Miss Representation, Shaping Youth, and Me

My latest guest post is up over at Shaping Youth. This one is about Miss Representation, young children (mostly mine), and The Paley Center screening I attended, along with Shaping Youth's commentary on Miss Representation's latest efforts in conjunction with the Superbowl. Here's a preview of my piece:

Gender is the latest hot topic around here.

For almost a year, my preschool aged son has said on occasion, “boys are girls and girls are boys.”

He has told this to friends in class, often girls, who have gone home and told their mothers, thinking he has told them a funny joke.

He also thinks that “kids” means “boys” but not “girls.” He has asked me to explain this to him but I’m not sure he quite gets it yet. Only very recently have questions about different pieces and parts on girls and boys come in to play. He also recently asked me if he could “milk a baby” when he grows up. I’ve hesitated to say too much because the innocence of not knowing the difference between genders is one I’d like him to hold on to for a while. While I don’t want him to be ignorant, I also don’t want his rapidly firing synapses to process anything through a gender lens before it absolutely must.

Please head over to Shaping Youth to read more and let me know what you think. And check out Miss Representation for information on the great work they are doing.

SpongeBob and other thoughts on media for young children

I wrote a post last week for Shaping Youth in response to the recent study on the immediate effects of fast paced television on young children. I was angry at the study, the media coverage of it, and the programming aimed at young children and their parents. Please read my post and leave a comment at Shaping Youth to let me know what you think. If you want to hear more of my opinions on young children and media, let me know that too!

I'm a writer!

It's official. I'm official - meaning I have written something that someone else has placed on their blog. I have my first guest post, entitled To Squeeze or Not To Squeeze, about the squeezy fruit and vegetable pouches for babies and young children, up on the Shaping Youth blog. There is an intro to the post by Amy Jussel (see below) along with the post and a nice introduction of me. Please check it out and comment there or here to let me know what you think.

Shaping Youth is a forum on media and marketing's influence on kids and was founded and is run by Amy Jussel. Amy is a pioneer and leader in the world of "using the power of media for positive change" (Shaping Youth's tagline). I hope to continue to write for Shaping Youth on topics affecting young children.

Announcing Shiny Object Syndrome

Some of my regular visitors may have noticed a new link on the home page of Fruit in my dessert. Shiny Object Syndrome is a new section of the blog where I will review products. As it says there, I often get asked for recommendations on baby and kid products...and I also give them when I don't get asked. As my friends know, I'm the girl who spends hours researching before making a purchase. Many times that research pays off. Sometimes it doesn't. Shiny Object Syndrome is what I have to say about a lot of products so far...and there's a lot more coming. I've also made simple categories so you can search the archives a few different ways:

  • not necessary, basics, if you can splurge, worth every penny
  • baby, young child

Let me know what you think! I also hope to add a children's book review section soon!

nothing to do with math

Seriously? I frequently read articles that make me upset or make me want to at least write a blog post, but then, more often than not, I don't write something, mostly because I'm afraid of sounding like the opinionated, judgmental person that I am, and it would take too long to write something that sounds well written and well thought out, and even though only two people read this blog, I want to sound good, and I don't want to be judged back. Well, today, I'm writing.

Yesterday, the New York Times had an article in the Sunday Style section (perhaps the only plus I'll give it is that it was in the Styles section), called The New Math on Campus: When women outnumber men at a college, dating culture is skewed. The source of this problem, it seems, is simple: "women tend to have higher grades; men tend to drop out in disproportionate numbers; and female enrollment skews higher among older students, low-income students, and black and Hispanic students." And kudos to the (male) reporter of the story for so respectfully recognizing the upside to this for a moment: "In terms of academic advancement, this is hardly the worst news for women — hoist a mug for female achievement. And certainly, women are primarily in college not because they are looking for men, but because they want to earn a degree." But, at least for the women in this article, that last statement doesn't appear to hold true.

The article goes on to quote young women, academically successful women, stating obvious things like how, in addition to outnumbering the men, so many of the men available are not worthy, so the pool from which to choose is actually even smaller than it seems. The following quote was the clincher for me:

“A lot of my friends will meet someone and go home for the night and just hope for the best the next morning,” Ms. Lynch said. “They’ll text them and say: ‘I had a great time. Want to hang out next week?’ And they don’t respond.”

Even worse, “Girls feel pressured to do more than they’re comfortable with, to lock it down,” Ms. Lynch said.

As for a man’s cheating, “that’s a thing that girls let slide, because you have to,” said Emily Kennard, a junior at North Carolina. “If you don’t let it slide, you don’t have a boyfriend.”

Really? Are we still here? Are we still, as a species, more worried about finding the right guy - at the young age of 18 - and so fearful that we won't that we're willing to be quoted in the New York Times saying things like this? Is this only a Western idea? And can we really blame men for keeping us down and holding us back and keeping that glass ceiling in place when we take something like being the majority of college educated people in this country and turn it into a weakness? Are most women still going to college with the ultimate goal of finding their husband and not getting an education and a degree? Can we draw a line between these attitudes and a future generation of embarrassed wives a la Sanford, Edwards, Woods, and countless, nameless others? Or is that going too far? When and how are we going to teach women to respect and worry about themselves as much as and more than the way we do about men and the love and affection we may or may not receive from them?

I know my questions aren't all really questions, but it's the only way I could get some of this out without losing my mind. And I am fully aware that in today's world I am considered one of the very luckiest of women, with a husband (who I did not meet in college) who makes the self-respect thing easier than most, with a family (his and mine) who (mostly) consider us equals, and support our "shared parenting" lifestyle, but when is that not going to be considered lucky?

I'm going to go do my best to do my part...raising a white male to know and understand that he is going to be given privileges because of his race and his gender for the rest of his life, but he must know why and to do his part to make that not the future for his kids or theirs. And, if #2 is a girl, the work will likely be harder, but I'll start by hoping she never feels compelled to be part of (or worse, write) an article like this.

What's so great about making decisions?

In an article in the Wall Street Journal on Friday called, Who Wears the Pants, Megan Basham dismisses the criticism of late (by women, of course) that says that a woman should work outside the home and have income (ideally higher than her partner's) in order to have power in their relationship. Ms. Basham's argument is based on a new study by the Pew Research Center that shows that women, regardless of their income level, wield most of the decision-making power in the home.

Of the 1,260 men and women whom Pew pollsters surveyed over the summer, 43% responded that the woman makes most of the major decisions for the family, with 31% saying that the couple makes most decisions together.

For marketers, and most women I know, this isn't new information. Most advertising is targeted toward women for just this reason. And, if anything, it's targeted to women who spend more time in the home rather than less.

Here's my question: does making decisions always equal power? And is it that women get to make decisions or that they have to make decisions because men care less than women do about decisions related to the home and their personal/family lives? And when a man might prefer to do something different than his wife suggests, does he just acquiesce because it's easier rather than because he's been convinced? Is it really "sweeter" that he wants her to be happy, as Ms. Basham suggests, or does his calculation go further? If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy, right?

It was reassuring for me - a woman who wields the majority of the "power" in her home but does not always feel so powerful - to read that older couples make more decisions together than younger couples do. I struggle with not wanting to wield so much "power" but not always being able to give it up in a healthy, appropriate, and loving-my-partner way, which can sometimes render us both without "power" or the ability to make decisions...sometimes about very simple things.

So tell me, what makes you feel powerful? Oh yeah, and when are women going to stop hating on other women?

Happy Not to be an MLB Wife

I have always liked baseball and I married a man who counts baseball as his religion. We don't like the same teams - I won't get into that here - but every once in a while we imagine what it would be like if he were in the Majors (sadly, his promising pitching career ended in eighth grade). Okay, what we really imagine is what it would be like if we lived like a Major League family - mostly the cash part...and the jets (can you tell which team I love?). We're not young or inexperienced enough to think that all that money would buy happiness, but a jet would be nice. On the flip side, the schedule would stink. I have trouble with BH's travel schedule now. Baseball players play 162 games a year, half on the road, and that's not counting spring training or play-offs.

The one detail I had never thought about before now was paternity leave - and how they basically don't get it. In Baby On Deck, an op-ed (yes, another op-ed) by a former major leaguer in the NY Times today, I learned that the unwritten policy in baseball - and I'm guessing all professional team sports - is that if you have a baby during season you get to make sure everything is okay and then go back to work. I know a lot of professions and jobs do not have paternity leave and a lot of those dads make a lot less money and have a lot fewer perks at work and in life than professional athletes, and I think that is criminal too, probably more so. The piece made me feel bad for the ball players though, because while I think there's hope in changing laws to help the other dads out there, it's highly unlikely it'll ever be okay for a baseball player to take time off unless they simultaneously get suspended or go on the disabled list. Maybe some angry major league dads will spit at an ump or break their own finger just to spend more time with their new babies. Luckily, I'll never have to find out if BH would have been that dedicated crazy.

Phthalates, Shmalates?

So, I was just starting to stop worrying about all the cancer-causing plastic in HD's life when I read the op-ed in the New York Times yesterday that explained, in brief, the new bill that Congress is trying to get passed, to increase regulations and bans against lead and other dangerous chemicals in children's toys. Part of me is sad that a bill like this is even necessary, but part of me is glad that, if it passes, there will be one less issue related to child safety that scares me.

I still don't know who or what to believe about which plastics are bad and which are okay, what I should throw out and what I should keep, in part because every competing interest has its own thinly-veiled Web site or interest group that says something different. In the same moment I'm impressed that I have wooden toys for HD and nervous the paint is going to make him sick, and then I feed him out of a plastic bowl with a plastic spoon and he chews on his likely-vinyl bath books that have the words "non toxic" printed right on them. I look around at the increasingly plastic wonderland that is his home and tell myself that it can't be that bad, because if I let myself believe that it is, I would be too overwhelmed and feel horrible for not knowing what, if anything, is truly safe. So, we have a BPA-free sippy cup and a handful of wooden toys to complement his mostly not-BPA-free eating and drinking utensils and toys and hope this bill gets passed so I can stop flip-flopping on whether to be nervous or not about this one particular thing. Although, the fact that there is a bill - and quite frankly, a NY Times op-ed - makes me nervous.

Who's The Boss?

The cover story for the New York Times Magazine this past weekend was, When Mom and Dad Share It All, a story about parents that share all parenting and home-related duties from laundry and meal preparation to thank-you notes and paying the bills. This is not the story of the stay-at-home dad and the high-powered career mom or the stay-at-home mom and the really involved and helpful dad; this story is about couples that are trying to shatter parenting gender stereotypes of all kinds. Both parents pull back on work hours; discussions are about who will be home with the children when, who will wash the darks and who will wash the lights, and who will plan the children’s birthday parties this year.

At its core, the story reinforces the importance of ongoing communication with your partner and working to figure out what will work best for both of you and your children. As the article shows with its example families, equally shared parenting doesn’t work for everyone, and what is most important is to figure out what works for your family, regardless of what society says it should look like, which is perhaps the hardest part of all.

What does the division of labor look like in your home? Are you happy with that balance or would you change it if you could? Is there a way to be equal partners in the home without sacrificing career advancement and monetary gain? Will equally shared parenting ever be the norm?

This entry is cross-posted at www.mommiesclique.com

I love my (former) health insurance provider

If only all companies could take a page out of Blue Cross Blue Shield MA's handbook. They have been my health insurance company for the past several years and I have repeatedly had such amazingly positive experiences with them that I'm actually sad that my insurance company is changing due to a job change (our family is going from a DINK family to one with a SAHM who never stays home and who might actually be a SWAT if she could figure out the time part...I digress). Today's example of BCBS's fabulousness in customer service:

We received a bill from a hospital where my son had a procedure done at the direction of his pediatrician. The hospital indicated that it had submitted a claim to my insurance company and that the insurance company said it was not a covered service. When I received the statement from the insurance company, the reason they gave for not covering it was because it was billed as a "routine diagnosis" - two words that have caused me much aggravation over the years in dealing with medical bills. Since it was, in fact, not a routine diagnosis, I called the insurance company and spoke with a lovely representative named Janet who took the details from me and then called the hospital billing department while I waited on the other line and took care of the WHOLE THING FOR ME. She even came back on the line after a couple of minutes to update me that she was on the phone with the hospital billing department and that they were working it out. When she finished with the hospital, she came back on the line with me, let me know that the hospital was going to change the diagnosis code, resubmit the claim and freeze the bill. She then offered to review the specifics of my coverage related to this medical diagnosis and informed me that my total due should be zero, gave me a confirmation code and sent me on my way. Thank you, Janet, and thank you BCBS of MA. I will miss you.

I have had several similar experiences with BCBS and in the rare instance where they were not able to solve the problem or tell me I was covered, their positive, helpful, and respectful attitude made up for it. I only wish every customer service experience, especially those that involve a lot of money and potentially a lot of stress and time, could be so wonderful. Other companies should try to steal their training manual - or maybe just call them and ask for a copy - they might just share it out of their seemingly authentic desire to be helpful.