Thursday, September 28, 2017

Rape culture in children's books

A few days ago I grabbed a book for my daughter at the library. Usually I read through books before giving them to her, but this book is part of a very popular silly series, and I didn't. I gave her the book when she got home. I could hear her laughing over it, and then she brought me the book and said she wished the book wasn't all about a boy. She asked me to read a particular passage. The main character is a little boy and he's the narrator. In the passage my daughter showed me, he makes fun of a girl until she cries and then declares her a crybaby when she runs away. So we talked about that. Is it ok to be mean to people? Should he have apologized? I hoped it was a one-off incident in the book and gave it back to her.

Both of my girls wanted to read the book as a read-aloud before bed last night. The main character and the other kids are in a Halloween parade. The boy accidentally steps on the costume of the girl in front of her, ripping the costume off. He laughs, along with everyone else, and when she runs off crying, he says that it was her own fault for wearing that costume anyway. I was very upset, and we talked about what the little boy should have done. He should have helped her. He should have apologized. My girls resisted the apology at first. "It was an accident," they told me. I said I know that he didn't mean to do it, but he did and so he should have apologized. At that point, it was time to be done reading and we set the book aside.

It wasn't until a little later that I realized why I had reacted so strongly to that incident. "It's part of our rape culture problem," I told my husband. A girl's clothing is ripped off. She's embarassed and hurt. Yet somehow it is HER fault, because of her choice in clothing.

There is a strong double standard in children's books. In many books aimed at girls, when girls misbehave they feel bad, relationships with friends and caring adults are damaged, and apologies and ammends are made. In many books aimed at boys, when boys misbehave, it is funny and there are no regrets and no consequences. I see how my children are absorbing these messages. They laugh when it is a boy book and the boy misbehaves. They are uncomfortable when it is a girl book and the girl misbehaves. This double standard is incredibly dangerous for both boys and girls. It lets boys off the hook ("boys will be boys"), and puts a heavy burden on girls both to always be perfect and to take the blame when someone misbehaves toward them.

So this afternoon, I will be talking with my 5- and 6-year-old girls about victim blaming. Then we will get out one of our favorite girl power books.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Playdough and Music

A couple of weeks ago we sat down with playdough, and I put on the music from Frog and Toad. Did you know there was a musical about Frog and Toad? We didn't, until a couple of years ago when Ms. Smith, our incredible local children's librarian, recommended the cd to us. Then this past winter we saw it live at the Children's Museum. It is fantastic, especially if you enjoy reading the stories to your kids. My kids ask to listen to it about once a week, and there are a few songs that we sing all the time. "Eating cookies, eating cookies, we're so happy eating cookies....."

Today when the music started I told the girls that I was going to make things inspired by the music. I didn't know if they would join in or not. Sometimes if I suggest a project, Alessia will say no, but if I just start doing something she will join in. Today both girls joined in and we had so much fun trying to make something unique for each song.


There's turtle waiting for Toad to come out of the water, because "Toad looks funny in a bathing suit." We made cookies and a box tied with string, the big plan for eating no more cookies. I made a shoe, and Olivia made the clock that Toad smashes with the shoe. I made the snail ("I'm carrying a letter"), Olivia made the letter, and Alessia made the snail "coming out of his shell." We had a lot of fun, and after admiring our work, we mushed the playdough back up (by color, of course) and put it all away.





Sunday, May 14, 2017

An Alphabet Book and a Project

One of our favorite alphabet books is Alphabet Under Construction by Denise Fleming. It features a manic mouse constructing the letters of the alphabet. The mouse quilts the Q and tiles the T, for example. This weekend we decided to make our own action-oriented alphabet. The project took two days. We spent lots of time brainstorming ideas, and everyone made suggestions and helped create the letters. Here it is:

The Adventures of A (the movie)


Bag the B


Color the C


Coronate the C


Deal the D


Eat the E


Far away F


Give the G


Hop over the H


Invite the I


J in Jam (being eaten by Olivia)


Kick the K


Look for the L


Mold the M


Near N


Ogle the O


Put together the P puzzle


Queue the Qs


Rip the R


Sit on the S


Tape the T (and get tangled)


Under the U umbrella


Vote for the V


Water the W


eXtrude the X


Yap at the Y


Zap the Z


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Clouds in My Head and Sun in My Cup

I know people who get seasonal affective disorder in December when the days get shorter and people who get it in late spring when the temperatures really start to warm up. I get it right about..... now. It has been cloudy and rainy for days and the clouds feel like they are in my brain and the rain feels like it is in my bones.

"My blood is Mediterranean," I rant at my husband this time of year. "I NEED the sun."

A few weeks ago I read Love Letter to the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh. He writes of truly being present for a cup of tea. So a couple of days ago, head full of clouds and bones full of cold damp, I sat down with a cup of tea and I tried it. I looked at the tea and held the warm cup and smelled the steam and thought of all the people from the grocery store clerk to the truck driver to the line worker at the factory to the people who prepared and picked the tea leaves. I thought of the dirt that nourished the tea plants and the rain that washed them and gave them water to drink and the sun, oh the glorious sun that shone down on the plants and now came rising up out of my steaming cup of tea, and I smiled and I drank of the sun and the water and the earth and the efforts of all those people there in my cup.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why I Wore the Hijab Today

Today, I went out into the world wearing a hijab, a Muslim headscarf. A few years ago a Bangladeshi-American woman started World Hijab Day. I first heard about it through the Council on American-Islamic Relations which encouraged non-Muslim women to wear the hijab for one day, both to share in the experience and as an act of solidarity.

I decided to participate in World Hijab Day for two reasons. First, I believe in freedom of religion. I believe that Muslims have every right to practice their religion in this country and should not be discriminated against, because of their religion. Let me be clear what I mean by freedom of religion. I believe the constitution gives Americans the rights to practice their religion as individuals and as groups. I do not believe that the constitution gives anyone the right to try and impose their religious beliefs on people outside their group. If a particular religious group does not believe in marriage equality, it is their right to not marry members of their religious group who are of the same gender. It is not their right though to tell other religious groups and individuals outside their group that they can not or should not do so. If a particular religious group believes that abortion is a sin, it is their right to tell the members of their group not to have an abortion. It is not their right to force people outside of their group to not have an abortion. We live in a pluralistic society with people of many faiths and nonbelievers, freedom of religion does not give members of one religion the right to impose their views on people outside their group. It does however give Muslim women the right to wear a hijab in public without being harassed.

Second, I wore a hijab today, because I believe women have the right to care for their bodies and present their bodies in whatever way they feel best as individuals. Control over female bodies, either through law or social pressure, is a major issue in this country. It happens on a spectrum, with seemingly minor issues like plucking eyebrows and shaving at one end and abortion on the other end, and a whole ton of issues, including wearing the hijab, in between.

More than anything, I wore the hijab today to show my solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers in our faith in God. The more I learn about Islam, the more I believe it is a beautiful religion, encouraging people to live lives of faith and prayer and charity, and I want to thank them for inviting me to share in their tradition.