Monday, September 25, 2006

Gendered Spaces

I'm almost finished with my proposal, so I've been thinking a lot about the notion of gendered spaces, especially in my own home. Are there any gendered spaces in my home or in homes in general? I can only think of 2 in my home: the "laundry room" is completely my domain and the "shed" is totally C's domain. That said, I use the shed, and he uses the laundry room. I tend to not think of those spaces as gendered, as much as locations where gendered activities are performed. It is a simple fact of our household that I do the laundry. The shed simply contains all his tools and gadgets (most of which I use too); it is also a storage space for recycling, boxes, etc. So I hesitate to call either space specifically gendered. Do gendered spaces continue to exist in most American homes? In the mid-19th century, for example, studies were considered masculine spaces, as kitchens and parlors were deemed feminine spaces. But I'm not sure such spaces continue to exist, at least not in most households.

I do believe there are gendered public spaces: the spa, the hair salon, the automotive store, etc. But even these spaces are increasingly difficult to identify. I do not believe that our society is becoming less gendered; in fact, in light of 6 years under a conservative administration, I would argue our society is becoming more gendered. But I think the separation is more subtle, more difficult to pinpoint. And for some reason, I can't help be feel this subtle gender separation is equally, if not more dangerous than the more clearly delineated separate spheres of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Parenting through fear

On one of the message boards about pregnancy that I often go to, several of the women are in an uproar regarding Cindy Crawford decision to allow her 5-year-old daughter to pose in a "provocative" way for a children's line of swimsuits. Here is a link to the photo.

Most of the women are concerned about the number of pedophiles viewing this picture and the negative affect it will have on their children. They are also questioning Crawford's ability to parent a daughter, arguing that her modeling career has influenced her ability to make safe decisions for her daughter. I have to say I don't get the controversy. It is, in my mind, a fairly innocent picture. I will concede that the fake tattoo on her lower back is a bit odd, but beyond that, I don't see it as provocative or as a sign that Crawford is a bad parent. The child is not coquettish, flirtatious, or sexualized. When did it stop being ok for a 5-year-old girl to be topless? I remember running around topless at the beach and in my backyard until is was about 6 or so. I'd much rather have see a 5-year-old girl at the beach in a pair of shorts without a top on than see her in some of the horrifically skimpy string bikinis for girls the same age I've come across. Can the naked body, especially the naked body of a child, be presented in a way that isn't sexual? I don't see this as sexual. I do see the outcry to remove it from the internet and the backlash against Crawford as close-minded censorship. I also find it interesting that in all the posts regarding this picture that I've seen no one has mentioned the girl's father. I'm certain the modeling contract required the signatures of both parents, as such contracts typically do. Yet only Crawford is being held accountable; only her parenting skills are being questioned. Obviously, as a mother, she should have known better. She should have refused to allow the photograph to be taken; she should have "protected" her daughter. But from what? A photograph that is actually quite pretty? I find it amazing that rather than seeing the artistic merit in something (and I would argue there is some artistic merit to this photograph), we immediately jump to the conclusion that something is inappropriate, distasteful, and pornographic.

I've been thinking a lot about the fear associated with being a parent lately. I think parents, particularly mothers, are being told to fear everything from germs to premature labor to rebellious teens to pedophiles. That is a big leap, I realize, but it seems to me that there are more and more outlets encouraging us to parent according to fear. Don't do this, don't do that, do eat this, don't feed the baby that, avoid these places, if you do this then this horrific, tragic event will surely occur. I definitely believe in being prepared for the worst, but I'd much spend my time hoping for the best.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Motivation

Well, I now have new motivation to get my butt in gear and get my proposal finished in the next 2 weeks: I've been asked to serve as the graduate student rep on my department's search committee. My new goal is to have the proposal finished and approved by my chair by Sept. 30; I hope to have all signatures and revisions by Oct. 10. It's in writing, so I have to stick to it!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Does parenthood equal adulthood?

Based on numerous conversations I've had with my own mother recently, I am beginning to conclude that parenthood does not equal adulthood, neither my own nor my mother's. My relationship with my mother has changed in recent years; she had begun to see me as an adult, and in several instances, I've felt more like the parent than the child. Recently though my mother has made several pointed comments that lead me to conclude that since I have become pregnant she sees me more as a child than an adult. I had thought that my impending parenthood would force her to see me as an adult--not so! She has begun treating me like a teenager again, constantly questioning my decisions, voicing concern about our plans, and repeatedly questioning C's abilities. I expected all but the last. To be quite honest, my mother's love for C has always disturbed me somewhat. From the moment I introduced them, she thought he was perfect. He was the perfect boyfriend who became the son-in-law who could do no wrong. She repeatedly compared him to my sister's husband, always finding C to be exemplary in everything while expressing disgust with my brother-in-law (a bit odd, I know).

But since I've been pregnant, my mother has vocally questioned everyone of C's personality traits, from his relatively laid back style to his anal-ness about certain things. She even suggested I have someone else with me in the delivery room to ensure I wouldn't be alone when C "freaks out." Suddenly the one thing I thought she felt I did completely right--picking out the "perfect mate/son-in-law"--she is unhappy with. Her need to question my decisions and to question C has left me feeling as though I'm suddenly 14 all over again--incapable of doing anything to please her. I've been pondering the ultimately unanswerable questions: will my mother ever see me as an adult? And why does it bother me so much that she still sees me as a child? And how do I avoid treating my child in this way?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Expectations of Myself and of My Child

I am an overachiever. I was the sort of child who would cry when I did poorly on a test. In fact, my parents never felt they could punish me when I did poorly in school (usually in math classes) because I'd come home sobbing uncontrollably, convinced they no longer loved me. It goes without saying that, as an academic, I have high expectations of myself. I've been advised, by people whose opinions I value and trust, that I will need to lower my expectations of myself in the coming months; I've also been advised by a very good friend and my very smart advisor that I may be able to accomplish more than I think. I realize I have to set smaller goals for myself in the months following the birth of our little one.

All of this has me thinking about my expectations of my child. Will I be a go-with-the-flow kind of mom who lets my child go at his or her own pace? I know myself well enough to know that I am not a go-with-the-flow kind of person. I like to be informed, and like most academics, I go out of my way to keep myself informed. But I'm still not altogether sure what that will mean for me. In the past 8 months, I've read 4 books on pregnancy, 5 books on unmedicated childbirth, and 2 books on breastfeeding. I have read nothing on childrearing, except what is mentioned in these other books. I know from my niece and nephews as well as friends' children about when babies should teeth, roll over, sit up, walk, etc. I've spent enough time with children to know what sorts of discipline techniques I will and will not use.

But I don't know what I expect out of my child. I've been so focused on getting the baby here safely and on getting through my proposal, C's dissertation, multiple family dramas, nursery planning, and countless other things that I haven't really stopped to consider what I expect from the baby. I mean, I don't really expect anything at first, other than lots of sleeping, eating, and pooping. But after that? Will I be one of those mothers who enrolls her child in "Mommy and Me" immediately? Will I try to teach the baby French before s/he can speak English? Will my high expectations of myself extend to my child, and could that make me a bad mother? As I type that I think immediately no. After all, if my child comes home from school crying over the Pythagorean theorem (I never could get that in high school despite countless hours of help from my 9th grade math teacher), I will know what to do--I will calmly inform my child that I have never once had to use it, that not understanding it has not made me a bad person, and that despite my distress over it at 14 I have gone on to lead a productive life. My parents just hugged me and told me it wasn't the end of the world, when, to me, it most certainly was. But what happens if my kid is a math whiz but hates to read or hates art? What if my kid despises literature, thinks art is meaningless, has no interest in learning about the world, and grows up to be a Republican? I certainly don't expect that, but then again, my parents didn't expect me to pursue a Ph.D., join N.O.W., and vote Democrat, and C's parents definitely didn't expect him to become an Art Historian, marry a feminist, and become a raging liberal. I am suddenly realizing that I do have some fairly high expectations for our child: I expect him/her to think somewhat like C and I do.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Supermom, Superdad

In my class today, my teaching partner and I asked our class about the inequalities experienced by 19th-century American women and 21st-century American women. It was an interesting moment in my teaching career: for the first time in almost 8 years of teaching, I heard female students state that feminism has a purpose and that women are still struggling for equality, although at a much different level than in the 19th-century. I was equally thrilled and floored, since in my experience, most young women (i.e., 18-22) want nothing to do with feminism and are more than happy to believe that we've achieved equality. Several students pointed out that while women have achieved a great deal, most mothers still haven't achieved equality in parenting. As the discussion moved on to the day's reading, I continued contemplating that in the back of my mind.

When I got home later, I asked C about his feelings on equal parenting, which in all honesty is not something I have really contemplated before. We have, I believe, one of the most equal relationships I've seen, especially in terms of household chores. While I do cook more, he cleans more. In fact, I can't remember the last time I ran the vacuum cleaner or the last time I had to ask him to do it. With the pregnancy, our roles have shifted somewhat; there are things I just can't do right now, things that I typically do. We've also discussed how I won't be able to do much in the first few weeks after the baby's birth as I will be putting in 24 hours a day breastfeeding (I may be exaggerating, but I am also preparing myself for the worst-case scenario). I had no worries until we started talking, and C expressed a few worries of his own.

C has a particularly difficult academic year ahead of him; he's teaching full-time, defending his dissertation in January, and going on the job market. In the middle of all of that, we're having a baby. He is beginning to feel the stress, which I hadn't realized. He is genuinely concerned that he won't be able to be involved as much as he'd like to be and as much as he knows I'm expecting him to be (the guy, who folds my underwear and puts them away unasked, has set up some pretty high expectations). I think he is mostly concerned that he won't have enough time to bond with the baby and with us as a family. How do I assuage those fears? How do I express to my slightly anal husband that if we end up eating off of paper plates for a month that won't be the end of the world? How do I let him know that it is ok to forego office hours for the end of the semester, if doing so helps him maintain some sanity? How do I get him to understand that I don't expect every aspect of parenting to be equal? I don't expect to be Supermom--most days I'm convinced I'm going to irreparably harm our child in some way--and I don't expect him to be Superdad. I just want us to figure this out together.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I've finally rewritten the introduction to my proposal! It isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I have what I think is a solid draft. Here's hoping I can have it done by the end of the week.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

I love teaching!

I often have what I consider an ambiguous relationship with teaching. I love to teach; I love experiencing the moment when a single student suddenly understands something about writing or literature--and, on rare occasions, both. But I'm often frustrated by teaching. As a graduate student, I typically end up teaching introductory courses, which students often have to take to fulfill general education requirements. For the past two semesters I've been lucky enough to teach upper level lit classes in my area. This semester I'm team-teaching a class with my advisor, and it is going so well. Now, my advisor is currently in an administrative position, which means she doesn't have a lot of prep time, so I am doing most of the prep. We primarily communicate through email and plan classes that way; or as she so graciously informed our class today, I plan classes that way. She wants to make sure I'm getting credit for all the work I'm doing, which is really nice.

I'm really enjoying this semester because I'm working with an experienced teacher. While she isn't prepping quite like I am, she can walk into class and start talking about the day's reading without a moment's hesitation. Today she gave the class excellent definitions of passing, the tragic mulatto/a, and republican motherhood without really thinking about it. I am in awe. Part of the reason I love teaching so much is that I often feel I learn more from my students than they do from me. I am definitely learning more than I'm teaching this semester.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Just Work!

So I've decided starting tomorrow morning, bright and early, I will be taking the advice of my good friend Ms. Reads, over at Arrogant Self-Reliance and just force myself to work. After all, if she can overcome difficulties writing about The Victorian Novel just by forcing herself to work, surely I can get through this proposal by doing the same.

Trying to Work

I've been working on revising my dissertation proposal for the last month or so, and it isn't going as well as I'd like. I've completely reworked my topic and rewritten the chapter descriptions, which I think, and my advisor agrees, are quite good. To complete it, I have to revise my introduction (which has nothing to do with my actual dissertation) and write a brief literature review. By starting backwards (the chapter descriptions will be at the end), I've lost all interest in completing the other 2 sections: I want to get the rest of my committee's feedback on the chapter descriptions and start writing. I'm feeling very frustrated by the requirements of the proposal, which neither I nor my committee has any control over. I believe I have a great topic, and I want to spend the next 8 weeks researching and writing my first chapter, not revising the proposal.

As the list of things that I need to get done before the baby arrives gets longer and longer, I'm not very motivated to finish this proposal. My goal this week is to bite the bullet and just get it finished, especially since I have to write a conference paper next week. On top of my desire to actually get into the dissertation rather than work on the proposal, I'm getting increasingly uncomfortable sitting at my desk for more than an hour or so at a time. And since I can't write/type standing up, I'm having to take lots and lots of breaks just to maintain some sense of comfort. I'm beginning to wish I had magical powers and could wiggle my nose and have the proposal written precisely as I want it. . .