Dear Baby Girls,
Yesterday I took pictures of you. I thought about the letter I would write to you, reminding you of what you were doing the day the most historic thing happened: I believed, deep in my bones, that you would grow up watching a Madame President lead us, and I believed that that would be the beginning of shaking misogyny loose. I thought we would be celebrating today with apple cider. I was going to teach you how to toast. Instead, we are grieving, and we are steeling our resolve.
Because we didn’t elect our Madame President. We did not pick Hillary. Instead, we elected a man who called Mexican immigrants rapists. We elected a man who bragged about “grabbing (women) by the pussy.” I am really freaking disappointed. Hillary did win the popular vote, which makes me know that there is in fact, more good than hate. But baby girls, today is a dark day.
It is a day that is so hard. It is a day that was completely unexpected, at least for me. It is a day that I wish you never saw. It is a day I wish I could protect you from. We wildly underestimated misogyny and racism and today our underestimation hits hard, home, and real. Our underestimation is shaping your world.
I want you to know we will keep you safe. We will stand up for our beliefs. I want you to know we still believe in justice. I want you to know we know how serious this is. I want you to know how much work we have to do, and how committed we are. I want you to know your voice matters, especially when there’s injustice. You do not have to agree. We will support your voice. We will make space for it. Your voice is valuable, and it counts.
No matter what they tell you, you are allowed to grieve and take action at the same time. You get to have both. That’s what is fair and real and necessary. I want both for you. I also wanted a Madame President for you. I am deeply disappointed. This morning we listened together to the should-have-been-Madame-President give her concession speech. I sipped a homemade americano. Papa organized your toys. Luna read a book called "The Shape of My Heart." Sienna burrowed her head in my shoulder and whimpered. She is right: this will be painful for a long time. She is right, little girls, do not doubt how valuable you are, how important you are, how deeply we promise to fight for you. We will raise you with our values, we will make sure you know what justice is, we will help you find your voice and follow your dreams.
So much heartache this morning, baby girls. We love you, baby girls. We love you.
Typically, when I tell people I'm doing research, they don't really have a sense of what it is I'm actually doing. For the most part, my work does not involve quantitative data collection or heavy stats analysis, and I suppose observation sounds fuzzy, and doing or making or even being with people sounds even fuzzier.
Yesterday, doing research meant gathering iPads and cameras and loading them into a brown paper box. It meant downloading images I searched for on Pinterest under the title documentary photography onto the devices. It meant thinking about how participants could look at images of everyday life- documentary images- that showed something new or interesting about the most common of everyday moments, and spin a story from that image. It meant then imagining how participants could take the cameras packed in the box, and venture out into their world and photograph something- anything, really- from their daily lives. It meant devising a writing prompt that could follow the capturing of images, hoping that they'd continue to engage enough to write something meaningful about the image they had taken.
And so we arrived, my postdoctoral supervisor and myself, to addiction and rehab support center yesterday, and we were greeted by folks at the steps of the building, lingering on the streets and having a smoke. Someone held the door for us- for our hands were full of digital devices and doughnuts and coffee, and we entered a big room with fluorescent lighting and lots of round tables that smelled faintly of elementary school cafeteria food and warm bodies. Men and women of all ages gathered at the tables, clutching paper cups of coffee and chatting. An art table in the corner was littered with plastic boxes of broken crayons and felt markers that I desperately wanted to organized into their proper bins. An older woman with a pair of glasses strung around her neck introduced herself, the director of the center.
I felt out of place, the way I often do in a new space. The difference between me and my pixie haircut and these people was wide. I desperately wished to make the difference disappear so that I could sit down with these folks and have a cup of what I was certain was bad, watery coffee, and talk about life. But of course the way I want to be easily accepted, the way I imagine the chumminess, the camaraderie- it's always all in my head.
This isn't exactly like most of my research, for I am stepping into my post-doc supervisor's project. She's been here, many times. People know her. Young adults greet her. They ask about previous projects. I am new here, and this is the only time I will visit. Typically, I spend lots of time with people I do research with, and time erodes the difference between me and my pixie haircut and the people with whom I work. But not this time. This time, I rely on the relationships built by other researchers to carry me through, to facilitate our research.
I meet some folks. We move downstairs, into a yellowed classroom-cubicle. We gather around a table, men and women of all ages joining us. I try not to stare at a man with a multi-pointed star tattoo adorning the skin around his eye, which, I imagine, was insanely painful to have done. A young woman who must be close to me in age slips into the chair next to him, her straight blond hair falling down her back. She folds her body up in the chair, nervously- incessantly- tapping her fingers on the table. She must be going through withdrawal.
The room fills and we begin. The iPads. The people sharing their opinions of the images. Scrolling through pictures and describing what they like as I silently wish I'd chosen images that more represented this group. My pinterest images- the ones that spoke to me, they are hopelessly tied to my middle class life, my new mom-ness, my academic nerdiness, my documentary photography obsession.
But there's no room to wonder what could have been, and soon everyone has shared and we talk about what makes a good photo and we traipse outside with cameras and iPads and phones and cell phones pulled from participant pockets and backpacks.
A man who was going to photograph characters at the centre as though they were Sesame Street characters takes pictures of leaves as well. Another man isn't sure what he's supposed to do. I explain again, trying to remove the metaphor from my language. The blonde woman has someone else hold her camera while she poses with a cigarette in her hand, and I'm drawn both to the flickering red light and the curve of smoke billowing into the wind. The guy with the eye tattoo searches for a spider. We find one, but it's shaking to much in the wind. We search for another, finding one in the rafters of an octagonal structure that seems out of place.
I wonder if this is going to work. If there will be something to write about. If this is good enough.
And then we head inside, and each participant writes about their image, and one woman narrates a story to me about where she used to play as a little girl around a totem pole that she photographed. She cannot read or write, and she seems embarrassed. She emphasizes the incredible blue sky of the images she took, proud of her pictures. She took them with her camera, and her camera takes amazing pictures, she explains.
People share. The blonde talks about routines and addiction and her smoking photo. The woman who shot the totem pole asks me to read the statement I wrote as she spoke. I do. The man with the eye tattoo uses an app to write something about not getting caught in the spiderweb of life directly onto his image, but then he emails me only the plain image. I want the other one, the one with the writing. A former Pakistani architect shares an angular photo, showing us patterns and how how the image radiates.
And then we are done. The people begin to drift away. We remind them to take the food. We gather the tech. We turn off the recordings. We say thank you. We go to a cafe, and over hot drinks in trendy cups we try to imagine what we will write about multimodality, how we will think about this time, which photographs embody theory. We do not yet know. We will write there, and then we will re-write, and maybe we will know some more, then, after we've had time to think with these images, to let them blur together with ideas.
That's research. That's what I mean, when I say, I'm doing research today.
In the 1940s, Anne Frank wrote a diary that would become famous posthumously, about her experience as a Jewish girl living under Nazi rule. You probably read it in school at some point, if you grew up in North America.
In September of 2016, Bana Alabed opened a Twitter account from Aleppo, Syria about the war from her perspective as a seven-year old girl. In one month, she amassed over 71k followers with tweets like “Good afternoon from #Aleppo, I’m reading to forget the war,” and "My brother really scared of being killed by one of the shells -Bana #Aleppo." In case you haven't caught onto Bana's posts yet (she shares the account with her mom, who sometimes posts as well), you can check it out here: https://twitter.com/alabedbana
Both of these girls belong to a group of young women who, in formats appropriate to their times, leverage their stories of atrocity to effect social change. Anne Frank wrote in a diary that only became public after her death, but which has come to be emblematic of the Holocaust and which is used in classrooms to inspire students to consider major atrocity and the role of an adolescent girl living at that time. Contemporary girls follow in Anne Frank’s footsteps, relying on participatory media platforms to allow them to intervene in global conversations about gender and persistent inequity in real time.
I'm really struck by the way these narratives about life in really drastic, really dire situations are being taken up by those of us in North America. How do we interact with these stories? Who are those seventy thousand people following Bana? I'm willing to bet- though I've yet to look at the analytics- that most of them are not in Syria. Most of them, I think, are consuming her 70-character messages about life as a little girl in a war from vantage points like mine. It's as though she provides an unfiltered view of the war, one unmetered by popular media. But then again, she's seven. I have a seven year old niece. She's concerned with what flavor ice cream is in the freezer and which rides she is going to pick to go on at the county fair. I cannot even fathom her tweeting about war. And yet- I consume little Bana's brief messages, interludes from her world, on the daily, and my heart grips. Reading to forget the war. Her brother is afraid. Boom, Boom, Boom.
And what of these narratives? What can be done with them? If I download all of Bana's tweets, and analyze where her supporters are located geographically, and watch all the videos, and think with her mother's perspective, what then?
Will Bana's words be used like Anne Frank's, an entre into a world so foreign, a story that helps us make sense of atrocity? Some people worry that Anne Frank's diary is merely a balm for normalizing the Holocaust, that it takes the edge off the sheer violence when it celebrates Anne's indomitable spirit, her hopeful words, her little-girl outlook.
How can we take up Bana's words in ways that move us to action, that connect young people globally, that inspire the urgent, urgent need that for peace that is communicated every time she connects and reminds us that somewhere, very far away, many little girls are trying to avoid dying from bombs?
I'm a bit worried. Today wasn't a school day, but tomorrow my seventeen year old niece, who lives with me, will go back to high school after a brutal few days of election campaigning. She is taking both US History and Econ. As of yet, there has not been any conversation about the presidential campaign, which is shocking to me, but she tells me no one likes Trump in the whole school anyway.
But now, now it seems like they must. They must discuss this in classrooms. In every classroom. With all the kids. They have to talk about the way Donald Trump normalized his "locker room talk," they have to help young people understand why it's not ok to "grab [women] by the pussy."
I'm not the first to write on this topic. As news of Trump's "locker room" conversation travels, and we read again and again any blogs have popped up over the last couple of days, reminding us of the urgency surrounding dealing with misogyny in a timely, clear, feminist way.
What really worries me, though, is that most of my women-friends are writing, posting, texting, and remembering the many, many times they've been assaulted- when she was grabbed by the pussy on the train, when she hid in bushes from cat-calling dudes in vans, when that man exposed himself to the little girl at the lake, when the boy next door forced her to be a wife and kissed her even when she didn't want to. Some of the stories are from last week, but so many of the stories are from childhood. And the girls and young women in middle school and high school, watching these debates, scrolling through the most tweeted election scandal, seeing the phrase "grab them by the pussy" in headline after headline?
They're on the front lines. They live in the world my women-friends are remembering. Their little sisters play with the boy next door. They go on runs and hide their faces from cat-calling men. They hear their teachers' snide remarks.
And right now, as this trauma that we know all too well will likely become life-long, we are splashing it across social media feeds, shining the brightest, most public light on their newly ripped wounds, watching as they take in this life lesson that patriarchy offers. You know what? It's our job to help them make sense of this misogyny. It's our job to teach them the word misogyny. It's our job to make sure they know we can talk about what happened- that we want to talk about what happened.
My niece said to me this evening, "So wait, what exactly did he say again?" We talked. I told her. She's a second language learner, so I broke down each comment. I told her I was angry. Our conversation ended abruptly when a baby started crying. And then dinner, and then bedtime, and then homework. We have more to talk about.
But I hope to all the goddesses I'm not the only one talking to her about this. I hope her teachers give her a frame for thinking about this public assault on women's bodies, I hope her peers are horrified in the hallway, I hope her after-school club leaders allow some time and space for this topic.
And then I hope we come together, and we shut down the locker room talk, and it's not allowed, and we are not remembering, collectively, the ongoing nature of violence towards women's bodies, towards our bodies- violence enacted even by one of the men vying for the presidency.
I have a friend who wrote a song about what its like to say no to ourselves, no to opportunities that speak to our hearts and no to moments that will nourish us. Lately I’ve felt my schedule so packed with details that it seems I’ve been saying no all the time, in all the small ways that add up into the big ways. No, you can’t write, you must make phone calls. No, you can’t dabble in craft projects, you need to check the budgets. No, you can’t go swimming in the sunshine because there are meeting notes waiting to be written. No, no, no. Until my heart got very few yeses.
I recently took a job with an organization I participated in as a little girl. The organization runs camping programs. I used to be a camp director. I love being outside. And so I thought, I can save this dying organization, which a board member described as “coming up from the ashes.” And you know, I could have. Except I quit.
I wasn’t getting much out of this part-time job you know. I took it in part because I was scared. Scared of all the uncertainty that cloaks academic and artistic life. It would be a paycheck. I could write and make in between, as long as there wasn’t too much mind-numbing work. But the promises made during the interview process started to fall away and the data entry became mind-numbing. Again and again, the big, fun, juicy pieces fell away and again and again, I found myself in front of a computer, attempting to madly answer emails, return calls, do data entry. You know what I hate? Administrative work. I’m not even good at it.
I felt committed. Like I owed it to this organization that was paying me less than I made as a teenaged lifeguard. Finally a mentor said to me, “I hear you telling me what you’re doing for them, but what are you getting out of this, Chels?” In that moment I realized I was getting nothing. I was squeezing it in at night, resenting the extraordinary amount of data entry eating away at hours I could have been playing peek-a-boo or writing with my postdoc supervisor about issues I love.
They wanted to move me into an Exec Director position and I knew it. I was flattered, even though it would be an Exec Director position that would pay be a salary below the poverty line. I thought I could fix it, be a grand savior, and everyone would celebrate me. I was wrong mostly because I don’t actually want to fix this sh*t. I wasn’t getting much out of saving anyone.
I mulled over it for weeks, trying to figure out how to decide if I should stay or I should go, counting the weeks on the calendar until the start of summer camp. My mentors’ words haunted me: “But what are you getting out of this, Chels?” I knew I wasn’t really getting much.
Saying yes to myself would mean quitting. It would mean allowing myself the time and space to write. It would mean slightly less income, but a ton more time to focus on my projects. So I said yes to that little voice. I gave my notice. I felt relief, and mostly, reorientation to what matters to me. I felt my whole body shift, back to creative energy forces and writing what matters and collaborating with people on social justice issues. I said yes. It was hard and it was risky, but I’m so proud of myself for saying yes to me.
I listened to Clinton’s historic speech, in which she declared herself thenominee as I put my baby girls to bed last night. I voted for her yesterday, even though I’ve got as many concerns as the next well-educated, feminist thirty-something. But when I heard that speech, the air filled my chest and I leaned my head back and I closed my eyes and I felt so… relieved. As the twins fell asleep, I read an article about the Stanford law professor Michele Landis Dauber, who is launching a campaign to recall Judge Aaron Pesky, Santa Clara County superior court judge. All I could think was, thank the goddesses for people like this professor. I stood next to a crib and flicked through headlines and photographs of Brock Turner in a suit standing with his father- the man called the rape Brock committed “twenty minutes of action.”
It feels hopelessly impossible to hold these two events together in my mind and in my heart. How can we possibly hold the hopefulness Hillary’s success generates together with the fear and white hot anger produced by the Brock Turner case?
These two events have been headlining simultaneously. I listened to both of them discussed on Democracy Now this morning and they both are dominating my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I listen to Hill, and I feel my heart swell. For whatever its worth, I’m deeply hopeful because when my babies learn about the judicial system in elementary school there will be a woman on the presidential rosters (the alternative is too frightening to mention). I feel a bit silly feeling so hopeful about this, especially because I know that Hill doesn’t exactly challenge too many gender norms. But then again, it’s a million percent not OK with me that there’s never been a woman Presdient. So it’s a baby step. A big baby step in the form of the first woman to be the Presidential nominee of a major party. It feels pretty freaking grand. So for a moment I allow myself to forget about fracking, to shrug my shoulders at her political decisions I disagree with- and I allow myself to revel in the fact that my baby girls will grow up in a world where there can be a woman President of the USA. It’s a chest-swelling excitement.
Except I can’t revel too long in that chest-swelling excitement. Because there’s Brock Turner, and the light sentence the judge assigned so that the rape he committed wouldn’t ruin his life. The woman he raped has said it most eloquently herself:
“Lastly you said, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life.
A life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. If you think I was spared, came out unscathed, that today I ride off into sunset, while you suffer the greatest blow, you are mistaken.” Read the whole statement here.
I have two little girls. I’m a feminist with a penchant for research on gender, the patriarchy, adolescent and young adult girls, and educational equity. I know how wildly high the statistics are for sexual assault and rape, especially at universities. In so many ways, it’s a miracle Brock was caught by some bikers out for a late night ride. If they hadn’t happened to ride by, if they hadn’t seen him mounting a motionless woman, if they hadn’t chased him… there would have been no trial at all. For countless other women, this is the scenario. And Brock, like so many other young men, would be known for his fast swimming times, for his supportive family, for his Stanford education. He would most certainly commit more rapes. And I shudder.
Brock, Pesky, and men like both of them make it so that all women are at risk. Every single one. Judge Pesky made our risk extraordinarily clear when he made sure Brock- a white boy getting educated at one of the country’s most prestigious universities- got the lightest sentence possible because he was concerned for Brock’s well-being.
This case is racial privilege, this case is gender privilege. Pesky wasn’t concerned about the young woman who was assaulted out in the open, unconscious, on the ground, behind a stinky dumpster. It’s a pattern- the same pattern of misogyny we see again and again and again. It’s the same pattern that puts everyone with a vagina at extraordinary risk. It’s called patriarchy.
We finally have nominated a woman to the Presidency. My heart swells as I stroke the soft curls of my sleeping baby. She can do anything.
Except she can’t because men still rape women behind dumpsters, and judges still let them off easy so their lives are not ruined.
So, sweet baby girls, where does this leave us? You can be the President. You will get to see her walk out on stage in heels, and when you have to memorize the US presidents in elementary school, maybe you will be able to see a little bit of yourself in her. There will be one more crack in the patriarchy, one more space for feminist light to flood. But watch your back, sweet baby girls. You’re only ten months old, but we will need to teach you these rules. Travel in groups. Cross the street if there’s a man walking behind you after dark. Don’t take drinks from dudes. It doesn’t matter who the dude is. Don’t trust him. When you walk to your car alone, hold your keys in your fist, ready to punch out some creepy man. It’s more likely going to come from someone you know, though, so really- it doesn’t matter who he is, don’t trust him. Because you see, the old boys club is looking out for their own, making sure they are barely punished. You have to look out for yourselves.
I hate that I have to impart this kind of knowledge to these two little human beings. I want to impart nothing but possibility. Only hopefulness. But I know I must protect them too, for I am their mother, and in this world, protecting two baby girls means making sure as hell they know how to fight the man.
Tonight, we need feminism. We need feminism because we need more people who are not men in all positions of power. We need feminism because I want to be able to brush those little curls off that little forehead and smile because I’m not worried some dude is going to rape her behind a dumpster. We need feminism because I want to be able to brush those little curls off that little forehead and smile because her gender isn’t a f*cking liability to her greatness.
Finally, I can announce the news: I am the new PostDoc at the Social Justice Research Institute at Brock University. Brock is a big university in St. Catharine's, Ontario- (for my American dears, its in Eastern Canada- or at least, more East than Vancouver. Don't worry I had to have a geography lesson about this as well). I'll stay in the Bay Area for now, and commute a couple times a year.
And I will write. Oh gosh will I write. I will write and write and write.
I'm sitting in a coffee shop right now and I'm doodling about all the things I will write about. Multiliteracies and youth media production and digital worlds and social media and activism and justice and gender and girls and all the things. It feels like possibility has broken wide open again- like I cracked open a stone that I had given up on, and inside, there were those beautiful purple crystals just waiting to be discovered.
I cannot wait to really do a deep-dive into the way high profile girl activists are narrating gender justice issues in digital social networks, and to spend some time tracing how their creations move in across social networks. I cannot wait to sift through ideas and write back to the literacy research world about youth and media and digital.
I was just about to throw in the towel- to say, you know, I wanted academe, but academe didn't want me. But then this happened. Which is to say, when you reach what you feel like is the end of your own once-upon-a-time-vision, apply for that one last thing that probably won't work anyway. Because it might crack open possibility. (Also, note to self: take this advice yourself.)
This last application? I was really seen. My work was seen for exactly what it is: knowledge about youth, video and photo production, and social justice. I'm at the Social Justice Research Institute with a mentor (Canada Research Chair of Multiliteracies, Dr. Jennifer Rowsell) where I can, quite simply, do exactly what I love the most: writing on youth, media and social justice. That is good enough. That is inspiring. That is real. That involves young people and schools and literacy.
I'm also seriously looking forward to working with a prominent scholar who is also a mama, and who can show me the mama-academic ropes. I've often wondered how academic women with children do it- how do they manage to continue to think and write about literacies and digitality and youth even as they change four cajillion diapers and simultaneously feed babies in the middle of the night, cook child-friendly meals, and manage shot appointments and swim lessons? How do they show up as writers to think carefully and critically as much as they show up as mamas to love with abandon and protect sticky little fingers from getting into every single electrical outlet there ever was?
I am so, so excited. I'll be posting here regularly as I write- previews, working-throughs, ideas, happenings- and I hope you'll join me for this adventure!
Initially posted for Zavaleta Studios.
The thing is, raising young children is isolating. We've all hear that old and tired adage "it takes a village to raise a child." Now if only we had a dollar for every time we wondered where the hell our villages are.
When you're tired because you woke up at 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and then at 7 for the day, you need people. Maybe you have enough people helping you, but its hard for me to imagine and I've got a mother who washes bottles like nobody's business and an aunt who likes to cuddle on her days off and lots of friends looking as bleary eyed from babies as they did from vodka-tonics. I mean I do have twins, but I think I'd need a nap even if there was only one, and especially if one of them was a toddler. In truth, I like a good casserole as much as the next sleep-deprived parent subsisting on dehydrated yogurt drops their child rejected, but more than that, I need others who are debating baby led weaning, preschool enrollment, and the merits of books like "Go the f*ck to sleep." It seems weird, but this is exactly where music comes in.
For decades and decades, cultures of people have turned to the arts in order to understand how they belong in the world. We need the arts- music, painting, theatre, basket weaving, and the like- in order to make sense of ourselves. In worlds different than the one I inhabit, women came together and sang with their babies on their backs. I so often long for that kind of camraderie- just to know, that others are where I am, and others were where we are, and others will be where we are- just to know, there is a pattern to the madness, some kind of rhythm associated with dumping organic purple carrot-beet puffs onto my childs' high chair tray, only to have her discover that is she slams both hands onto the tray, she can bounce said puffs several feet in the air and sometimes the dog can catch them.
But in all seriousness, we need community. We need to feel like we're part of something bigger. For decades and decades, in villages and cities around the world, music has served as that connective tissue: the conduit for building community practices, cultures, and knowledges. In that tradition, we run our baby/child music classes: incorporating songs and sounds and instruments from Mexico, Cuba, the US, various African countries, and elsewhere, we play djembes and shake maracas, we sing in English and we sing in Spanish. The hopefulness of singing off tune (I promise to be horribly off tune and unable to keep a beat, so don't get nervous) bleeds into the conversations about child rearing and what it means to mother, to father, to raise children at a moment that is complicate and digital and busy like never before. So take a break. Come on down, sing, play, and explore.
Check out our classes: http://www.zavaletastudios.com/#!familymusica/osrd5
Initially published on www.zavaletastudios.com
So if you have young children, it's likely you've heard about early literacy and the many, many things you can do to set your wee one up for success. Maybe you've built a book nook (we have!) or maybe you read seven stories before bed every night (bless your heart) or maybe you point out words and writing when you come across it in the real world. Whatever you're doing, you are probably rocking it.
And it's always a good idea to keep rocking it, especially when rocking out with the kiddos at a music class has such awesome literacy benefits. So here's a few key highlights about the incredible stuff that happens when you start to sing. Whether you're going to join us at Tiny Tots Música or you're going to sing in the shower with a kid or two, rock on.
Music Encourages Language
One of the most critical pieces for little ones getting read to talk, listen, read and write is being exposed to lots, and lots, and lots of words. Like really, lots. It turns out that we adults tend to use the same words over and over again in our speech- this is why reading books is so great. Even the simplest children's books tend to have more word variety than our everyday speech. If you're tired of read the same old farm board book, why not try singing the Beatles or dancing along to Wheels on the Buss? It doesn't matter what you sing, it matters that you sing. Otherwise your child may never know that there are yellow submarines where whole communities of people live. I mean really, when else would that word come up?
Music Helps Little Ones Learn To Listen
When my partner was learning English (he's a Spanish speaker) there were many words he would confuse. My two favourite sets of confusing-similar-sounding words are: mistletoe/mazeltov, and bear/bird/bear/bar/bare/beer. Now, I never would mix up mistletoe for mazeltov--- but they do sound very similar. Same with bear/bird/bear/bar/bare/beer-- very similar words. Listening to music has been shown time and again to support children as they learn to differentiate these kinds of words. So come on out, make sure your child hears you singing, and we'll make up a song about mistletoe and mazeltov, just in case we ever need to differentiate between those words.
Music Builds Relationships
Literacy is dependent on human relationships: we need each other in order to make sense of the world. Your children need you to show them how to tell stories, how to participate in a group, how to laugh and learn even when you're embarrassed because you hit the drum on the wrong beat (well, I'm teaching the twins this last one, because I can never stay on beat!). Making music with a community of people fosters relationship building, and relationships encourage growth and exploration. Children need these kinds of safe spaces in order to begin to explore language, storytelling, and indeed, music.
So keep rocking out. Rock out to your favourite oldies station. Rock out to Pandora. Rock out to Old McDonald. Rock out to classical jazz. Just rock out.
Over the past couple of semesters, I have noticed that again and again and again, my students find a way to write about how Disney Princesses are basically the worst, ever. They hurl threats of patriarchy and misogyny, they claim girls are unable to see themselves in Disney princesses and they call for more varied, or just less Princess-y, girl role models, toys, films, and the like.
When I first started noticing this phenomena, I was like THIS IS AMAZING- THEY'RE ALL FEMINISTS AND THIS NEVER HAPPENED IN MY COURSES AT THE BIG, PUBLIC UNIVERSITY. Then I read ten Disney Princess papers. And then ten more. And then ten more.... And as I sit down to read this stack of papers, there are more.
My students tend to focus on Ariel, Belle, and Snow White. Some make the arguments better than others, but basically: Ariel is too obsessed with men and girls learn only men matter (can you believe she gave up her voice?!?!); Beauty and the Beast is a narrative template for an abusive relationship (if you just keep loving him enough, even though he is horrible and hurts you, he'll eventually become a prince!); Snow White had to hide away from the world and found utter happiness singing and cleaning for seven old men. The thing is, I agree. I am totally on board. We need some new narratives.
It is, though, a bit exhausting. If I have to read for another ten pages about Cinderella and her shoe and how they measured her foot instead of her brain, I might have a meltdown. On the one hand, I'm so glad they've finally got a space to be pissed off about princess culture and girls' well being. On the other hand, can we please talk about the new princesses- like Merida- and the post feminist climate?!?! Please?
You see, Disney has already responded to the critique of their man-serving girl princesses. And my goodness has it been written about, talked about, debated and protested. What has been less talked about is this moment we find ourselves in now: a time when Disney princesses are brave and tough and have long, wild, curly hair and a pack of arrows on their back. What does this newer narrative mean for girls today? Is the "glass ceiling" really shattered? How can we think about the emergence of the strong girl, and what does she mean for feminism? And what of postfeminism, which Angela McRobbie discusses as the climate in which the strong girl emerges- a climate that is made up of the backlash of earlier feminisms that centralizes the belief that we not longer need feminism because girls and women are now equal, participating, democratic citizens.
But oh, these college freshman. Finally, for the first time they find themselves in a place where a professor welcomes essays on misogyny as it presents in Aladdin. They come into my office hours and tell me how angry they are that girls are so encouraged to play with pink princess dresses, and their eyes gleam when I nod. They're not quite ready to move on to the postfeminist climate yet, or even an analysis of Merida (god I love her long, tangled, curly hair). They have just discovered this trove of treasures called feminist theory, this land replete with ways to theorize girlhood beyond and outside of the Disney Princess. I'm starting to think its a prerequisite, to go back in time and to carefully remember, to learn to flex those feminist muscles with the Princess films these young people watched as girls. And so I will continue nodding. These freshman writers are learning to write, learning to examine, think through, and analyze with a feminist lens. And when they are ready, after they have dusted off the old critiques and practiced lobbing a pointed argument about Ariel's lost voice- then, they will become the next generation of feminist writers. And they're going to do way more than analyze Merida and discuss post-feminism: I know because they are so vibrant, and so curious, and so excited.
But ripping Disney a new one must be a prerequisite. And so I'll keep collecting them, keep commenting on them, and keep nodding during my office hours.
Chelsey is a digital storyteller, geek, mama, researcher and yogi. She loves to make things and her favorite food is artichokes.