Friday, January 30, 2015

More Amazing Disoveries (A Desert Reunion Part 2)

Lightening up things for your weekend, today I am finishing up the story of my first visit to meet my birth family.

We left off at the end of day 1, the initial meeting. (if you missed it, you can read my first post here).The next morning my Mom and I had some free time to ourselves so we walked over to a local diner and ate breakfast. We shared more details of our individual days and deconstructed where she saw similarities and differences. Shortly after we got back, my Birth Grandmother, let's call her G and her husband, R, came with her 3 grandsons, and my cousins. They are the sons of my Birth Father's younger sister and they are all middle school and early high school age. Additionally, I also had the pleasure of meeting the boys' father who suffers from Huntington's disease, which necessitates the boys living with G and R. It was snowing back home, and almost 95 degrees where we were, so we decided to go swimming at the pool in the complex.

Since it was day two we were all feeling much more comfortable with each other and the conversation came free and easy. It got to know my cousins and had a great time playing ball in the pool with them and racing them from one side to the other. I also took time to talk to each of the adults individually and ask them similar questions about what my father was like when he was younger, about his time in the military, about his wife that passed away. As an ethnographer I find that talking to enough people about a common event, a more complete picture starts to emerge. We all tend to remember things slightly differently and with different focuses, and with all things there are always more sides to every story. So, talking to them about these things gave me a more complete impression of my background history and the type of family that I ultimately come from.

After swimming, we all toweled off and went back to the little vacation home my Mom and I were staying at and made barbecue and had a mini-party. We talked some more and then retired back inside where I played Pokémon with the boys and my Mom practically grilled G and R for as much information she could get, just in case we didn't have this opportunity again.

By the time they left I was exhausted, but probably happier and more at peace than I have ever been. It was amazing how quickly I clicked with everyone. There was a definite feeling of coming home. As an anthropologist I of course had to sit and analyze it from a nature vs. nurture point of view, trying to identify all the places that I was influence by my parents (adopted) and where I was influenced by my genetics.

Our last half day, G and R came to hang out with us before taking us to the airport. By this time my head was so full of information it was swimming and I had to break out a notebook so that I could take notes. It was at breakfast  I made some of the most amazing discoveries of the weekend. I finally remembered to ask who in the family had curly hair since everyone in my family and The Husband's family all have straight hair with the sole exception of my middle child who looks like the second coming of Shirley Temple, or the real-life re-creation of Fancy Nancy. Turns out, G, or Raindrop's great grandmother, straightened her hair so much she lost some of her curl, but when she was little her hair was SUPER curly. Hooray for recessive genes. Excited I asked if she had any pictures I could take back to show my little Raindrop. Laughing she said, "Oh no, I hated my hair so much growing up that one day while my mom was out I snuck in and burned all my school pictures and I would never let anyone take any pictures of me." I made a mental note not to share that particular detail with my daughter since we have worked so hard to get her to love her hair.

The ultimate revelation for me was when we started talking about how sick I was with each of my pregnancies and she told me that was the reason she only had two children was that she was terribly sick too. (Wow, that would have been awfully nice to know while I was going through it!!) Then she told me that after she had her two children she was unable to stomach any type of scent or perfume except Shalimar. I laughed and said that was so funny because I had the same thing happen to me, only I can only stomach the Warm Vanilla Sugar from Bed Bath and Beyond. This became one of my favorite moments from the weekend because she stared at me for a full 5 seconds before laughing and asking me if I knew what scent Shalimar was? Apparently it is vanilla based. WOAH!!!! How weird was that?!? Turns out that while I am quite literally the spitting image of my Birth Mother (thanks to pictures my Birth Father's family had and the joys of social media stalking), my personality is chipped very clearly off the block of my Birth Grandmother. We are both spitfire and gumption, we are both left-handed (as far as I know the only one's in the family) and we both suffer from save-the-world-itis. Meeting her was understand myself so much better.

Some other things I learned that weekend; chemical sensitivity runs in the family, as do food allergies. We also all have a tendency to perform in the higher spectrum academically and all suffer from the same too-many-irons-in-the-fire problems. I also learned that becoming inflamed over politics, talking people's ears off and a general level of intensity that can be a bit much for your average person is not just a me thing, it is a family thing.

In one short visit I learned more about myself than in the previous 30+ years of living. Even my Mom made the comment on the plane home that she understood me so much more after seeing me with my birth family. It felt effortless to fit in and I felt totally comfortable around them. I couldn't wait to visit again.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

We Are All Equal....Until We're Not

This blog primarily focuses on the work/family balance.

As in all things, I feel pulled to put things into a cultural or anthropological perspective, because I believe that many issues that we focus on often go beyond what we immediately see. One example, to illustrate, is the failure of condom promotion as the main staple of HIV prevention in Brazil in the early 1990s. Scholars found that in fact, the flaw wasn't in the lack of education, or the solution in more funding and education. The flaw was in not addressing the cultural norms and expectations between gender relations and cultural rules surrounding sexual interchanges. The problem extended all the way down to the way gender was perceived in that area, focusing on the acts one performs in a sexual interchange as being more important than one's physical gender*

I would like to bring this same level of analysis to the current phenomenon that has become known as "Gamergate." To get a more expanded explanation of what this phenomenon is, and how far it has spread, you can read these articles: Facts about Gamergate or Fixing Gamergate. But, the gist is that  basically there are a lot of seriously pissed off adolescent males who are threatening female gamers, game creators and reviewers. It started with accusations of a female game creator using a sexual relationship with a journalist in order to secure a positive review.  Despite the questionability of the accusation, once it became publicized it became a flashpoint for a larger issue of gender inclusion in gaming. As the phenomenon gained steam the criticism expanded to include all women involved in gaming, to the point where many high profile ladies have had to alter their lives not just by changing numbers or email accounts, but actually leaving their homes and cancelling events they are scheduled to be at. These women have received death threats, rape threats and vitriolic hate spewed at them. In many cases these threats are issued for no other reason than their existence in what is largely considered to be a male dominated community.

Now, as an anthropologist I am dying to unpack this and look at what would cause this phenomenon. It has to go beyond simple misogyny, or the male psyche turning feelings of vulnerability into a more socially appropriate emotion. In my opinion, which can be taken with a grain of salt or ignored completely, is that these men are reacting to a phenomenon that has more to do with our workforce/family balance than anything to do with basic gender relations. The fact is that we have disabused our males in America. We have sold ourselves a bill of equality and by doing so, we have de-valued traditional gender roles.

Time out: Let me take a moment to say, NO, I do not support traditional gender roles in any way. I do not think that women belong in the home, or the kitchen or the bedroom or whatever screwed up ideas people have. I think that women are strong, capable, intelligent and desirous of intellectual stimulation as much as men. That being said, let us return to the argument at hand....

Anthropologists will tell you that social roles are very important to the smooth running of a group of people. They provide structure and guidance as well as giving social participants a boost of self-esteem when they perform well in socially acceptable roles. And herein lies the problem.

American feminism focused on equality. (for a detailed discussion you can read my posts; Working Like a Man, or How American Feminism Failed: Part 1 and Part 2). Women were told that we were equal in all ways to men. We are not equal though. If anything we are very, very different. That is not to say we aren't both capable, merely that we approach things differently. Two tools might get the same job done, but not in the same way.

As a result, women have subsumed what were traditionally male roles. We have become productive and capable workers. We have become providers. We have become doctors, lawyers, construction workers and even soldiers. There is nowhere left that could be considered an unspoiled male domain.

But, here is the key. We took their jobs, their abilities, their roles in the family, but we didn't give them anything back in return. We maintain, as a culture, not necessarily as individuals, that men cannot be emotional, sensitive, caring, vulnerable. We uphold the "be a man" stereotype, but we don't give them anything unique with which to obtain this. We have intruded on their cultural roles and yet we have denied them the same access to ours. How many men are allowed in childcare? Very few. The reason? Well, of course men who wish to spend their days with small children must obviously be pedophiles. Men who stay home with the children are more common, but they are still not always treated as fairly. They are often banned from playgroups or Mom's groups or MOPS (Mother's of Preschoolers). Those are for women only. We are equal to them, but they are not allowed to be equal to us. In fact, they are to be mistrusted as sex driven deviants who could rape, molest or otherwise attack an innocent person at any moment.

The real alarm bells for me were when a parent suggested that the Dads involved with our Watch Dog program in our kids' elementary school (a really great program designed to get Dads back involved with schools and provide involved male role models for boys) should all be background checked because she didn't want strange men around her kids, but did not extend that same request for the PTA moms. Or, my Mom's neighbor whose adult son came to stay with her when his daughter was having a sleep over, because otherwise none of the girls would be allowed to come over if there was another male in the house.

Seriously!? What kind of message are we sending the men (and the women) in our society? We are telling them, women are equal to you, but you are guilty until proven innocent. You can't cry at movies, you can't bear children, you can't be soft and caring because that would be unmanly and you certainly can't say anything bad about a woman because that would be misogynistic. Men are not allowed to ban women from anything, and yet we freely ban them from things all the time.  No wonder they are angry. We short changed them. We took away their path to self-esteem and branded them dangerous. Are we really so shocked that we have created a self-fulfilling prophecy?

I believe this social encroachment is why these gamers are reacting with such spewing hatred. The hatred is, of course totally counter-productive to their ends, not to mention self-destructive and just plain wrong. But, the fact remains, that they are attacking and doing so in force. Real women are in very real danger in many ways just for being a part of the gaming community. I think that these young boys have chosen this as their line in the proverbial sand. They have declared war on women and it isn't going to be pretty. It is going to take at least a generation to remove those resentful roots from men who feel that women have taken over their last bastion of the male-centric social sphere.

Up until the last decade, female gamers were much more rare. As games have diversified, so have gamers and these primarily young, white, males feel the need to fight back, to protect their refuge of male aggression. (This was where I originally had a discussion prepared on the cyber-reality of the gaming world being more real to many of these men because it allows for a release of pent-up male aggression, but I decided to save that for another day so that I can expand it to include interviews and reflections from other Moms).

So, that is my take on the problem from a social critique viewpoint. But, a problem is no good without a solution. And here it is. Simple. Elegant. Easy.

You know that new push to get rid of the phrase, "like a girl?" (The Always Video is here)? Well, I think we need another movement. We need one to get rid of things like, "man up," "grow some balls," "stop acting like a sissy/wuss/faggot," "is that a doll you are playing with?," "real men don't cry." We need to teach men that they are just as equal to women as women are to men. They can be caring, emotional, vulnerable and sensitive without being a geek or a wuss.

There is no superior gender. There are no roles that can't be fulfilled by an individual with those specific talents. All people are born with gifts. It is time we celebrated those gifts themselves, and not what gender package they happen to come in. We need to stop treating men like the enemy and maybe, just maybe they will stop acting like it.

Male anger is not going away. It is scary and damaging and unhealthy, but it is not going away. If anything, mass shootings, rapes, attacks and virtual bullying/harassing has only reached a more fevered pitch. If we don't start raising men; respectful and kind with their own unique path to self-esteem, we are going to find ourselves on the front line of a feminist backlash not seen before.

And with that I leave you with this thoughtful article from The Guardian,  Why Are Some Men So Angry? It discusses many of the same things from a slightly different perspective, but he too cautions that a storm is coming.

(Vera Paiva, Sexuality, condom use and gender norms among Brazilian teenagers, Reproductive Health Matters, Volume 1, Issue 2, November 1993, Pages 98-109, ISSN 0968-8080,
Donna M. Goldstein, AIDS and women in Brazil: The emerging problem, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 39, Issue 7, October 1994, Pages 919-929, ISSN 0277-9536,

Friday, January 23, 2015

Parental Pinch Gets Tighter

I was trolling my Facebook news feed  yesterday and came across this article about criminalizing childhood independence. The gist is basically that there are cases throughout the United States where parents are being charged with child abuse, child neglect and so forth, for not being vigilant enough in monitoring their children, "This has been a nationwide pattern, thumping parents who are caught not hovering."

This article deeply concerned me, not because I believe that we should hover over our children, or that I am concerned for the children involved in these incidences, or even that I believe that the level of independence subscribed to these children is even justified or ok. My concern is that this yet one more constraint that we insist on placing on parents who are already facing hardships on so many fronts as it is.

It has been my growing belief that in many ways, despite the world being a statistically safer place now, parenting was much easier in my parents' day in age. My mother, raised in a small town in PA in the early 1940s was quite often turned out in the mornings on non-school days and was expected to find some way to entertain herself until the lunch bell rang. They were then turned out again until dinner time. My mother has often commented on the cleanliness of her Mother's house and I have often defended the state of mine by commenting that things are just different now. There just isn't any time to work on the house. I am too busy supervising my children. No longer can you send your kids outside to roam the neighborhood, or go to the park or, heck even play in your own front yard anymore in order to get something done. A dear friend of mine was visited by CPS because she let her upper elementary and middle school boys play in the font yard and the street "unsupervised." First off, she has big picture windows in her front room so she could clean and watch and second off, has anyone heard of street hockey or kick the can? No? Of course not. It is so much safer to park your kids in front of a t.v. screen, or give them a pad so they can play "educational games." It is the only way you will know that they are safe. And if they want playdates, they can just log on to online gaming, that's way safer. *cough, cough* But, at least you know where they are, right?

Mothers in a time crunch, especially working mothers have so many legislative rules to follow now that make their lives so difficult. You can't leave your children in the car while you run in for a gallon of milk. You can't leave the 3 and 6 year old home with the 9 year old while you run a quick errand. You can't even toss everyone into the car anymore. Instead you have to take 15 minutes to buckle them in properly every time you get in and out of the car. You can't even hire the 11 year old next door to watch your little one's so that you can run errands (a job I did for the neighbors across the street for years, but started at 11 watching a 2 and 4 year old). Now they don't want kids under 10 in a house without a child that is 12 and older....or in some states 13 and older. How do parents have a job that say, starts at 8:30 when school starts at 8:40? They aren't supposed to drop off before a certain point, the kids aren't supposed to walk to school by themselves, so parents end up having to pay for before school or after school care which is just another huge added expense to families. These are the families who under the old paradigm, might not need it. I myself was a very responsible latch key kid during certain times in my life.

This year I had to get permission from my school to let my 3rd and 1st grader walk to and from school by themselves. For the record, our house backs up to the school. They don't even have to cross a street until the cross walk in front of the school. It is less than 50 yards/2 minutes. AND I NEEDED PERMISSION. Additionally, I have actually endured comments from other parents, who clearly don't know where I live, about allowing the girls to come to school on their own. It started when my little one decided naptime was 20 minutes before the girls got home from school. It seemed safer to have them walk home together than to leave a sleeping toddler and dash up to the school, and saner than waking him up after 20min and listening to the screaming for the rest of the night.

Meanwhile, why we are penalizing parents here in the States, Raktim Mitra, an urban planner in Toronto published his study, referenced here, that children who are allowed to explore their neighborhoods with other children, rather than in direct supervision of adults were physically healthier, got more exercise than the kids who were under constant adult supervision. It also alludes to the idea that those kids who are not allowed unsupervised time tend to have delayed development in regards to decision making skills.This is not surprising when you think many times in order for parents to get something done and still keeping their kids safe, they utilize screen time since they can't send their kids outside unsupervised, and parents are already under a time crunch as it is.

Our expectations on parents these days is reaching the ridiculous, if not completely untenable. We somehow expect that if we are just vigilant enough that we can somehow bring the child mortality rate to 0, but that is just not possible. And so every time a child dies from a tragic accident we seek to legislate the incident in order to feel like we have some measure of control over the situation. Or we seek to blame the victim by putting the family under a microscope to see what they potentially did wrong so that we can somehow explain how it happened, thus inoculating ourselves against future tragedies.

The fact is that we can not hover over our children protecting them from every single danger they may or may not encounter without subsequently removing any chance they have of growing up to be healthy, self-regulated, responsible adults. We have to let go a little or we end up like the parents of
college students who are unable to function without parental help or parents who attend their adult children's job interviews and even attempt to negotiate their children's salary (read CNN's take on the subject). This phenomenon has become so prevalent that Forbes magazine wrote an article in 2013 on how employers should embrace this trend, and then provides guidelines to follow in order to avoid lawsuits involving breach of privacy and discrimination. We are doing our children a grave disservice. We need to teach them to stand up on their own, deal with disappointment and make good decisions. And then we need to give them opportunities to practice this without fear that "big brother" is going to come knocking on our door and charging us with neglect.

Building independence in your children is a very slow and gradual process and unfortunately it really isn't something you can legislate because each child is different. Taking law and requiring that children under a certain age have to be with children older than a certain age, such as a 9 year old requiring a 13 year old in the house with them is deeply unfair to parents who work jobs with inflexible hours and no way of getting children home from school. Many families can not afford before and after school care, which can be pricey. In this case the parent does what they have to in order to survive, but they risk being arrested if they are found out. And yet our economy is such that we almost require households to have two incomes, but then we turn around and penalize families with young children at every turn by making everything harder for them and then placing them under a giant spotlight of criticism if anything bad happens to their children, from a simple broken bone to a child abduction or fatal accident. The first thing we always ask, "Well, where were the parents?"

We can not keep leveling this culture of fear on families. It isn't healthy or realistic for them and it certainly isn't going to help our children in the long run. We need to learn to trust more, and hope for the best. No one wants to be the one who becomes the statistic, it is unimaginable, but I am pretty sure locking our kids in the house with t.v. and video games while negotiating everything for them all the way up to their first raise as an adult is not really preparing our children to defend themselves. And it is pinching parents even tighter as the proverbial rock and a hard place (read: economics vs. child rearing) gets tighter and expectations of what the perfect parent looks like soar.