Saturday, January 02, 2010

Thank you for blessing me with a mind to rhyme and two hype feet

Well. That little supermarket story seems to have hit a nerve and generated some interesting reactions.

I feel mean judging the mother like that, and I know that I might have taken what I saw and heard out of context. Like Amy said, it just might have been an ironic statement, though I didn't hear it that way. And like Karen said - and my sister (who has three small children) reacted similarly - maybe she would have said much the same to a boy who was banging inappropriately or annoyingly on the trolley handle.

I would probably buy this explanation, except that the child wasn't just banging or shouting, she seemed to be gleefully and not that loudly saying 'hammer hammer hammer' which makes me think she was actually acting out hammering specifically and maybe had been watching someone do it recently (or someone playing with a toy hammer). And the mother didn't sound annoyed or irritated, she said what she said quite sweetly to her daughter. Maybe she was annoyed but trying to be a "nice girl" or nice mum.

And that's the thing, even if she wasn't really telling her daughter to be girly and not play at carpentry, it's that phrase "nice girls" that really gives me a chill. I hope that was ironic. It's the sort of script that can replay in your head all your life.

Julie alluded to the risks of being brought up to be a nice girl. I've seen this idea in feminist and abuse survivor writing, about the stuff that women and girls will put up with, and the strategies they choose (and don't choose) in response to uncomfortable situations, in order to be nice and not make a fuss. It is ingrained deep in us.

On the other hand, to some extent we should all be nice. Human beings should on the whole try to be nice to each other. Why should it be the responsibility of women?

I agree with Dr K sometimes it seems like we have gone backwards. I don't know if this is just the 'jetpack effect' - that you would think that a lot more progress would have been made by now. I think there has also been an increase in religious fundamentalism in many parts of the world ... but that doesn't have a really large mainstream presence in Australia, so I don't know.

I wish gender didn't matter so much. I often find myself wishing I lived on an androgynous planet. (I read a wonderful story by Ursula LeGuin like that once.) I like and respond better to people who relate to me as a person (which of course does not exclude my gender) and not as some kind of representative of my gender.


amy said...

Well that's the thing about being a mother. We have a target on our back every time we leave the house with the kids. And since everyone at least has a mother, everyone feels qualified to judge. I don't mean to sound harsh, but I have been at the receiving end more times than I can count, and the market is a magnet, and often it's a case of someone walking into a scene and having no idea what came previously. For example, my toddler isn't so happy with sitting in the cart anymore, so I let her walk around as much as possible (kids really are restrained an awful lot, aren't they?). I was in the dairy section and letting her walk near me as I gathered things, because it's a fairly self-contained section of the store. When I was done I gave her a few more minutes to walk around, tried to get her to walk with me to the next section, then finally picked her up. She screeched, and right at that moment an older woman turned the corner, saw me holding a squirming screeching toddler, and frowned at me. Was it the screeching that offended her? The fact that the girl wasn't quiet? Did she think I'd hurt her somehow? Who knows? Who cares?

I could go on and on with more examples. Sometimes, yeah, I'm not being the best parent in the world. Other times people completely misunderstand. But it's like anything else--nobody really knows what's going on just by walking by. But it does seem that the whole world feels entitled to judge mothers in a way they don't judge other people. I certainly didn't feel like I had a target on my back BEFORE I had children.

amy said...

Me again. You know, it also occurred to me that this mother was trying to avoid judgment from those who would judge her because her child was noisy. It's hard being a mother out in public, especially when you're too aware of what others might say. It takes time to be confident enough to be true to yourself in all situations.

Just another thought. ;)

Karen said...

Rather than jetpacks, I thought we were supposed to have disposable paper clothing (wouldn't that be a blessing!) and a personal heliport on the roof. The "future" is not very different from the past. But you have to admit that cell phones and personal computers (along with the internet) have really changed the way we live as a whole, even if not everyone has embraced them fully.

Donna Lee said...

I was raised to be nice and I cringe inside when someone describes me that way. I wonder why that is? Being nice is not a bad thing. I agree with you that we should all be nicer to each other.

I don't think it should have anything to do with gender. (And I think I remember that LeGuin story). Think of how cool it would be if we were all more conscious of everyone else around us and how we are treating them.

I think the jetpacks are more likely to come first.

Alwen said...

I remember how taken aback I was when my niece told me "I don't play with trucks! I'm a girl!"

I had certainly played with my brothers' trucks. I especially liked their Tonka crane and the bulldozer.