Do the holidays stress you out?

I have a confession to make.  They totally don’t stress me out.  I find them to be totally relaxing.  Holidays are awesome.

And yes, I’m the one with kids.  And yes, we celebrate Christmas.

Now, the end of the semester is a bit stressful.  Finishing up classes, then the final exam, then grading.  Also the OMG everybody is about to disappear we must have these last 50 faculty meetings to discuss urgent business.  Oh, and the 20 referee reports that are due right in the beginning of December.  And the 30 letters of recommendation.  That part is kind of stressful.  When all of that is over and the students are gone, it’s hugely peaceful.  So our Christmas season doesn’t really start until classes end (sometime in the late teens or early 20s of December, depending on the year).  The kids don’t seem to mind an abbreviated season at home even if school and stores start at Thanksgiving.

Do we make Christmas cookies?  Sometimes.  If we feel like it.  Ditto Christmas breads.  I like buying a little live rosemary tree a week or so before Christmas and we decorate that.  Christmas shopping mostly happens online.  Stocking stuffers (the only thing “Santa” brings) get bought at Target when we pick up gift cards for the teachers.  We’ve taken the oldest to see the Nutcracker.

Having the kids home 24/7 can be a little stressful, whether it’s Christmas or not.  (At least until DC2 learns to read like DC1.)  We try to arrange family visits so they overlap at least a little with kids’ vacation so that they can burn some of their energy off on the relatives.  Spread it out, so to speak.  We definitely use daycare as much as it’s open, and DC1 goes to daycamp for one of the weeks that ze is off (same place ze goes in the summer).

This time of year articles start popping up about the Elf on the Shelf and all sorts of crafty etc. time-consuming holiday traditions that moms can do to make things magical.  And that’s great for the parents who get utility out of doing stuff like that.  We love that DC1’s best friend’s mom is doing another gingerbread house party this year.

But what about people who feel compelled to do all the Christmas stuff even though they hate it?  The folks who are totally stressed out because they have to remember to move the elf every night, or they would rather watch a movie than make cookies, or they have a racist uncle Mike that they hate seeing every year at Christmas dinner?

Think about your sources of holiday stress (if any).

What happens if you:

1.  Don’t do them?  Would the world end if you just didn’t visit your racist relatives and stayed at home with the family you chose and you love instead?  If you don’t do outdoor lights?  Will the children be scarred for life if the elf moves to another house and never returns?

2.  Pay someone else to do them instead?  I learned this year that I will never adopt a family and go shopping for them again– instead I’ll just give money for someone else to shop with.

3.  Get someone else in the family to do them?  Why is it always mom’s job to bring holiday cheer?  Maybe another family member can step in and take the kids to see the lights or bake cookies and clean up the kitchen etc.

4.  Change them so they’re less stressful?  Maybe instead of getting a big cut tree you can get something that’s more manageable.  Maybe you can change a tradition so it’s more chill.  Instead of 12 different batches of cookies, maybe one or two.  Maybe it’s time for Santa to drop off the packages early and to leave them with some assembly required after they’re unwrapped.

5.  Reframe them so they’re not as stressful?  Sometimes you can just will yourself to enjoy a long drive (in the snow) to see the grandparents.  It’s an adventure instead of a chore.  Sometimes that’s not possible, but if you can’t get out of doing something, might as well make the best of it.

Do you have holiday stress?  What tips do you have for avoiding holiday stress?  What have you tried that’s worked for you?

Strong women make things happen

My aunts are amazing and strong women.  They are at or near the top of their respective fields– one of them runs a hospital system, the other is a high-level bureaucrat.  They both drop names of politicians that the rest of us just read about.

They’re not necessarily universally liked.  They, like most of the women in my family, have very strong personalities (and well-deserved egos almost commensurate with their abilities).  They tend to be right about things.  They tend to make decisions and to boss people around.  They don’t mince words, and they don’t worry about how other people feel about them.  They worry about results.  I’m sure many people refer to them as bitches behind their backs, even though that characterization would be “leaders” were they born my uncles instead of my aunts.  (My actual uncles are all pretty milquetoast.  Nice guys, except the jerk, but not so much with the ambition.)

It turns out that people like to be told what to do.  It’s hard to make decisions and nobody wants to be held responsible if the wrong decision is made.  A person with a take-charge attitude, some ambition, and enough confidence can go pretty far in life.  Especially if she’s usually right.  (But even if he’s not!)

My partner was wonderful recently at a party.    It was a vegan Canadian Thanksgiving in one of the blue coastal cities.  Full of upper-middle class folk.

There was a little girl there who was bossing around all the other kids.  She was telling them what to do and making up stories and games that they were characters in and telling them what their parts were and so on.  But they didn’t mind.  Most kids seem to like to be told what to do too, contrary to what children’s literature might suggest.

Unfortunately her mom was fretting and fussing and apologizing to anybody who would listen about her little girl’s behavior.  “She always does this,” her mom told DH.

And DH told her that her daughter would grow up to be a strong woman.  And she would change the world for the better.

It’s not always the most likeable people who make changes.  Conformists don’t tend to become leaders– they tend to be the led.

We can push people into quiet, feminine boxes.  We can force them to go against their nature.  We can add doubts and uncertainty.  We can marginalize them and take away any threat of them ever making more than small ripples.  Indoctrinate them into the patriarchy’s whispering campaigns where they reinforce the idea that no woman can do everything, or anything really.  We can break them.

Or we can train them up.  Teach them math and science and medicine and politics and economics and programming and communication and management and everything else under the sun.  Give them the education they need so that they first do no harm, and then can do some good.  Let them know about the problems in the world.  Give them the tools they need to protect themselves, and do our best to change society so they have less to be protected from.  Tell them that the haters are fools, though sometimes fools must be suffered (and ultimately educated, deflected, or manipulated for the greater good).

Let’s stop apologizing for our daughters.  Let’s  encourage them instead.  Let’s help them change the world for the better.

Because strong women make things happen.

On privilege and patriarchy and Gwyenth Paltrow

The media has it out for Gwyneth Paltrow.  They’ve got a thing going where she’s out of touch and too-perfect and privileged and whatever.  She doesn’t help it with the things she posts on her blog.  After reading this post by Family Building with a Twist, I had to see what the latest thing was.  Turns out she’s suggested hundred dollar hostess gifts and stocking stuffers (cynically, I would not be surprised if some of the items on that list were sponsored or put down as favors for someone invested in their sale).  Useless over-priced crap that rich people give to each other even though they don’t need more stuff.  Because they can.

It actually reminded me of this recent CNN article on the huge amounts being spent on art and jewelry.  Money that is definitely not “trickling down” to the little people.

This is what wealth inequality does.  It makes useless luxury items more expensive and it moves wealth around amongst the wealthy.  It doesn’t feed kids.

But that doesn’t make me hate Gwyneth Paltrow.   Infinitely worse are people like the Koch brothers or Roger Ailes and other extremely wealthy people who are against higher marginal taxes for the 1% or for cutting food-stamps.  If Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t realize that not everybody can afford organic foods, personal trainers, or $200 hostess gifts, then she should be educated on that.  Maybe a little mingling with the hoi poloi could spark some social activism on her part, though she doesn’t have to become an activist.  Pretension isn’t worth worrying about unless it harms others.  She’s not actually doing real harm, just providing media fodder for fun little let’s hate the privileged rich girl stories.  (Now that Paris Hilton has dropped out of the public eye.)

And why do we have the privileged little rich girl stories instead of stories about people who are actually doing harm?  Well, Gwyenth Paltrow is harmless.  She’s a side-show.  She can’t harm us.  She can’t harm a media organization.  She’s probably even well-intentioned.  And she’s female.

People love to put down “perfect” women.  Paltrow is thin, pretty, rich, and self-confident.  Crabs in a bucket like to pull people like that down.  It provides circus entertainment to distract us from real problems, like unemployment, failing education systems, or children going hungry while the top 1% gets wealthier and wealthier.  It is her very irrelevance that makes her the perfect sacrifice.   Attack the perfect woman and we’ll feel better about ourselves and we’ll be less likely to riot in the streets.  We’ve dealt our blows to the system by making fun of an actress who doesn’t know any better.   And that isn’t going to fix a damn thing.  It’s just sending yet another signal that women shouldn’t get too uppity or other women will hate them.  That’s a stupid signal.

The patriarchy is insidious in its divide and conquer strategies.  It’s great at distracting us from real problems, because those real problems are caused by people we can’t be catty about.  Those people are dangerous and powerful.  They’re not writing up silly over-priced gift lists on their blogs.  Much easier to channel that ire against women.   The patriarchy is good at this stuff.  It’s had lots of practice.

Why none love for the MILs?

Mother-in-law jokes are seemingly ubiquitous.  And pernicious.

What is up with the pervasive and destructive cultural meme that women can’t get along with their in-laws, specifically their mothers-in-law?

Sweetums

Fig. 1: Monsters-in-law?

For the record, I love my in-laws.  It’s awesome when we see them or when they come stay with us.  They are fun people and we all get along really well.  I wish we could spend time with them more often!

It’s disrespectful to all parties to imply that women and their MILs don’t get along.  It implies that women can’t be friends (in many versions, because they fight over a man, the husband/son).  It also implies, in many versions, that the mother needs to control her adult son, which is terrible for both of them (maybe because she is trying to live vicariously through him because as an older woman, she has no life except her children and grandchildren).

It says that adult women can’t have mature, reasonable conversations about points of disagreement, instead letting resentment simmer and seethe for years, usually in a passive-aggressive way.  It says the MIL does not respect her son’s wife, and that she can’t be polite about this.  There is also the problem of the husband/son not having his wife’s back, not telling his mother to back off… the implication that there is a contest for affection… the implication that the MIL even needs to back off… the problem where the man puts his mom above his wife.  SO MANY PROBLEMS!

It’s true that you won’t always get along with your in-laws, just like you won’t always get along with any random set of people, even if you are related.  But we don’t have to degenerate into society-wide melodrama about it.

I see this relationship in media all the time and it never fails to induce hulk-y rage.  My in-laws are good people and have welcomed me into the family.  Let’s stop pitting women against each other over issues of control, identity, and a man in the middle.  Can’t we all just get along?

#2 notes that her mom thinks #2’s partner is fantastic (and more than once has expressed surprise that #2 managed to find someone so great, thanks mom).  Also, #2’s partner’s mom has helped her with research in the past!  It doesn’t get that much more collegial than that.

Readers, hit us up with positive stories of your in-laws!

Sexual Harassment

There’s been a lot of talk lately about sexual harassment in male-dominated fields.  That’s because there’s a lot of it.

In this post, people share their experiences with harassment or the feelings that they have wondering why they haven’t been harassed.  All in tweet form.

I have to say, my first thought was also, “Why haven’t I been harassed?” And I’m going to attribute that mainly to two things (but I’m going to use more than two points).

1.  Luck

2.  Being warned off creepers and knowing not to take their classes or to have anything to do with them (also luck, also potentially hurting my career, though in my specific case, the creepers also tended to be not as good as the people who substituted for them, and that was lucky)

3. Having a big burly partner who looks like he could beat someone up (also luck)

4. Being on edge to be professional with male colleagues at all times in a way that men do not have to… this may be why I naturally gravitate towards female coauthors and mentors even though there are so few… I can talk normally around them (something men don’t have to do that could well be hurting my career)

So I thought about all of that, and then I remembered that before work, before graduate school, and before college, I actually was sexually harassed fairly frequently.  That’s probably part of the reason for #4.  The physics professor who couldn’t keep from putting his arm around girls and told us at the beginning of the first class he had been told not to frequently but he didn’t mean anything by it so he would continue to do it and we shouldn’t bother to complain because we were wrong to complain and we should just expect it.  He also copped a feel on my breast that one time.  The weird men at the grocery store who couldn’t stop leering at my 16 year old figure.  The girl who called me “queer” as an insult when I was so young and naive that I thought she meant I was weird and said I stuffed my bra before I even wore one.  The guy in middle school who I thought was jealous that I was doing better in geometry and then later realized must have had a crush on me but now I’m thinking that maybe that first belief was more right.  What an asshole.  Throughout the week more memories of incidents have been coming to my mind unbidden.

But I’ve been lucky.  What if I hadn’t had older women in my major telling me which male professors to stay away from?  Knowing what I know about them is a big reason I didn’t go back to teach at my undergrad, even though they were hiring in my field.  I didn’t even apply, even though I applied places much less fun to live and ended up at a place not as good for my partner as that city would have been.  What if I’d wanted to go in that field in graduate school with the guy who I’d been told had affairs, though I guess mostly with his students’ wives and junior professors?  I was able to avoid him entirely.

What if I didn’t have that big partner?  If I was on my own?  My single friends have to fend of creepers that see the guy standing next to me and decide to move on.

And what have I lost being unable to be “one of the guys”?  Would I have more coauthorships?  Would I have more conference invites?  Would it be easier to publish?  Of course.

I hope things get better as we get more women into my field.  Nobody should have to worry about sexual harassment.  Nobody should sexually harass people.  Work is work.  And it isn’t really about personal vs. professional anyway.  It’s about power.  And this is one way that asshats working for the patriarchy keep women down.  Absolutely we should name and shame, because if we don’t, nothing is going to change, and that’s not right.

Ponderings on feminisms in children’s (and young adult) literature

Everyone loves the Paperbag Princess… except we kind of didn’t.  We know we’re probably alone in that.

#2 did have a recording of the author reading it that she listed to a lot as a child and liked.  #1 didn’t read it until she was older and felt too deeply about it.  Like, why is she even giving this jerk the time of day?  Poor dragon, stuff like that.  #1 thinks perhaps she wasn’t getting the messages it was trying to give, but the ones it wasn’t trying to give.  Like, women are supposed to be subordinate to men.  That thought would not have crossed my mind, and yet, it is presented as the default option in the Paperbag Princess.  Sort of like educational television that makes kids behave worse because seeing the bad behavior that gets resolved at the end is more striking than the eventual resolution.

We like the books that don’t present it as a conflict, but instead present the ideal as status quo.  And we really only know one book like that.

Boy meets boy

We LOVED Boy Meets Boy.  It takes place at a school where there’s no question about whether it’s ok to be gay.  It’s like 2/3 of the book in where the author addresses how weird that it’s not like that in other towns. Boy Meets Boy is a splendid book and people should read it!

Of course, we also know that ignoring -isms doesn’t make them go away.  They do need to be brought to light and discussed.  But maybe subtlety isn’t the best way in children’s books.

Should literature present the ideal or present the reality, and when?

Ask the grumpies: Gender and Publications

The Frugal Ecologist asks:

I really want to know what you guys think about this study about publication quantity vs. quality in males vs. females. In particular Figure 1 – so many women at the bottom… so many men at the top…
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169534713000839

Do they control for time in the profession?  You would get that picture if women have only entered into the field of ecology recently.  Old guys who have been around for a while will have both more pubs and more citations, just because their work has been around longer and they’ve been around longer.

A resource you could check out is:

http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/gendertutorial/   starting with tutorial 1.  It will tell you what the numbers are across multiple fields (STEM, law, medicine, etc.) and how we can interpret them (later moving on to why they got this way and how we can change things).  This is a site prepared by an expert in this field, crunching down the data and making it in an easy-to-display form.  The tutorials have voiceover narration that tells you the main points, and you can click around for getting more numbers if you want.  Or read the transcripts.  This is where I would usually point people when they want to know about this topic.  Happy reading!

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