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Reel Mama: August 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is your kid a dude or a chick?

This was a question recently posed to me at a grocery checkout line by the bagboy. I replied, “Well, she is covered head to toe in pink plus wearing glittery Princess tennis shoes.”  “So what?  Justin Bieber wears pink!” the cashier chimed in. 

He has a point.  And thank you, Justin Bieber, for being a progressive enough young man to wear pink.  After all, where is it written that men can’t wear pink?  Pink on a man can be very attractive, and not just on a tie.  And why the unwritten rule that baby girls must wear pink in order to be recognized by their gender?  And yet, because my daughter has very short curly hair, unless she is wearing something pink, at the very least a headband, she will inevitably be mistaken for a boy.

I remember the first time my daughter was mistaken for a boy.  She was wearing a brown onesie that said “Little girl, big dreams.”  Yes, “little girl” was actually emblazoned right on her person.  And yet, because the onesie wasn’t pink, a fellow mom thought she was a boy.  At the time I was upset, but now I’ve learned to let it go, because sometimes it’s fun for my daughter to wear blue or even brown and orange. 

We have arrived at a point where almost no toy is gender neutral.  Yes, even the Rock-a-stack comes in a version for little girls, with varying shades of pastel pink.  What is the message?  That primary colors are only for little boys?  I had to draw the line there.  Babies love to look at bright colors.  It’s a part of their development, and the pastels just weren’t as eye catching. 

Strangely, there’s some part of me that feels guilty when I consciously opt for the gender-neutral option, or even when I walk on the wild side and purchase something blue for my daughter.  Sometimes I feel guilty for not buying the pink version because in that moment I’m not singling out my daughter as the special one, the princess.  I’m deliberately choosing a toy that could be passed on to a future sibling, cousin, or friend of Leilani’s regardless of gender.  The toy companies hate this.

There’s something brilliant in the marketing of these toys that wouldn’t be gender specific if it weren’t for the new color-coding system: the regular version of the toy is now for the boys, and the telltale pink one is for the girls.  If you have or are related to a boy and a girl, whether they are your children, niece and nephew, or grandchildren, or even a friend’s children, you have to buy two of everything.

And yet there’s a part of me that deeply enjoys succumbing to the pink and celebrating my daughter’s femininity.  Even the backdrop of my blog is pink.  As the parent of a little girl, I believe it’s okay to enjoy the “sugar and spice and everything nice” and see the world through pink-colored glasses for a while. It can be a healthy and fun part of my daughter’s growing up, but it won’t be everything.  We can enjoy it and celebrate it without letting it take over our lives with the overwhelming compulsion to purchase everything in pink until she turns 18.  After all, Leilani’s favorite toy of all is Elmo, who isn't all that gender specific except for the name.  For Leilani the pink-clad Disney Princesses and Dora are a very distant second and third to our adorable furry red hero.

It’s going to be okay that Leilani loves her dollies and her dresses.  It’s going to be okay that all of her Legos aren’t pink.  And someday when she grows up, if she wants to move into the Barbie Dream House, I guess I would be okay with that.  After all, not all of them are pink.  Some of them are lavender. And once upon a time, they came in yellow and even (gasp!)…BLUE!  Unthinkable!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Equal Rights

Maybe you recall the study that came out a couple of years ago revealing that women rule the roost in marriage. Women yield considerably more influence, it would seem, than in the real world, where the norms of society would suggest that it’s a man’s world, though that seems to be changing.

In a CBS news article discussing the findings, researcher David Vogel, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Iowa State, is quoted as saying, “This study at least suggests that the marriage is a place where women can exert some power. Whether or not it's because of changing societal roles, we don't know. But they are, at least, taking responsibility and power in these relationships.”

The results seemed to surprise the researcher, but they don’t surprise me at all. 

Think of the classic I Love Lucy episodes from the fifties.  Even during this time, when America was full of housewives who met and exceeded incredibly high standards for maintaining a household and raising children, women ruling the roost was shown as a fact of life on I Love Lucy.  In the show, Lucy always finds a way to exert her influence over husband Ricky and ultimately get him to do what she wants.

Of course there were many other shows in the fifties like Father Knows Best, where the kind but firm father figure laid down the law and maintained the order of the family unit, but I think that “I Love Lucy” was so popular from its inception and has endured the test of time because people truly can relate to it, even today.  With a wink and a nod it portrayed married life as it truly is, with the wives somehow always getting their way, and the husbands going along with it because…well, there may be many reasons. One is love.  Many men probably want to maintain a happy marriage and please their wives.  And depending on the relationship there are other reasons I’m sure, some of which could command a Facebook-style “It’s complicated” label.  Even Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s marriage was incredibly complicated in real life, and far less than ideal. 

But in successful marriages, perhaps men are okay with women wearing the pants in marriage because marriage is a refuge for men, a kind of safe haven, the one place where they feel like they don’t have to be in control necessarily.  They feel okay with letting go a little and letting the wife take the wheel (figuratively speaking of course, because in real cars, let’s face it, men hate sitting in the passenger seat).

And so for marriage, it seems it’s best when women wear the pants.  But we also want to wear dresses.  And we also want to believe that chivalry is not dead.

Herein lies feminism’s greatest conundrum, as portrayed in the Lucy episode “Equal Rights.”  We as women want equal rights.  Indeed surveys are now indicating that in the workplace currently there are more women than men (see New York Times article As Layoffs Surge, Women May Pass Men in Job Force).  I want every workplace right imaginable (especially when it comes to maternity).  I want passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.  I want the fact that women make 77 cents for every dollar men earn to be a thing of the past.  And I also get mad when a man lets a door slam in my face.  I was so mad I couldn’t see straight at the men (especially the young ones listening to their iPods) who didn’t give up their seat on the commuter bus when I was almost nine months pregnant holding onto a leather strap as we careened toward downtown LA. 

Maybe I shouldn’t focus so much on the men in these situations.  Maybe it’s a problem of general rudeness: a woman could have just as easily given up her seat, and I would have been just as grateful.

Nevertheless, I think Blanche Devereux of the Golden Girls got it right, when trying to explain to the new feminism to her confused date:  “I don't want to be treated as your equal...I want to be treated much better than you!”

I can live with that.  Now how do we get that into an amendment?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sex and Fast Food

It finally happened.  Wendy, the beloved pig-tailed redhead icon of the hamburger chain, has grown up.  In Russia, of all places.  Sporting red-and-white striped legwarmers and black stiletto heels, the new Wendy is sexing it up to attract new customers in the former Soviet Union, but apparently she’s getting a frosty reception from Wendy’s American executives and nostalgic hamburger aficionados, who can’t deal with the makeover of America’s wholesome sweetheart.  After all, Wendy is the face of the founder’s daughter when she was only eight.

But in this case, when I saw the images, I felt that they were pretty tame.  The dress is above the knee and the stilettos would do any drag queen proud, but I don’t think you’ll be seeing her on your local street corner any time soon.  The high-neck collar of the prairie dress is still in tact, along with the pigtails.  She’s Laura Ingalls from the thighs up.
Then there is the shameless misogyny of Carl’s Jr., which shows sexy women riding mechanical bulls, and most recently, Miss Turkey in an “eensy weensy” bikini polka dotted with burgers, advertising the new turkey burger.  Though there is the obligatory kids’ menu at Carl’s Jr., the restaurant doesn’t even provide a changing table in its restrooms.  The message is clear: men, and maybe their dates, single supermodels built like a brick house (36, 24, 36—but try keeping those numbers after eating a Western bacon burger, thus the turkey burger, I guess), need apply.  It’s playing into a disgusting male fantasy about sex and food.  And yet, Carl’s Jr. still manages to break down my feminist resistance.  I find myself going there, because they make their shakes with real ice cream.  It’s hand-scooped!  My “brick house” days are behind me, thanks to Carl’s Jr.  (Now I’m made of something more malleable, like stucco.)

Which brings me to what I really want to write about: the doll bust my daughter recently got in her first Happy Meal at MacDonald’s.  It was one of the Liv dolls, only the head and shoulders, kind of reminiscent of the Barbie styling heads, only in miniature and much more garish.

Her caption read “When she grows up she wants to be a musician,” but she already looked like a 25-year-old waiting her turn to bear all on the next Girls Gone Wild video. In fact, she looked like she’s been around the block more times than the ice cream truck. My friend pointed out that what made her so sleazy was the hairstyle.  It was just bad, and that, coupled with the mortuary makeup and bra-like top, made me hit the ceiling.  Mama Bear was not happy when she opened this Happy Meal.  It made me think that the fast food powers-that-be believe our daughters aren’t growing up fast enough.  The restaurants need to hand out busts of sorority girls who partied too hard on spring break to show our daughters the image to which they should aspire.

There are ways for the fast food restaurants to keep moms happy.  A: Have changing tables.  B: Have wholesome toys in your kids’ meals (since then the Happy Meal favors have gotten much tamer, with Strawberry Shortcake and Smurfette).  And C: kindly remove the calories from your chocolate chip cookie shakes.  And please, Carl’s Jr., give your local soccer (ballet, gymnastics, etc.) mom a turn on the mechanical bull.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I Need a Wife

"I Want a Wife" was Judy Brady’s groundbreaking feminist manifesto that first appeared in Ms. Magazine in 1971.  In it she enumerates the many qualities she would hope for in a wife: loyalty, selflessness, efficiency, dedication, to name a few.  The subtext is a scathing commentary on the traditional concept that a wife must do it all: be attentive to her husband’s needs, maintain a spotless home, take full charge of the children, and even work.  The standards she described for a supermom haven’t changed in 40 years, but there has been a shift.  What Ms. Brady described in the essay were expectations that husbands traditionally had for their wives.  Reading the essay now, I realize that these have become the expectations that we as wives (and girlfriends) place upon ourselves.  We still want to be perfect, even though husbands’ roles today have shifted too.  Today’s husbands, and I’ll include mine here, are sweet, supportive, take a much larger role in caring for the kids, and even do the dishes.

Nevertheless, “I want a wife” is still a wish uttered over blown-out birthday candles by women the world over all these years later.  It sounds strange at first, but supermoms’ “I need/want a wife” mantra has nothing to do with Big Love.  To me it means that women, many of them supermoms trying to do it all, still need a third party in their lives, someone to handle all the things a wife traditionally does: laundry, dishes, thankless errands, and maybe the unglamorous side of parenting like changing diapers and emptying out the Diaper Champ.  The wife is preferable to a housekeeper because you don’t have to pay her.  She’s more like a personal assistant, one who’s available 24/7 at no charge.

I’ve thought about this concept in my own life.  Introducing a third party into any marriage is tricky, even though the worry-free prospect of someone else emptying out the dryer’s lint rack is highly enticing.  Suddenly my husband and I wouldn’t have to nag each other about those unpleasant household chores neither one of us wants to do, because my wife would do it.   

But where would my new wife live?  Presumably it would be under the same roof.  Would she eat her meals with us?  And where would she sleep?  Would we really have to make it legal?  It gets complicated.

Perhaps the problem could be better solved with the time-honored fantasy of cloning oneself.  My favorite example of this (and how the concept can go awry) is in the film Multiplicity, where each clone gets progressively worse, kind of like photocopying an original, then making a copy of a copy ad infinitum yields progressively poorer quality.  The first clone is fabulous, the second clone is just okay, and the third is a stinking bum.  When I think of myself first thing in the morning, then consider the possibility of a third clone of what I see in the mirror, well, the prospect is frightening.  But then again, maybe I can learn to delegate to my clones in spite of their shortcomings.  The first clone would be in charge of the high priority tasks like balancing my checkbook (and this one could have a driver’s license), the second would be in charge of tasks of less import such as weed-pulling or pan-scrubbing, and the third would only be in charge of removing said dryer lint. 

Works for me.  Kind of.  Because suddenly I’m facing the prospect of having to feed and clothe three extra people.  Three extra mouths to feed… Where would they sleep? Suddenly we are maintaining my clones, like three overgrown adopted children.  Would we have to make it legal? This could get complicated.

Okay, back to one.  Looks like it’ll have to be little old me.  I’ll just have to wait until my daughter is old enough to clean out the dryer lint, and then she can use it to create interesting sculptures.  It will be great for her creative development.  And everybody will be happy.