I don't often think about feminism or gender stereotypes unless confronted with news on either front. Today however, I was perusing facebook and saw a post that really got me thinking. Here is part of the post from my friend Sarah on feminism:
Reading her post brought up my own internal dialogue on feminism that I've been processing for years. What resonates for me right now as a mother of a pre-teen boy is that feminism shouldn't just be about female empowerment anymore. As Sarah points out, it's much more about tearing down harmful gender-assigned values.
However, before I point our finger at our flawed society, I think it's important to acknowledge that there is something to gender. You wouldn't have found me making this argument before I became a mother. My experience has left me irretrievably convinced that gender is in fact more than just a societal construct.
Eleven years ago when I discovered that I was going to have a boy, I was terrified. I was a single mom and knew nothing about what boys needed. I had no idea what to expect.
In college I had taken classes in which we debated the influence of nature vs nurture, and I had come to the conclusion that gender was a completely nurture based social construct. I was sure of it.
I was sure of it that is, until my son taught me differently. Oh, I was going to give him every opportunity to be his gender neutral self - I dressed him in gender neutral clothing, provided him with gender neutral toys, and played with him in a gender neutral fashion. Before he was old enough to protest or know the difference, I even snuck him into a mother-daughter tea by dressing him up as a girl. I kept him away from all media, and none of the other caregivers he had in his life pushed him towards boy things.
And yet, from the moment he could control his limbs he propelled himself towards all things boy. He liked balls and trucks and trains. He seemed to care briefly for his baby doll, but was riveted for hours playing with tigers, dinosaurs and cars.
To put the final nail in the coffin, when my son was eight months old my sister had a little girl. My sister didn't dress her little girl in pink or embrace any of the stereotypical girly nonsense. And yet, just as my son gravitated towards all things boy, so my niece gravitated towards all things girl. Before long I had to admit that my theory was wrong. Gender wasn't just a societal construct after all.
It's been interesting to see my son enjoy and embrace his masculine nature as he's grown up. As he naturally gravitates towards stereotypical masculine pursuits, I've received a big lesson in acceptance and tolerance.
To deny my son his exuberant boyness would be just as cruel as denying an effeminate boy his tenderness.
Which is not to say that my son does not have tenderness, or that a more effeminate boy does not have boyness.
And in this lies the true lesson for all of us as we evolve past the dark ages of sexism into a new realm of acceptance.
Nobody is all masculine or all feminine. We all hold traits of both, just in varying degrees. Accepting this yin-yang nature of our gender is the key to becoming whole, both as individuals and as a society.
I have often thought that the problem with feminism is that there was no corresponding counterpart for men. Men are not supposed to wear skirts or makeup, are teased for being vulnerable, and generally pushed to only embrace the masculine aspect of their nature.
I've also observed that women are increasingly being pushed to become more masculine. They are expected to be career-focused, discouraged from being too emotional, and more and more female media characters are strong, brawny warrior types.
It may be that the new wave of feminism will be less about pushing for women to have the right to be equal to men, and more about embracing femininity in both men and women.
And I hope that there will also be a corresponding movement for embracing the masculine. I'm not sure if this exists already, and if it does if there is a term for it. Masculism perhaps? And at first this might look a lot like feminism did, with men fighting for the right to be feminine. But eventually I hope that the two will come together and that we will all feel completely comfortable with both the masculine and feminine inside all of us.
Dear Friends and Family,
We have some news about our baby that we would like to share with you. Our baby has Down syndrome and a heart defect.
This was scary news for us to get, and it’s taken us awhile to process it. Fortunately we live in an area that has a lot of resources for parents like us, and we’ve been able to connect with other parents who have been through this. We still don’t know exactly what to expect, but we have a much better idea now.
In many ways our baby will be the same as most babies. It will be cute and cuddly and need lots of love and attention. It will sit up, crawl, walk, talk, go to school, read and write, learn lots of things and eventually grow up to be an adult. The differences will be that our baby will need extra time, help, and open-heart surgery at 4-6 months.
The heart defect is called an AV canal defect. This is a common defect, especially with babies that have Down syndrome. What it means is that the heart is not separated into four chambers, but is open in the center due to a missing valve. Otherwise the heart functions normally. Eventually this can cause the freshly oxygenated and depleted blood to mix, and can put more pressure on the lungs, potentially causing damage.
Thankfully there has been a surgery to fix this type of defect since the 1950’s. We have a great children’s hospital right near us in Denver with experienced surgeons that have done lots of these surgeries, and the surgery has a 98% success rate. Most likely once our baby has the surgery the heart will be repaired for life.
In addition to heart defects, there are other health problems that are common in children with Down syndrome. Whether our baby has these problems and to what degree we won’t know until we get there. Again we are lucky to live in an area with great support and resources for parents of children with Down syndrome.
At this point we do not want sympathy, but we do want love and support. You can support us by learning more about Down syndrome, staying positive and congratulatory, and recognizing that we might need extra help along the way.
Visits are encouraged! Come get to know our baby, give us a little support and Caspian the extra attention he will most likely need.
Here's a short video of Caspian explaining what Down Syndrome is to my niece Lily. He gets some of the facts slightly wrong (it is a difference between 46 and 47 chromosomes, not 36 and 37, and the soft muscle tone is called hypotonia) but otherwise he explains it beautifully, and I love the acceptance and ease with which my niece receives the news.
Here are links to some resources for you to find out more about Down syndrome and the AV Canal Defect:
A great booklet for loved ones of someone who has received a Down syndrome diagnosis, I highly recommend you take a minute to look through this, it will likely address some of the feelings and answer some of the questions you may have
Information on the AV Canal Defect
Information on the Buddy Walk, a walk to support Down syndrome This is a mile long walk that takes place all over the world to support Down syndrome awareness. Consider signing up for one near you, it would mean a lot to us.
Here are some good videos on Down syndrome:
Caution, this video might make you cry: “Dear Future Mom”
“Just Like You” - Teens with Down Syndrome and their best friends talk about what it's like
“Tim’s Place Albuquerque: Service with a Smile” - An adult with Down syndrome serves up hugs and meals, if you're in Albuquerque make sure to stop here for lunch
There are many more resources to check out, but those should get you started.
Our due date is August 14th, though the baby could easily be born at any time in August, so please don’t rush us as the due date nears, we will let everyone know when the baby is born.
We're very excited that we have been given the go ahead by the cardiologist to have a natural birth, and we've found a great option with great medical care on hand.
We will be delivering with Boulder Nurse Midwives at the Boulder Foothills Hospital Birth Center. This is one of the most progressive hospitals in the country. If the baby does need intensive care, we will simply be moved to a family suite with a special care nursery attached, allowing us to stay close while the baby receives specialized care. (Most hospitals whisk the baby away to another floor, and the parents are only allowed to visit, so we feel so lucky to have this option available to us.)
We are not finding out the gender until the baby is born, so it will be a surprise. Feel free to put your bets in now, you've got a 50-50 chance of being right.
Thanks for your support and understanding,
Taymar, Max and Caspian
If you're not Native American or a football fan, you might think that the Washington Redskins name change controversy doesn't affect you, so there's no reason to get involved. Please let me disabuse you of this notion.
America has a very unpleasant history of treatment towards our indigenous people that most of us don't like to think about.
If you're a typical American you were probably taught history that began when Columbus "discovered" America. What you know about the people who already lived here is probably pretty fuzzy. Perhaps a vague something about people in skimpy outfits with feather headdresses, bows and arrows, living in tipis. These people were either terrible savages that attacked the poor colonists or nice savages that showed them how to live in the new land and shared a lovely Thanksgiving meal with them.
When you think about what those people are like now, it's probably also pretty fuzzy. Some vague image involving casinos, alcoholism and some kind of spiritual connection with nature.
The actual truth of our American history is much too painful for most of us to bear. Columbus didn't discover America, there were already people here. Millions of people were intentionally, brutally massacred. Those that survived were forced onto reservations, their lands and ways of life taken from them by force.
As if this genocide weren't enough, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the government inflicted a cultural warfare on the remaining American Indian population. Babies were taken from their parents and adopted out to white families whenever possible. Children were taken from their parents and forced into boarding schools where they were treated as slave labor and punished for speaking their own language or practicing their customs.
This might seem like ancient history, but it's not. Native Americans continue to be subjected to terrible racism and bigotry. Like the owner of the Washington Redskins refusing to change the name of the team despite the protest of millions of Native Americans who are tired of being objectified and insulted.
We have acknowledged that kidnapping and enslaving people from Africa was wrong, and fired the owner of the Clippers for making racist comments. Yet when it comes to our indigenous people, we have yet to make a stand.
Today the US Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the federal trademark of the Redskins due to it's offensive nature. This seems like good news, but a similar ruling was overthrown in 1999. Dan Snyder, the owner of the Redskins has pledged to "never" change the name. Unless the majority of Americans are willing to stand together with our Native people and say "This is wrong, it's time to change it", this ruling could be overturned again.
I don't understand what Dan Snyder is thinking, how he can justify claiming that he knows more about what is offensive to another culture than the people from that culture. It is mind boggling to me. I would like him to imagine how he would feel if there was a German soccer team called the "German Candles" with a sterotypical image of a Jew as their mascot. How would he feel if the team owner declared that he would never change the name and denied that this was offensive to Jews, even though the owner was not a Jew himself?
I grew up on the Navajo Nation and am very familiar with tribal customs and culture. Many of my best friends are Native American. But I am not, and I would never presume to say what is and isn't offensive to a culture that is not mine. I don't have to guess whether the use of the name Redskins is offensive or not, it is enough for me that many people from many different tribes have expressed that they feel that it is.
It is time to change the name.
Go ahead, touch my belly
I'm 30 weeks pregnant and I love it when people not only acknowledge that I'm pregnant, but marvel in the miracle of it by touching my belly and talking to the baby in there.
I have a message for the pregnant women who have expressed discomfort at people wanting to touch their bellies: GET OVER IT! You are about to have strangers sticking their hands up your vagina and you're worried about someone touching your belly? Seriously, relax. Stop ruining it for the rest of us with your petty complaints.
Saturday I arrived at a barbecue around the same time as another pregnant woman I know. We joyfully rubbed our bellies together while encouraging our babies to say hello. It was awesome! And it made me realize that because of the outspoken backlash of those few people who find having their bellies touched uncomfortable, I haven't gotten as much belly love as I would like.
I appreciate your desire to be polite, but ignoring the miracle that is going on in front of you is a sad state of affairs as well.
I know that nobody wants to be in the awkward position of assuming someone is pregnant who turns out to just be fat, but I am enormous and people are still acting surprised when I mention that I'm due in a few months. Really? You thought that was just a beer gut? Come on people, if my belly is that big and I'm *not* pregnant, we've got bigger problems here than a minor social faux pax.
I've traveled quite a bit recently and been disappointed that nobody has offered to help me as I've struggled with getting my bag up and down from the overhead compartment. This sucks. Being pregnant is so uncomfortable and the only upside is that people should be nicer to you.
The next time you see a pregnant person struggling, offer to help.
And yes, there are people who don't like to have their belly touched, it's true, but they're not the only pregnant ones out there. So if you want to touch a beautiful bulging baby in a belly, just ask, because there's also people like me, who will appreciate the attention.
Since becoming a mom to a little boy with Trisomy 21 I have written a lot about Down syndrome and disabilities. I am a storyteller, wife and mom to a teen and a toddler. Life is busy!