman who got the automatic death penalty for turning a guy down. I’ve been scared enough of men in bars to give fake numbers, to go talk to a guy I know so another one would leave me alone (after telling him to leave me alone), to circle a police station on the way home so I wouldn’t be followed. I have to do this because it does not occur to men that it’s OK for women to reject them. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it’s a blow to your ego and your friends might make fun of you later.

Instead of forcing girls to dress modestly in fear of causing boys to go nuts with lust, teach boys that girls are more than objects, they are people. Lust can be kept in check successfully without insulting girls. By raising women to people status, they, like men, have control over their own beings and health, which surprisingly encompasses more than a reproductive system.




Women Can’t Win


I watched this live in my fourth grade class 30 years ago.


A couple of selfish observations: the Challenger tragedy came up in two work-related projects later in my life. The first was interviewing a physician who oversaw the healthcare of astronauts when they returned to Earth. In the video above, you can hear that contingency operations went into effect almost immediately after the explosion. This physician would be in charge of getting out to the wreckage almost as soon as possible. If the mission had been successful, he would have been there to welcome them after landing, and helped their bodies adjust from zero-gravity of space back to the Earth’s atmosphere.

The second was proofreading a book written by a grief counselor for teachers of bereaved students. Mostly it was about recognizing the signs of bereavement, how to tell between grief and depression, and the most common kind of losses children face. There also was a section about national disasters. I vividly remember being horrified watching the launch as it happened, but I don’t recall what my teacher said afterward. I wasn’t able to appreciate until working on this project what a challenge it must have been for her to explain what happened and to comfort us.

I’ve mostly thought about the Challenger tragedy in terms of how it affected me, but the shuttle program has all been shut down today. A Facebook friend today argued that the launch should have been delayed, mostly because a series of rings surrounding the rocket boosters had never been used in temperatures as cold as it was that morning. NASA faced political pressure from the White House because President Reagan had planned to tout the mission in his State of the Union address that night. He had to make a very different kind of speech instead.

Today, private companies are the ones who seem most interested in taking humans to space (I’m not talking about the International Space Station). Compared with other fields of science, federally funded aeronautics seems to have petered out.


Happy Australia Day!


I’d put these guys on a stamp if I could.

Watching this video took me through an Internet wormhole for an hour. I learned:

  • The actress in the video is married to the guitarist, Graham Russell, to this day. THEY LITERALLY MADE LOVE OUT OF NOTHING AT ALL.
  • The singer’s name is Russell Hitchcock. The band members share a name. I don’t know how the band name doesn’t include Russell.
  • I love how Russell Hitchcock is jamming out on stage like he is singing “Stairway to Heaven.”
  • I really want to know what he and the other band members were singing on the plane while Graham Russell was sulking.
  • “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” was included on Air Supply’s greatest hits album and was written by Jim Steinman, who also wrote songs for Meatloaf and Celine Dion. Graham Russell is the group’s primary songwriter.
  • Air Supply groupies are known as Air Heads. I love how Russell Hitchcock just walks by the groupies in the video.
  • I love everything that Russell Hitchcock does in this video.
  • The group still tours and marked their 40th anniversary in 2015.
Happy Australia Day!

Young Adult Television

I rarely watch network television anymore. I know I sound like a snob when I write that, and I know there are network shows that probably deserve my attention and support, but sooner or later I can probably watch them on Netflix or Amazon.

(I don’t watch reality television at all. That’s another post, but mainly because it’s not reality and also because that particular industry screws over the people who work for it.)

All that being said, I’m fascinated by the television process; specifically, the journey a script takes from inception to completed episode. In a previous life, I was a professional writer and editor. A simple press release would take weeks to approve, from internal passes to legal review to that one lunatic who needs to see everything and no one can quite understand why–everyone adding their own fingerprints along the way until the document becomes completely unrecognizable to the person who originally wrote it. (This laborious process occurs even when the press release is just two paragraphs long, contains no original quotes and the company boilerplate easily is three pages.) I can’t imagine how many meetings and draft revisions a Hollywood script must go through.

Before Google shut down its RSS reader, I would follow Hollywood writers’ blogs. One person revealed that Hollywood prioritizes scripts that are based on material that already has proven popular; namely, books.

At any given season, I probably record one or two programs and watch them within a few days. But this month, I’m watching Shadowhunters, The Magicians and The X-Files reboot. (Since December, I’ve also watched Luther and Sherlock, but those were one-time events and not technically series. I’m also watching Downton Abbey–but it’s got the substance of marshmallows (pretty people in pretty clothes in pretty houses)–so I’m not even going to link it here.)

I’m going to save The X-Files for another post, because I have many, many thoughts about the original series and its reboot.

Shadowhunters and The Magicians are both shows based on series of young adult novels. Since The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I think authors have been pressured to put out series of books. Sometimes this works great, like with the Shadowhunters and Magicians, and other times it really fizzles out, like with Hunger Games, Divergent and Maze Runner. I’d also argue that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fizzles out, but I think that has less to do with the material and more with the fact that the author keeled over immediately after handing in his manuscripts and the stories read as though they weren’t properly edited.

The Shadowhunters was made into a movie a few years ago, and it was all right, but nothing to write home about. The television show, which has been heavily promoted on Freeform (formerly the ABC Family network), is a force to be reckoned with, from impressive sets and special effects and costuming to a pretty good relationship to the story line. Overall, I like the casting better than the movie, and most of the actors aren’t big names. I think that’s where the network saved its money, but that could be opinion on my part.

The same could be said for The Magicians (airing on SyFy), which is sort of like a grown-up Harry Potter, in which the main character goes to graduate school for magic instead of a middle school and high school. The characters in The Magicians are older than the Shadowhunters, so they are more complicated and complex.

I don’t know how long these shows were in development, compared with shows that aren’t based on any previously published material. Were their scripts harder to bring to the screen? At any rate, I like the results of both efforts so far, but my expectations are higher with The Magicians, simply because I thought the books were better.



Young Adult Television

Snow Days

We live in a rather upper-middle-class area in the Mid-Atlantic region. It’s my strong opinion that the pressures surrounding parenthood–and motherhood in particular–are relentless, and in my community most of the mothers are trying to constantly out-mom one another.

The pressure starts before pregnancy even begins, with the deification of motherhood as some lofty, selfless achievement that gets its own holiday, complete with guilt resulting from a potentially complicated relationship with your own mother and your constant review of your own parenting choices.

Social media makes everything so much worse, because moms simultaneously can edit the imperfection from their lives and judge others.

My children are in elementary school, and it’s a great community with a ton of involved parents. I always help when I’m asked, but I’ve never volunteered to be a room mom or taken on any leadership position with our PTO. I think the people who do are great and selfless, because from what I understand it’s a lot like herding cats.

Because we live in the Mid-Atlantic region, we shockingly experience winter weather during the winter months, including snow, ice and sleet. For some inexplicable reason, the school doesn’t build snow days into the calendar. If the district cancels school, that day is made up at the end of the school year. Early dismissals and morning delays are a bit of a better choice, because the school administration has a lot more flexibility when it comes to making up work that’s missed.

We’ve got walloped with a lot of snowstorms over the past few years. (I know! I know! Global warming doesn’t exist!) But every time there is a hint of snow in the forecast, a group of women get positively rabid and aren’t satisfied until there is (a) plowable snow that results in (b) one or more snow days. On Facebook there are a number of similar photos from different people that show up in my feed:

  • Children wearing their pajamas inside out
  • Flashback to previous winters’ shenanigans, including snowmen and snowforts
  • Multiple weather models of the upcoming event, from international satellites that more often than not don’t agree
  • Best sledding hills

The posts are all the same: Making Memories! Cherish Every Moment! Here’s How to Keep Snowballs Frozen All Year Round!

The underlying assumption is you’re a better mom if you want your children to be at home with you during winter months–summer vacation isn’t enough–crafting and baking and doing loads and loads of laundry.

And lo, this past weekend, the Snow Gods appeased the Rabid Mamas and granted a season’s worth of snow in 24 hours. The mamas complained that it was over a weekend but again, the Snow Gods looked down on them and found favor. School was cancelled Monday and I just got the text that it’s closed tomorrow, too.

But! The Rabid Mamas are beginning to turn on the Snow Gods. Apparently, there are no more memories to be made after one snow day. There is nothing else left to be cherished. The Facebook posts are starting to complain about spring break being shortened. The sweet offspring whose pajamas were inside out now have cabin fever and are about to kill one another. There are not enough sad emojis to replace all the manic winter emojis.

I like winter just as much as the next person, but my children and I thrive on routine. Even if storms hit on a weekend, lots of things are thrown out of whack, and my house isn’t exactly comfortable until a predictable pattern reasserts itself again. Nine months of school helps instill a routine, and no amount of crafting or Monopoly is going to bring that back until the classrooms open again.








Snow Days