The world I would give my daughter

My daughter is asleep in her bed.

She lives a safe, secure life. I’m a stay-at-home-parent. She has never been left in the care of anyone other than her parents.

She cannot live all her life this way. I do not want her to.

One day I want her to venture out in this world. I want her to have freedoms. I want her to have choice.

I want her to be able to acknowledge that so many blessings and privileges she enjoys are due to the hard work of women before her. The right to her own money. The right to work, to own property. The right to an education. The right to control her own fertility. The right to marry and divorce, when and if she chooses.

I want her to understand that these blessings and privileges are not extended to all women around the world. I want her to believe in the right for all women to enjoy them. I want her to be unafraid to speak when necessary for those who can’t, and to listen and support those women who can.

I want her to live in a world where her right to exist in public is never questioned, where it will not make her a target for abuse. A world where women can be leaders without being called bossy, argumentative without being called shrill, annoyed without being called hormonal. A world where she can be a mother without being called slummy or yummy. A world where women are not judged by what bathroom they choose, or what size they wear. A world where women are not shamed for the natural functions of their bodies. A world where women are not asking for it. A world where women never have to be told to smile, or brushed off because it was just a joke.

She is too young to ask for things herself. She knows nothing of these troubles. So, while she sleeps, safe in her bed I will be her voice.

This is the world I would give my daughter. Tell me, is this too much to ask?

(Boys and) Girls Can Do Anything

Gender Stereotyping.

It is impossible to avoid.

It starts as soon as the hospital staff hand you the pink hat, or the blue boots.  The message is clear: this defines your child.

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Should we brush it off as harmless? Or should we fight it?

I fight it. I fight it because I believe this is the beginning of the same forces that trap boys in displays of toxic masculinity, bottling up emotion, at best leaving them unhappy, at worst leaving them prey to mental illness, or alt-right chat boards. Our daughters fare worse, at best trapped under glass ceilings or, at worst, victims of gender-based violence.

It creeps in though, it’s unavoidable.

The girl at my son’s kindergarten, who asks why his sister in dressed in a skirt with pirates on it? Pirates are for boys.

Or the books we love despite their depressingly dated sexism. Richard Scarry is a repeat offender. I give radical feminist interpretations of classic books like Dear Zoo, making half the animals ‘she’ instead of ‘he’. Even new books fall into this trap, like the current favourite about a boy and a dragon- a male dragon, of course. I call the dragon ‘she’ and ‘her’ and guess what? The book still makes sense.

MJ whispers, he wants to wear his ‘dancing skirt’, a pink tutu we were handed down. He spins and pirouettes on our bed, dancing even when the radio is between songs. Once wearing the skirt he loses any inhibitions but I wonder, where did he learn that we might not like him dressing in it? I cheer him enthusiastically, trying to chase any doubts away.

Yesterday MJ made a bracelet at kindergarten. Silver and white and brown and pink plastic beads on a piece of elastic. He was so pleased with it. Silver is my new favourite colour. He runs his finger over the beads, leans against me, tells me something his best friend said
“He didn’t like it, but then he said he didn’t mean it.”
Head bowed, I can hear the hurt in his voice.
“Even if he didn’t mean it, it wasn’t a kind thing to say, was it?”
He sighs, wounded. I kiss his cheek. He leans in further
“Vank you for my lovely kiss.”
I breathe him in, my boy who can roll out a danish ‘soft d’ like a native speaker but can’t always manage ‘th’. He might be my big boy, but he is small and needs me still.
“Would you like another kiss?”
I ask hopefully.
“No.”
I am disappointed, but I respect his boundaries, and don’t kiss him. And there you have it, teaching consent to 4 year olds is really not that hard.

Buy boys dolls they say. MJ likes to play knights with his sword and shield. Not just knights, his interests are diverse, he likes to play vikings too. He doesn’t have a doll. Have I failed? Am I inadvertently entrenching the idea that nurturing is a female occupation? I take AJ into a toy shop and she reaches for all the dolls, grabs at the soft toys. This is something MJ never did. He has a monkey he loves, and he adores his cuski, a flannel baby comforter with a squishy ball shaped head. Cuski baby, he calls it.  It is cuski he cuddles at night, and cuski who sits on cushions next to the table at breakfast, and cuski he pretended to feed while I fed AJ. He might not have a doll but his devotion to cuski shows his nurturing capabilities are intact.

I think back to when he was his sister’s age. He liked Maisy, and running to the window whenever he heard a plane, which was often because we lived under the flight path, and picking flowers. AJ likes Maisy, and running to the window whenever we hear sirens, which is often because we live near the fire station, and doing whatever her brother is doing. Their interests seem to have more to do with environment than any in-built gender differences. But what do I know, I’m a parent, not in marketing for toy companies.

I want the world to be a better place for both my children. I want their futures to be open, not confined by arbitrary roles. Gender stereotyping affects boys and girls. I want my son to imagine being a stay at home Dad, and my daughter to imagine working in STEM.

We’ve come a long way since my mother was told she could be a teacher or a nurse. Times change. Feminism has won, they say, you can do anything. At my intermediate school there was an extension math group, for ‘students’ who were good at maths. There were no girls in this group. I was sat next to a boy who was struggling in math class, expected to help. When I was asked why, they said because you are good at maths. Feminism has won, they say.

“Lets play Frozen” MJ says “I’ll be…” He leans in close, whispers “Elsa.” As though there is something transgressive about this idea. I marvel at him pretending to blast out ice. I usually play the ice monster. Roaring and chasing two giggling kids around the house. Why does he think I would mind?

My last conversation at the hospital with my mother, I don’t know how we got there, but I remember her saying girls can do anything.
“Yes” I replied “I’ll make sure I teach MJ that.”
She smiled, coughed, raised her index finger in agreement, “make sure you do.”
It is a promise I intend to keep.

There is just one thing wrong with that, I realise now. To teach him this, I need to teach him something else too. Boys can do anything.

 

Richer Than Trump

All the ways I am richer than Trump.

Dear Trump,

The morning you were elected we, in Denmark, woke to snow. My children laughed and pressed their faces up against our glass back door. I wonder, are you capable of such simple pleasures. These pleasures add a rich tapestry to our lives. Finer than any that hang in a museum. Do you know these riches?

We might not be able to afford a bedroom for each of our children, but I live in a house with insulated walls.  We have food in our cupboards. We may not have long term job security, or own property, but on a global scale we are fortunate. I am grateful for this fortune. I know myself to be rich.

Trump and his gilded chair. Regine Mahaux, Getty Images.

You live in a house with gilded chairs. Are they any more comfortable than my Ikea armchair? Is your table as precious to you as my coffee table? The one given to my mother for her 21st birthday. Stained and battered with the memories of all our childhoods? Is there anything in all your towers that you truly love, Trump?

I have a marriage based on the principles of equality and respect and love. Is your marriage as rich as mine? I should not presume to judge you. Yet, I see little to envy. Perhaps you think others respect you. I can tell you respect that is bought with money, respect that is sometimes a masquerade for intimidation and fear, is no respect worth having.

I am so fortunate to be a woman living in a time and place where I have a right to an education. For centuries women’s lives were dominated by the the burden of reproduction and now I have choice. I have two children I love and chose to have. Now I can choose to not have any more. My life is so rich for these choices. Rich in ways I do not think you can begin to comprehend. So I will continue to speak out for the right of all women around the world to control their fertility. You and your establishment friends seem to see this as something to be controlled and feared. How sad for you, to be so afraid of our wealth.

I am rich because I see science as a contribution, as mankind’s greatest gift to itself. I do not fear it, or try to deny it, even when it tells me things I would not like to hear. I heed its warnings and believe we will continue to progress. I am rich because I believe in our ability to work together. The world has done this before and with our collective weight we will not let you stand in our way.

I am rich because I choose to use my privileges to speak for those in need. Instead of shouting the loudest, I have learnt to listen. There is so much to learn in this world. I do not think I have all the solutions, but I can work with people and together we achieve great things. Things that are truly great. Not just great for some.

I am rich because where you promise walls, I would build bridges.

Have you heard the story of King Midas? He was so greedy he wished to turn everything he touched into gold. But when he could no longer eat and drink he regretted his wish, and once he had turned his daughter to gold he loathed it. Have you been careful what you wish for Trump?

Your name will go down in the history books. I will be forgotten long before you. My legacy will be small. Confined to the corner of the world I inhabit. I look at my children and I see so much potential. I see the real treasures of this world. If I can raise my children to be kind, to act selflessly, to listen and learn and respect all people, regardless of their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, their abilities, then I will consider my life a life well lived.

You might think you have it all: money, power, prestige. I look at your life, Trump, and I see nothing that I want.

I am far, far richer than you.

 

Stuck in the middle

The other weekend we went blackberry picking on a path near where we live. Like we might be the type of family that lives knee deep in Lego and laundry, watching TV in a super-urban apartment, and goodness knows what Janet Lansbury would make of the way I snap at the kids sometimes, but, whatever. We are also the kind of family that makes foraged jam. So wholesome.

I concentrated on filling up my ice-cream container while my husband helped M, who was very proud of the ten or so berries that ended up in his bucket. We left A buckled in her pram for safety’s sake, and as long as I fed her a berry every now and again she was happy. Until she wasn’t. And just then a family boated past us on the river, having a family sing-along.

Dammit. This isn’t wholesome family fun. Family sing-alongs while you boat is wholesome family fun. I’m doing this wrong. What must they think of the crazy woman standing in the blackberries while a toddler yells in a pram.

The yelling turns into crying.

I try to extract myself from the bush – cursing myself for wearing a skirt. And realise my jacket is snagged in many, many places. Turning to deal with that, my hair gets snagged by more thorns. I remember a recent episode of Peppa Pig, the one where they go blackberry picking and Mummy Pig gets stuck in a blackberry bush.

I have turned into Mummy Pig.

Dammit.

Mummy Pig just wants wholesome family fun. She just wants some fruit. And five minutes to pick berries without having to stop and admire a four year old’s basically empty bucket, or be yelled at. She just wants jam and maybe a crumble or two. Why does she have to be judged for her food choices? Why does she have to have her dignity stripped away by a blackberry bush – let’s all come laugh at the fat pig stuck in the prickly thorns! Why does she have to involve the whole family and share when all she wants is a fucking dessert? It’s not all about you Peppa!

Somehow I ripped myself free.

Or did I?

I came home to see the always excellent Andie Fox (@bluemilk) retweeting an old post because the same old tired arguments about mothers keep happening.

We will know we’re living in a world of equality not when just as many men as women are staying home making jam and looking after babies but when women can talk about their life making jam and looking after babies without everyone freaking the fuck out.

Because maybe the blackberry bush I am actually stuck in is a metaphorical one; a thorny tangle of attacking mothers for the choices they make. It seems in these days of information overload, we can’t just make a decision. We are expected to have thought about it – to have done our research. Then everyone gets to analyse our decision, and journalists write crappy clickbait articles about the mommy wars. But these choices (if we actually get a choice) aren’t about society. They are just the choices that we make for our life. Choosing jam doesn’t mean giving up on gender equality. But it is hard when you are in the thick of it to know if what you are doing is right. So does picking blackberries make me a better mother? Or does being mired in domesticity mean I am a poor role model? Or does it tell you nothing about me other than the fact we have blackberry bushes nearby and I like to cook?

And to eat.

So I made crumble. And I made jam. And my children and I shared licking the spoon and got happy, sticky, jammy faces.

Conclusion: It’s just fucking jam. Stop overthinking things.

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No More

I don’t want to have another child.

It just isn’t a possibility I can even consider.

I can’t face the thought of another pregnancy; nine long months. And then what at the end?

Oh I’m sure everyone will tell me – a beautiful baby!

But there is another hurdle to face first. Another birth. And what should I do then. Push the baby out and try not to panic that I’m going to deliver my womb as well? A cesarean? Find myself tied down under those lights again? I know a planned surgical procedure would be different. But heck, I’m nervous about how I would cope at a dentists now. So.

So I don’t want another child.

So my heart is heavy for the young mother in Queensland who is asking to be sterilised and is being refused.

My heart is heavy because since when can women who have carried three children not be trusted to make this decision for themselves. Since forever.

And my heart is heavy because the Royal Aust and NZ College of Obstetricians & Gynocologists think it is too risky, because she might change her mind, when she is older. Because ‘less permanent options should be explored’.

Contraception has already failed these parents three times. What happens if it fails again? What sort of decisions are we forcing them into then?

This woman has reportedly had pregnancies complicated by Gestational Diabetes, and difficult deliveries. Getting through a first pregnancy can be tough for some women. Getting through a second pregnancy while caring for a small child can be really tough. I imagine getting through a third difficult pregnancy with two young children would be really, really tough. I can understand she can’t face the thought of a fourth pregnancy with three children to care for. So what exactly is supposed to happen to make this woman change her mind?

It is sometimes suggested to women that if one child dies, you might want another. Contrary to what some fogeys think, the current generation of young parents don’t view their children as replaceable accessories. I know for generations this is one reason why families were large, the heir and a spare. But the world has changed and now we invest in the children we do have.

Perhaps as their children grow older they will miss the baby stage so much they’ll wish they could go back and have another. I’m not going to pretend I expect never to gush over newborns again, to have a moment of imagining. But I know the second the implications of what that would entail occurred to me the wishing would stop. And sometimes we just have to make our peace with the facts. And the facts are four children is very expensive these days. A car big enough for all those car seats. A house big enough. The food bill. Most people can’t afford four children. And let’s not forget the slating large families get in the media if they need tax-payer help to make ends meet. Easier to slate them, than to help them control their fertility. So I can understand wondering and wishing, but I think many women are rational enough to let the facts win.

Or perhaps she should just be grateful for her fertility, when so many women struggle? But other women’s fertility should have no bearing on her individual case.

The real reason my heart is heavy is this. I think this family love their children. The children they already have, the one that is on the way. I think like all parents they want the best for the children they have, and they should not be denied this for the sake of the children they could possibly have. Sterilisation would remove stress from their lives.

Life with young children can be stressful. It is hard for parents to find time for themselves. This can in turn put stress on relationships. And yes, these parents are young, so let’s support them in having a strong relationship by recognising their joint decision that their childbearing days are done.  A sex life, intimacy is an important part of a relationship. If they are constantly worrying about conceiving a child how is that supposed to happen?

There is another option, if they do conceive a child through failed contraception again. But I thought we were supposed to be against abortion as contraception? Remember too that in Queensland abortion is only legal if performed for the mother’s physical or mental health.

So because this woman cannot be trusted to be rational enough to decide at 22 she doesn’t want her fourth child she may instead find herself asking her doctors to sign paperwork saying she is not physically or mentally capable of continuing with another pregnancy, after a fetus has been conceived.

And they say feminism is dead.

Holly Maitland’s online petition to Malcom Turnball to allow women control of their own fertility is here