Transing children & the myth of an unbiased medical establishment

This is part II of a series on radical feminism and transgenderism. The first, The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism’ is available here.

 

I have many concerns about the current push to medically transition children because of sex-based stereotyping as I outlined here in the case of a child whose mother was terrified he was gay – on the say so homophobic relatives. As a radical feminist, I view gender as socially constructed upon the material reality of female and male bodies. It is also, in the words of Claire Heuchan, a “hierarchy imposed by men to ensure their dominance over women’. Gender, as a theoretical concept, is inherently harmful. As a ‘reality’, it is responsible for the oppression of women globally through FGM, domestic and sexual violence and abuse, pornography, prostitution, and femicide. Women are not oppressed because they identify as female; women are oppressed because men construct women’s biological sex as ‘inferior’ and women themselves as possessions. As Marina Strinkovsky writes,

if gender is real and biological sex a social construct, if sex is not a “real” and meaningful political or economic category, on what basis did the parents of the hundreds of millions of women and girls lost to femicide know who to kill?”

This question seems perfectly reasonable: how do we decide which foetuses should be aborted and what humans to pay less if not through the material reality of biological sex. Yet, this question is considered ‘transphoic’. Any questioning of gender theory is met with abuse and threats. Suggesting children might not be capable of deciding about medical care is met with derision in cases of transgender children, but not children undergoing treatment for diseases such as cancer. There is a double standard here that needs to be explored more fully and we absolutely need more research into the way in which mental health diagnoses or suicide risks are defined within the transgender movement. However, in this essay I want to focus specifically on gender identity and the theory of an unbiased medical establishment.

Personally, I find the idea that a child born with a penis *must* be a girl if he plays with a doll or wears sparkly shoes and that a child born with a vagina must be a boy if she plays with toy cars completely insane. A 2 year old plays with toys. They have no idea what is a ‘boy’s toy’ or a ‘girl’s toy’ is without being told by their parents, extended family or peers. It is utterly ridiculous that we have now arrived at a point where a 2 year old is deemed competent to define their own ‘gender’ when we don’t allow them to operate heavy machinery, vote, or decide whether or not they are going to wear pants outside when its -20 degrees. There is simply not enough adequate or unbiased research in neurobiology and gender identity to consider a 2 year old or a 12 year old to have gillock competence over their mental health and future reproductive choices. Even if research around gender identity and gillock competence was well-established, I am extremely concerned that we are allowing children to take drugs to prevent puberty on the say so of a supposedly unbiased medical establishment and without rigorous long-term studies that assess patients according to the medical and mental health, particularly looking at how trauma harms child brain development.*

Frankly, even the research into gender dysphoria, which is real, is questionable when we remove sex based stereotypes and children who present as ‘trans’ who grow up to be homosexual. It’s not surprising that surgery to ‘transition’ an adult is considered more acceptable than being homosexual in deeply conservative countries like the US and Iran, where the penalty for being gay is death.

Since any discussion of the potential consequences of puberty blockers or gender dysphoria in general is met with cries of ‘transphobia’, pharmaceutical companies and various medical professionals  have been given carte blanche to claim puberty blockers are safe with no real research into the long-term effects of these drugs on children.

Perhaps it is my natural cynicism but I find the faith in an unbiased medical establishment deeply bizarre. This is not to say that gender dysphoria is not real. It is fairly clear that dysphoria exists and causes severe distress to many people. However, the huge growth in young people presenting with dysphoria who are given medical interventions without investigating how they came to believe they were trans is concerning.

Even if we ignore the recent scandals involving transvaginal meshes, the links between baby powder and ovarian cancer, the profit before people policies as seen in the recent price gouging in the sale of epi-pens and AIDS drugs, the well documented racist and sexist history of birth control, and the use of lobotomies to treat mental illness, it is completely unethical to push a medical ‘cure’ when there is very little research on the long term consequences of that ‘cure’ when delaying puberty or promoting chest binding in girls.

The clear history of the medical and pharmaceutical industrial complex in prioritising profit over people should have us questing the motivations of all involved – mostly how much money they will make claiming 10 year olds need puberty blockers and that surgery is necessary to decrease the rate of suicide in transgender people when it appears that the rate of suicide attempts and death remain the same both pre and post-surgery.** In the context of the US, where many people have no health insurance, and the number of people in the UK who travel to Thailand and other jurisdictions that have less over sight of the medical establishment, it is absolutely essential to follow the money.

We need more research into the rise in gender identity and gender dysphoria before assuming that pharmaceutical companies and doctors *always* have the best interests of their patients at heart. We need to investigate who gets rich through research and through medical practise. We need more research into why so many children are transitioning – and how this is impacted by homophobia from family and peers. We need more research around the links between child sexual abuse, trauma and transition. We need more research why some people regret transition, particularly those post-surgery, a question that is currently deemed ‘transphobic’.***

I have very little faith in the medical and pharmaceutical industrial complex to commit to research that does not make them rich. And, right now, the industry is making a whole lot of money off people with simply not enough evidence to support the first commandment of doctors: do no harm. This is without discussing the homophobia inherent in insisting that 2 year old boys who play with dresses have to be a girl and not a) a normal child; or b) gay  (as though we could guess sexuality on a child who has no idea what sex or relationships are). Children should not be used as medical experiments outside of strictly controlled trials – like the ones used to investigate how to manage pain in premature babies of the effectiveness of certain treatments for diseases – and never by your local GP.

People who have gender dysphoria have the right to access safe medical and pharmaceutical support. At this point, we don’t have enough evidence that ‘safe’ exists and is monitored appropriately. Call me cynical, but companies who sell drugs at hugely over-inflated prices aren’t going to be the ones who will do such research without a financial incentive.

Follow the money to unravel the myths is as true in research into pornography and prostitution, as it is in medical transition. We simply aren’t doing this.

 

*A number of high profile male to female trans women have spoken publicly about their experiences of child sexual abuse.

** This article published by The Conversation is worth reading: “FactCheck Q&A: was Lyle Shelton right about transgender people and a higher suicide risk after surgery?”.

***I would also like to see more long term studies on the rates and types of violence perpetrated by male to female trans and its relation to men who do not have dysphoria. The only real research at this point is a Swedish study that suggests trans women have the exact same rate of violence as men.

 

Bibliography

Deborah Cameron, A brief history of ‘gender’, (2016)

Delilah Campbell, Who owns gender , (2015)

Catherine Drury, ‘Gender dysphoria in children’,  (Fair Play for Women, 2017)

Jeni Harvey, The Misogyny Of Modern Feminism, (2017)

Claire Heuchan, ‘Sex, Gender, and the New Essentialism, ‘  Sister Outrider, (2017)

Claire Heuchan, ‘The Problem That Has No Name because “Woman” is too Essentialist‘, Sister Outrider, (2017)

Claire Heuchan, Binary or Spectrum, Gender is a HierarchySister Outrider, (2017)

Jane Clare Jones, You are killing me: On hate speech and feminist silencing, (2015)

Nymeses, Being Told You Have Gender Dysphoria as a Lesbian, (2016)

Thain Parnell, ‘Transition is no casual matter, and we need to talk about those who regret it’,  (Feminist Current, 2017)

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, ‘Trans issues and gender identity’, (Sex & Gender: A Beginner’s Guide, 2015)

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, ‘The idea that gender is a spectrum is a new gender prison’, (Aeon, 2016)

RootVeg, ‘Gender is socially constructed upon a material reality’ , (2015)

Victoria Smith, ‘Anorexia, breast binding and the legitimisation of body hatred’ (New Statesman, 2016)

Raising Useless Children – A disaster of Helicopter Parenting.

My eldest daughter’s first year of secondary school included a residential outdoor education trip. She had already been on one in primary school at a similar centre so I wasn’t going to bother attending the parent’s information meeting. Until she came home with not only a list of things required to take but skills needed to be allowed on the trip, including:

  • Being able to butter her own toast
  • Cut up dinner
  • Pour herself a drink without spilling
  • Getting dressed by herself
  • Brushing her own teeth.

As with all comprehensive schools in Scotland, integration for students with additional support needs was policy (although these children never get the actual level of support required due to systemic underfunding). The school also had a unit attached for students with autism who may find a full day too difficult. I assumed that my daughter had collected the wrong form and that the list was to double check children’s support needs in order to ensure the appropriate level of staffing to ensure that all children could attend. I went along to the information meeting assuming it would be a waste of my time (since I’d sat through a similar one the year before).

I was wrong.

My daughter had indeed brought home the right letter. And, the list above: for children without any additional support needs.

According to the head teacher, every single year at least one or two children attended who couldn’t do some or all of the above for themselves, because their parents did everything for them. The children, age 11-12, were all boys.

I was utterly boggled at the idea that a 12 year old couldn’t pour themselves a glass of juice. It’s a skill I assumed most kids had perfected at nursery level with the ubiquitous sand and water table. But, no. There are genuinely 12 year old boys who have never had to butter their own toast. Whilst my eyebrows were attached to the ceiling, this did, at least, explain the number of 8 year old boys in women’s change rooms at the pool – not for reasons of safety, but because they couldn’t dry themselves with a towel. Having never tried. Quite how schools cope with this particular group of children during upper primary swimming lessons is beyond me. I’d be tempted to go with: if you can’t use a towel, you can’t go swimming, obviously for only those children who should have needed no support.

I’ve been banging on about this for a decade now, mostly on Mumsnet where very few parents of girls were surprised by the level of learned helplessness. Especially those who hung out on the relationships board full of women needing help to get their husbands to put their own dishes in the dishwasher or dirty pants in the laundry. Husbands who assumed their job and penis prevented them from actually being required to not be an asshole. Even if the wife worked full time and they had 6 kids. She was required to come home and do another full day’s work. He got to do his ‘hobby’,  which is code for being an asshat. Inevitably, some handmaiden would rock up to say that insisting your partner is capable of operating the washing machine was awful because their husbands do nothing and a dude capable of putting dirty pants in the laundry was the baseline for awesome men. This would be men who can operate satellite TV, Netflix, and google. But incapable of working out the clearly labelled on button on a washing machine or dishwasher.  After more than a decade on Mumsnet, I’ve come to believe that we’ve raised a generation of young men more entitled, selfish and mean-spirited than their own fathers who, in the 1970s, at least pretended to be acquainted with kitchen equipment.

Despite all of the above and many, many years in playgroups listening to women whose husbands were utterly useless as human beings, I was still shocked by Saskia Sarginson’s recent Guardian column on her utterly pathetic adult children who still live at home and can’t work out how to use a litter box. Children who apparently pay no rent or buy any food. Or, feed a cat without whining to Mummy and Daddy about their siblings.

I’m hoping the column is all exaggeration and hyperbole, but, frankly, I expect its completely true. After all, when my eldest started uni a few years ago and lived in halls for first year, helicopter parenting continued. The students were only expected to clear after themselves in the kitchen and take out the bin. There were cleaning staff who vacuumed , cleaned the bathrooms, and a deep clean of the kitchen. Several students in her halls had parents come up on the weekend to help their children clean their rooms and do the very few chores expected of them. And not parents who lived round the corner. Quite frankly, global warning would decrease significantly if these parents stayed at home instead of driving 6 hours in an SUV to do their kid’s laundry.

My daughter did suggest I come down to ‘help’. There was much hysterical laughter on my side. I did get a drunken phone call a few weeks later to the effect of ‘you know all the times I thought you were horrible making me do stuff. I was wrong. Thank you for ensuring I’m not an idiot’. Obviously, this particular call has since been denied. And, there was definitely no retracting of me being horrible in other ways than forcing her to clean the cat litter, learn to cook and take out the recycling.

I’m not suggesting I’m a perfect parent. We could be here for days if my eldest was going to list my failings. The youngest, now responsible for cleaning the cat litter, has an excellent side eye for moments of parental unacceptability. However, the best part of having an adult child is watching them live their lives capable of dealing with crap, both literally and figuratively, without falling apart or requiring their mother come every few weeks to help with laundry. Granted, I would prefer mine not to be on the other side of the planet, but she’s having a brilliant time and that’s what matters most. Even if I’m insanely jealous of the weather and an affordable public transport system.

As for Sarginson’s children who have somehow become adults with zero life skills, well I feel sorry for them. Being forced to live with your parents whilst an adult because your wages don’t cover rent and food at the same time is the consequence of a malicious government and unfettered capitalism. Living with your parents because you are incapable of operating a washing machine or feeding the cat is a consequence of piss-poor parenting. It’s not funny or something to brag about. We need to start addressing this type of learned helplessness and infantilisation as harmful to children. Whilst child abuse is completely inappropriate here as a term, raising a child who cannot care for themselves is more than just raising entitled lazy brats. Its unfair and cruel to expect a child who has never once washed a dish, or buttered their own toast, to be an actual functioning adult.

What happens when these children try to live with long-term partners? Have children? Or, after their parents die? Will they even be capable of maintaining a long-term relationship if they’ve been raised to believe that others will always pick up the tab and do all the wifework? That you are so important that basic life skills are unimportant and mean. What will Sarginson’s kids be like in 5 years? Because my assumption would be unhappy.

There is a huge gulf between a 12 year old who can’t butter their own toast and an adult who can’t care for the cat for 2 days, but both are predicated on the desire of the parents to be ‘needed’ at the expense of the emotional and physical wellbeing of their children. And, in this case, publicly humiliating children for a couple of bucks from the Guardian.

Sarginson, and her, partner have reared 3 children who have no understanding of reality. Parenting is the least glamorous job in the world and women are held responsible for the majority of child rearing. Fucking up is normal because no one is perfect. However, 3 adult children who never pay rent or buy groceries who can’t be left alone for a weekend without whining and carrying on isn’t funny. It’s utterly pathetic.

 

Bibliography

Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender, (Icon Books, 2010)

Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the myths of our gendered minds, (Icon Books, 2017)

Arlene Hochschild, The Second Shift, (Penguin Books, 2003)

Susan Maushart, The Mask of Motherhood, (Penguin Books, 1999)

Susan Maushart. Wifework: Men get one thing marriage that women never do -wives, (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2002)

 

 

The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism.

This is Part One of a series responding to the issues around transgenderism and the media representations therein.

 When my daughter was 3 she decided she wanted to be a mermaid for the ability to swim underwater. This lasted until she realised that mermaids do two things: swim and brush their hair. Understandably, this was deemed too boring. So, she became a mermaid superhero, which combined awesome swimming skills (and potentially a visit to Atlantis) with the ability to fly and read minds (and ignore her mother). Eventually this became a superhero mermaid rock star since I, in a moment of extreme unreasonableness, refused to let her dye her hair bright blue. (She decided her way around this was to become the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the band could veto my no blue hair rule, but that’s a whole different story).

My daughter no longer wants to be a mermaid or a rock star. She still loves superheroes and we spend a lot of time in comic book stores and at Comic Cons. She also has short hair. Despite clearly being a girl, at a recent Comic Con she was referred to as a boy because she chose to attend as a male superhero. The fact that many of the traditional male superheroes, such as Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Green Lantern,  are being replaced by women was deemed irrelevant. GrantedIMG_7717 this had a lot to do with the extreme sexualisation of female superheroes and villains, as seen in the comic artist Frank Quitely exhibit at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. Quitely was involved in the changes to the X-men costumes to make them more ‘practical’, except for Emma Frost who is wearing platform boots and two tiny pieces of cloth covering her breasts.*IMG_7716

Whilst deeply annoying, the ‘misgendering’ of my daughter did raise some interesting questions on why men assumed a primary school child had to be a boy because her costume featured neither a tutu nor a corset. The teenage boys dressed as female superheroes were classed as ‘transgressive’. My daughter, however, had to be a boy.

I was reminded of this situation when the utterly dreadful Good Housekeeping article on a boy whose Conservative Christian parents decided he must be a transgirl went viral. This child was forcibly transitioned by his parents in response to their relatives suggested he might be gay because he liked to play with toys that were for ‘girls’:

“Shortly after Kai turned 2, friends and family were starting to notice her behavior. Living in Pearland, Texas, that meant we were getting a lot of sidelong glances and questions. Kai would only play with other girls and girls’ toys. She said boys were “gross.” Family members were flat-out asking me if this kid was gay. It made me nervous, and I was constantly worried about what people would think of me, of us and of my parenting. While family was questioning whether Kai was gay ….”

Kai’s parents were so horrified by a son who like to wear bright dress up clothes that they decided he must be a girl.  This poor child has to contend with homophobic parents more concerned about appearances than raising an emotionally healthy child with a wide range of interests.

The correct response to such homophobic comments from family and friends should be to remove them from your child’s life (and deal with your own homophobia). Yet, these parents were feted by Good Housekeeping for transitioning a child to cover up their homophobia. Because having a gay child is the worst possible thing than raising a son who plays with toys traditionally assigned to girls and who may be gay (or, you know, just a kid who likes playing with toys). We are expected to celebrate these parents for their homophobia and for caring more about the neighbours than their own child.

This Good Housekeeping article encompasses all of my fears about the ways in which the construction of the Trans narrative is both deeply conservative and harmful to children.** Rather than recognizing the ways in which gender stereotypes create a hierarchy of male/ femaleand the decades of feminist research into the negative consequences this has for girls, we have, once again, arrived at a point where gender is deemed a binary with children unable to be just children. So, my superhero loving daughter, who only reads comics featuring female superheroes and villains, is being defined as male by so-called leftist people, who cannot conceive of women outside of a hyper-sexualised, violent pornographied object and by right-wing religious fundamentalists who believe women are inferior to men. It is not unsurprising that an Islamic fundamentalist country like Iran forcibly transitions people with the other option being death. The story of Kai demonstrates a similar trend in fundamentalist Christian communities in the US – the isolation and shaming of gay and lesbian children within these communities is well-documented and is responsible for the self-harming and suicides of far too many children.

I cannot see anything liberating about forcing children into categories of boy/girl based solely on whether or not they like trains or tutus – and all the subsequent medical interventions – or the entirety of the bigender/agender/ genderqueer constructions that continue to reify the sex based hierarchy rather than challenging them. Certainly, the recent article in the New York Times entitled “My daughter is not Trans, she’s a tomboy” still supports the theory that ‘girls’, unless they do ‘boy stuff’ are not as good as being born male. Girls who play with Barbies are bad and girls who climb trees are good is an asinine narrative that punishes children for trying to learn who they are within a culture that punishes children who try to conform or challenge the gendered patriarchal constructs of  masculine/ feminine.

Labelling children transgender at the age of 2 is a conservative and reactionary response to the questioning of gender. It is inherently homophobic and it fails to challenge the neoliberal discourse of ‘choice’ which depoliticises liberation politics and renders any discussion of class-based politics as ‘hateful’. As a radical feminist, I want nothing less than the full liberation of all women from the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.  This includes recognising that gender is not a performance or an ‘identity’. It is nothing more than the systemic social, cultural and physical oppression of women’s bodies, predicated on women’s reproductive, sexual and caring labour, which does nothing more than a reinforce a hierarchy of man/woman.

*Thank you to Claire Heuchan who pointed out this part of the exhibit to me.

** Part two is a discussion of the medical establishment and the transitioning of children.

Suggested Reading:

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, (London,2010).

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of our Gendered Minds, (UK, 2017)

Glosswitch, ‘Our culture dehumanises women by reducing them all to breeders and non-breeders‘, (New Statesman, 2014)

Claire Heuchan, “Sex, Gender and the New EssentialismSister Outrider, (7.2.2017).

Claire Heuchan, Lezbehonest about Queer Politics Erasing Lesbian WomenSister Outrider, (15.3.2017).

.Claire Heuchan, The Problem that has no name because women is too “essentialist”Sister Outrider, (22.2.2017).

bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, (UK, 2000)

Miranda Kiraly  & Meagan Tyler (eds.), Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism, (Australia, 2015)

Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford University Press, 1986)

Peggy Ornstein, Girls & Sex, (Great Britain, 2016), see pgs 160-165

PurpleSage, The Relentless Tide of Sex Stereotypes, (20.5.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, “Gender is not a spectrum”Aeon, (28.6.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, What I believe about Sex & GenderMore Radical with Age, (2015)

Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today, (London, 2001)

 

The Myth of the “Girl” Brain; or how to spot a misogynist

I wasn’t going to bother writing about this again since my views are pretty clear to anyone who’s come across my rantings on “girl and boy” brains. Some of the media coverage of the new research “proving” brain differences has been excellent. Glosswitch wrote a great review in the New Statesman as did  Marstrina at Not A Zero Sum Game. I was ignoring because it irritates me no end to see people claiming that  gender science is totes real and completely removed from our culture. 

I’m fairly certain there are only three kinds of people who believe in “girl” brains:
  1. Those with poor literacy skills
  2. Nincompoops
  3. Misogynists.
Anyone growing up with an access to good education falls into the last two categories. And, most are misogynists. They may not think they are but the only reason to believe in inherent differences between men and women based on junk science is if you believe that women are inferior to men. The myth of “girl” brains only serves to maintain the status quo: which is a culture where women earn 70% of what men earn, are fired for getting pregnant and are blamed for being a victim of a crime.


Here’s the thing, we just don’t have the ability to tell what is clearly a genetic difference versus what differences are caused by socialisation. Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences breaks down the problems with the science and the refusal the effects of socialisation in a patriarchal culture. I won’t bother repeating what she wrote since everyone needs to read this book; especially for the Daddy Rat research.

Every time someones claim that they can ‘see’ observable differences, whether in MRI scans or toddlers playing, I am reminded of Nazi scientists who swore blind they could see observable differences in the skull sizes of Jewish and African people. I am reminded of 19th eugenicists who claimed the same. In 20 years, we may have the science which can conclusively prove, once and for all, whether or not there are actually differences between the brains of men and women; or prove that actually the statistically insignificant differences we see now are nothing more the process of socialisation on the human brain.

Until then, I’m going to assume that those who insist in genetic differences are either nincompoops or misogynists with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo: and women’s inferiority. 

You Too Can be a Model or a Pop Star: Living the Barbie Dream

Remember when Barbie was President of the United States? A vet? An entrepreneur with a string of high street stores? An astronaut? A paraolympian? A jockey?


Remember when Barbie’s body measurements were hateful but Barbie herself could do anything and be anything?

I do.


It’s unlikely my kids will remember Barbie this way since Barbie is now either a model, pop star or actress. It’s not that Barbie can’t be President of the United States since a limited edition Barbie for President 2012 doll was produced or that Barbie the Vet is no more, it’s simply that the most easily available versions of Barbie for sale on the high street are fairies, mermaids, princesses, models and popstars; all of which are tied into films and all of that subsequent merchandising. 

To be fair, I also had Pop Star Barbie; mine owned a record company, spoke 6 languages and had a PhD in archaeology. It’s probably fair to say I was a nerd. It’s not also that I think girls today lack the imaginations to make their Barbie mermaids into something; my small has made her Barbie mermaid into a superhero but Barbie used to be every girl [even with the ridiculous figure]. Now, even with the new more “realistic” bodies, Barbie is actually more 
limited in terms of careers and adventures.

The Barbie films may be predicated on the notion of girl power and female friendships, heck Barbie and the 3 Musketeers is practically Germaine Greer-approved, but they are reinforcing an even more narrow version of femininity that is inherently harmful for girls. The opening of the first life-sized Barbie Dreamhouse in Berlin is just further reinforcing the idea of Barbie-as-Object rather than Barbie-the-Adventure-Girl of my childhood. 





Barbie-of-the-Dreamhouse only allows two careers: model or pop star. Girls can pretend to bake cupcakes in her fake kitchen and rifle through her wardrobe. There is no evidence of President Barbie or Barbie The Musketeer or Barbie the Vet here. It’s just the plastic pink version of femininity that Barbie has been criticised for more than 40 years. At this point, I’d love a return to Malibu Barbie and Stacey who hang out at the beach surfing. At least they were athletes. Barbie-of-the-Dreamhouse doesn’t do adventures and I’m not entirely sure when she works as a model or pop star when she seems to spend all her time baking cupcakes and dressing up.

Barbie had an opportunity to change into something really quite radical with the return of President Barbie. Instead, Mattel has returned to the pink princess twaddle. 

And, don’t even get me started on Barbie the TV series which is available on youtube. I can’t tell if it’s supposed to post-modern irony or the brainchild of someone deeply stupid but it is well past creepy.

Dear Disney, Fuck You. Love, Merida’s Fans

A Mighty Girl has started a petition to ask Disney to stop trashing Merida. Now, I’m not the greatest fan of Brave, as I blogged here, but I cannot believe Disney is turning their first real female character into another cookie cutter pastiche of femininity.

This is the text of the petition:

Merida was the princess that countless girls and their parents were waiting for — a strong, confident, self-rescuing princess ready to set off on her next adventure with her bow at the ready. She was a princess who looked like a real girl, complete with the ‘imperfections’ that all people have.

The redesign of Merida in advance of her official induction to the Disney Princess collection does a tremendous disservice to the millions of children for whom Merida is an empowering role model who speaks to girls’ capacity to be change agents in the world rather than just trophies to be admired. Moreover, by making her skinnier, sexier and more mature in appearance, you are sending a message to girls that the original, realistic, teenage-appearing version of Merida is inferior; that for girls and women to have value — to be recognized as true princesses — they must conform to a narrow definition of beauty.

In an interview with Pixar Portal, “Brave” writer and co-director Brenda Chapman stated, “Because of marketing, little girls gravitate toward princess products, so my goal was to offer up a different kind of princess — a stronger princess that both mothers and daughters could relate to, so mothers wouldn’t be pulling their hair out when their little girls were trying to dress or act like this princess. Instead they’d be like, ‘Yeah, you go girl!’”

This new Merida is a paler reflection of her former self without the spark and the ‘you go girl’ quality that her creator intended.

We write to you on behalf of all the young girls who embraced Merida as a role model, who learned from her that they too could go off on an adventure and save the day; that it’s not how you look that matters but who you are. For them and for all the children — both girls and boys — who benefit from seeing depictions of strong, courageous, and independent-minded girls and women that are so scarce in animated movies, we ask you to return to the original Merida that we all know and love. We ask you to keep Merida Brave!


To:
Robert A. Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company
Zenia Mucha, Executive Vice President, Chief Communications Officer, The Walt Disney Company
Nidia Caceros, Director, Corporate Communications, The Walt Disney Company

Merida was the princess that countless girls and their parents were waiting for — a strong, confident, self-rescuing princess ready to set off on her next adventure with her bow at the ready. She was a princess who looked like a real girl, complete with the ‘imperfections’ that all people have. 

The redesign of Merida in advance of her official induction to the Disney Princess collection does a tremendous disservice to the millions of children for whom Merida is an empowering role model who speaks to girls’ capacity to be change agents in the world rather than just trophies to be admired. Moreover, by making her skinnier, sexier and more mature in appearance, you are sending a message to girls that the original, realistic, teenage-appearing version of Merida is inferior; that for girls and women to have value — to be recognized as true princesses — they must conform to a narrow definition of beauty. 

In an interview with Pixar Portal, “Brave” writer and co-director Brenda Chapman stated, “Because of marketing, little girls gravitate toward princess products, so my goal was to offer up a different kind of princess — a stronger princess that both mothers and daughters could relate to, so mothers wouldn’t be pulling their hair out when their little girls were trying to dress or act like this princess. Instead they’d be like, ‘Yeah, you go girl!’”
This new Merida is a paler reflection of her former self without the spark and the ‘you go girl’ quality that her creator intended.

We write to you on behalf of all the young girls who embraced Merida as a role model, who learned from her that they too could go off on an adventure and save the day; that it’s not how you look that matters but who you are. For them and for all the children — both girls and boys — who benefit from seeing depictions of strong, courageous, and independent-minded girls and women that are so scarce in animated movies, we ask you to return to the original Merida that we all know and love. We ask you to keep Merida Brave!
Sincerely, 

[Your name]

The Daddy Rat : Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, The Real Science Behind Sex Differences

It’s a standing joke in the Mumsnet Feminism/ Women’s Rights section that we should all be receiving royalties for Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences. I must recommend it at least once a week on threads about gendering children or men being too stupid to see dirt so they, consequently, stink at housework. This, of course, is the same men who are so “visual” that they need to look at porn in order to get off. How, precisely, one can be simultaneously visual and non-visual is beyond me but that’s the argument always put forward by those who believe in innate gender differences.

I’m a neuroskeptic. I don’t believe in innate gender differences. I certainly don’t think we can “scientifically observe” gender differences when our culture is so seeped in woman-hating that anything constructed as “female” is immediately wrong. I have no tolerance for people who claim that boys are physical and girls are emotional. Or, that boys are better at math and spatial awareness than girls because their brains are hardwired that way. All the neuroscience I see insisting on innate gender [and never sex which is what they actually mean] differences has been about supporting the status quo of women’s subordination. 

Cordelia Fine deconstructs all the major “research” on innate gender differences and demonstrates what unrelenting twaddle it is. She is equally snarky, funny and downright angry at the misuse and falsification of “scientific evidence” to support fallacious constructions of gender [which fail to acknowledge the historical and cultural situations in which they were created]. I can not recommend this book enough for anyone who thinks that its totally normal for boys to be violent and girls to be nurturing. This is by far one of my most favourite feminist texts, despite not being advertised as such.


This is my favourite quote from the book: The Daddy Rat

Male rats don’t experience the hormonal changes that trigger maternal behaviour in female rats. They never normally participate in infant care. Yet put a baby rat in a cage with a male adult and after a few days he will be caring for the baby almost as if he were its mother.  He’ll pick it up, nestle it close to him as a nursing female would, keep the baby rat clear and comforted and even build a comfy nest for it. The parenting circuits are there in the male brain, even in a species in which paternal care doesn’t normally exist. If a male rat, without even the aid of a William Sears baby-care manual, can be inspired to parent then I would suggest that the prospects for human fathers are pretty good. (88)

It makes me snigger every time I read it.


Some interesting Discussions on Mumsnet: 




Marie-Louise Gay’s Stella and Sam

Marie-Louise Gay’s Stella and Sam series are some of my favourite children’s stories. I love Stella’s imagination and her utter joy at life. I love the simplicity of Stella and Sam playing together and the beautiful stories Stella tells Sam: about being Star of the Sea, Queen of the Snow, Fairy of the Forest and Princess of the Sky. I love Sam’s never-ending questions and his innocent trust in the infinite knowledge of his big sister.

These books are the celebration of the real beauty in the relationships of siblings (when they aren’t arguing over whose turn it is to clean the hamster cage or empty the dishwasher) but also how powerful the gift of imagination truly is. 

Needless to say, we own them all. 🙂


(image reproduced from here)


So that Steve Biddulph MN webchat: WTF?


Because, honestly, it was a gigantic pile of nincompoopery. It is safe to say that I am not a very big fan of Steve Biddulph to begin with. His normalisation of gendered stereotypes in order to sell books just pisses me off. There is very little scientific evidence to support the nonsense that boys and girls are somehow inherently different; just lots of people claiming they “observed” gendered behaviour.  This ignores the very real evidence of the cultural and historical construction and contextualisation of gender. It also conflates biological sex with gender, as if there were somehow a hormone which decides what type of child likes playing with dinosaurs. It leads to Hannah Evans claiming, in the Guardian no less, that sticks are essential to the raising of boys. It’s possible Evans has never actually met a girl child, because I’ve got two and they most definitely play with sticks. In fact, I don’t think I’ve met a girl who didn’t understand the importance of sticks. It’s called imaginative play; something that Steve Biddulph should know about considering his work with Collective Shout.

I have a number of problems with Biddulph. The first is his apparent amazement that, after spending 25 years specialising in the raising of boys, he’s discovered, rather miraculously, that “its GIRLS who are in trouble“. Yep, as a man whose spent 25 years arguing that  boys are “different”, he’s now discovered that girls are “different” too and in TROUBLE! This would be more convincing if I thought Biddulph had spent the last 25 years living in a cave because I genuinely can’t imagine how any intelligent, well-educated adult could have missed the fact that the Capitalist-Patriarchy is toxic for ALL children; unless, of course, they were planning on financially benefitting from stating the bleeding obvious. After all, it’s not like there’s ever been a single book published about the toxicity of childhood on young girls, raising girlscampaigns on the sexualisation and sexploitation of young girls, or the fact that feminsts have been saying this for years. We know that our culture is deeply destructive for girls and girls mental health is suffering because of it.  We don’t need another “expert” jumping up to tell us. We’ve already figured it out.

The first odd thing about the MN webchat is that Biddulph tried to claim he was not an “expert”. Please credit us with a modicum of intelligence, he was clearly invited as an “expert”. His disavowal of that role in an attempts to “debate” rather than answer any of the real questions he was asked was, well, rather pathetic. After all, this was the introduction to the webchat:

We’re delighted that Steve is returning to talk to us about his latest book, Raising Girls. This was written as a response to the ‘sudden and universal deterioration in girls’ mental health, starting in primary school and devastating the teen years’. The book is both a call-to-arms for parents and a detailed guide through the five key stages of girlhood to help build strength and connectedness into your daughter from infancy onwards. Join the discussion and you will be entered into a draw to win one of five copies of Steve Biddulph’s Raising Girls.

There was NO reason for him to come on to a MN webchat if he wasn’t setting himself up as “expert”. The whole point of the Mumsnet chat boards is the sharing of information. Why would they have a paying guest on if the guest weren’t trying to flog something to us? In Biddulph’s case, this is both a new book called Raising Girls and the one day seminar he is running as part of the Mumsnet Academy. Mumsnet is a business. They have never pretended to be any different so why Biddulph is waffling about the issue is just perplexing.

Secondly, Biddulph didn’t seem to answer any of the questions. Several of the answers read as though they were written in advance without Biddulph reading any of the pre-chat questions. Also there is the pesky issue of one particular cheerleading poster on the thread who was rather upset at the criticism of Biddulph and who has only posted on that name on that thread. If I were to think charitably, I would suggest he fundamentally misunderstood how a MN webchat runs, which would be quite odd since he’s done previous webchats (and brought his wife along). His answers were vague, patronising, pretentious and, well, twaddle. He deliberately refused to answer one question which was asked repeatedly, first by MmeLindor:

In your book, ‘Raising Boys’ you state ‘At the age of four, for reasons nobody quite understands, boys receive a sudden surge of testosterone, doubling their previous levels. At this age, little Jamie may become much more interested in action, heroics, adventures and vigorous play… At five years of age, the testosterone level drops by half, and young Jamie calms down again, just in time for school’ 
I have often seen this used – both on Mumsnet and on other parenting websites and blogs – to explain why boys are aggressive at age 4 to 5 years.  

Despite extensive searching I have yet to find a scientific research paper that supports this theory. Could you please link to the evidence of this.  …  

I am concerned that falsely interpreted statement in your book may lead to parents accepting the aggressive behaviour of their sons, to the detriment of their daughters. 

It worries me because we are teaching our girls from a young age that the right way to react to aggression is to walk away, and we are teaching our boys that aggressive behaviour is in some way acceptable, and to be expected.
Could you please clarify your statement about this hormone surge.

I would have thought that anyone making such a claim would be capable of backing it up with links to peer-reviewed research. It’s ethically and scientifically unacceptable to make claims of this nature without any evidence. It’s an incredibly dangerous statement to make because it does imply that boys are predisposed to violence and, therefore, not responsible for their actions. Small boys are not inherently aggressive or violent. We live in a culture that expects men to be violent. We reward them for their violence; one only needs to look at the careers of Charlie Sheen and Mike Tyson for evidence. But, boys aren’t inherently violent. They aren’t born violent or aggressive. That is how our culture socialises them. 

Next up on the list of things that annoyed me was this little speech: 

Girls are usually much more wired for social awareness, and even as babies they focus more on faces and reactions. This is a strength except when they are very anxious and then friendship problems can tip them over. THEY NEED HELP WITH FRIENDSHIP because its the most complex thing we do.  

It all begins in babyhood. The secure attachment of mother and baby (or dad and baby) lays the foundations for being trusting, available to love and closeness with others. If your daughter was close to you, she will know how to be close to others. 
But its from 5 – 10 that friendship is the uppermost topic for girls, because this is their primary learning goal at this age. HOW TO GET ALONG WITH OTHERS.  

There are seven core skills involved in being a friend.  

1. Enjoying the company of others – lightening up and treating company as a chance for fun.  

2. Learning to take turns and share -you have more fun if you play together, but you have to give a little to make that work.  

3. Being able to empathize – imagining how you would feel in your friend’s shoes, and being happy for them when they “win” or “star” in the game. This is a more advanced skill, it doesn’t always come easily.  

4. Being able to regulate aggression – not screaming or clobbering your friends when you disagree. Not storming off because you are losing the argument.  

5.Apologizing when you are wrong, or have hurt a friend’s feelings.  

6. Being able to read emotions. Seeing when someone is angry, sad or afraid and adjusting your behaviour accordingly. You can even teach this with drawings of smiley, frowny, teary and shakey faces, helping your daughter recognize them, and applying this to situations when her friends have been upset.  

7.Learning when to trust or believe someone, and when not to. That people can be deceptive for reasons of their own. Your daughter will be shocked and hurt when a friend lies or deceives her. You will need to comfort her and explain that some people have not learned the value of being trustworthy. Don’t lose heart, just be a little careful.  

Each of these will arise often in your daughter’s day to day life. When she comes to you hurt or bewildered, you can pinpoint which skill is called for, listen to her feelings, but then talk to her about how that skill can be done. It will take a few goes to get right, so follow up with her over a few days or weeks. Even we adults often don’t get these right, so have respect for the hugeness of what she is having to learn, and praise and affirm her for even small steps.  

I hope this helps a bit. A just seven years of age, a lot of learning is going on, it takes years, and so calmly listening to her as she talks it through.

Ignoring the unbelievably patronising comment at the end, Biddulph has clearly not read his Cordelia Fine because this idea that baby girls are “wired for social awareness” is utter twaddle. And, if girls are really are “wired for social awareness”, then surely it should be boys who need help developing friendships? Or, are they so socially incompetent that they don’t know they are supposed to have friends? I can’t keep this crap straight. I mean, seriously, are we supposed to believe that boys don’t need help learning about human emotion or who to trust? Are they not affected by these issues to? Biddulph doesn’t even try to answer a question raised about “neuronal plasticity, experience and reinforcement as determinants of behaviour and observable trait” despite the fact that this research basically proves that these studies into “observable” gender differences are, at best, inconclusive and, at worst, inherently flawed making Biddulph’s gendering of children wrong.

And, honestly, I howled with laughter when I read this bit: 

In babyhood – to feel loved and secureIn toddlerhood and pre-school age – to be exploring and curious and have an adventurous approach to the world – especially important in girls, to not be restricted (by attitudes, or fussy clothes) and for adults to show and teach enthusiasm about the world.In school – aged five to ten – to learn about friendship and getting along with others. In the early teens – 10-14 – to find your SOUL, your true self.In the late teens 14-18 – to practice for being an adult woman. And finally to step into adulthood, take responsibility for your life.

These are the stages of “girl”. Now, maybe it’s because I don’t have a son, but I’m pretty sure these stages correlate to the development of boys. I like to call this process “growing up”; as I mentioned in a comment Mumsnet deleted (which seems a tad OTT considering I said worse on the Naomi Wolf webchat).

All this webchat made me want to do is reread Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender as she brilliantly debunks all this twaddle whilst being incredibly funny and missing the whole patronising, mansplainin’ thing. Delusions of Gender is worth the price just for the Daddy Rat story. Honestly. 

Do also read this piece by Glosswitch in the New Statesman and this post by SaltandCaramel.

But, don’t bother with Biddulph. If you feel you need support, ask the parents around you. After all, that line about it taking a village to raise a child is true. We just need to stop paying experts to spout shite and start taking advantage of our communities. 

The John Lewis Window Display: Anyone Notice the Problem?


Can you tell which side is the boys toys? And, which side is for the girls? Because, personally, I really struggled with this since I did not know that only boys were allowed to play musical instruments. I already knew that girls weren’t allowed to like science experiments or lego and that we were only allowed to play with dolls and prams so we didn’t get confused as to the exact purpose of the uterus but I totally thought we were allowed to play the piano. After all, Jane Austen was forever droning on about young girls being taught the piano in order to be “accomplished”. Have we lost the right to do this too? Was there a memo I missed? Should I donate our piano to the nearest boy in case in makes my girls grow a penis?