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    Entries in education (2)


    On Goldie Blox and The Benefit of the Doubt

    The new commercial for Kickstarter darling Goldie Blox is making the rounds on social media, thanks in no small part to its parent-friendly reworking of the Beastie Boys' song Girls. And... I'm not as impressed as everyone else seems to be.

    As the parent of two fairly gender stereotypical children -- a baseball loving, monster truck obsessed boy and a baby-toting, tutu wearing girl -- I'm always on the lookout for ways to mess with their natural dispositions. I'm an agitator like that, and as a result, my son will still often choose pastel or sparkly over the alternative, and my daughter plays unquestioningly with k'nex, Lego and other age-appropriate building toys. They have no real bias, yet, and all they require of their building materials is that they be sturdy and workable. My daughter is not confused by the lack of a plot, nor is she drawn to any particular color of blocks. But, okay, we are not your average STEM-disadvantaged family. 

    the faces of revolutionLet's talk for a minute about those families. Maybe mom works outside of the home. Maybe she doesn't. But whether she does or not, we'll assume that a family in need of a STEM-centered boost for its girls is not headed up by a STEM-employed mother. What's the likelihood that she's a stay at home mom? Doll play -- something singled out by the Goldie Blox commercial as an alternative to "us[ing] our brains" -- closely resembles the activities of a caregiver, doesn't it? And oh, Goldie Blox, I know you aren't disparaging those infamous non-intellectual pursuits we brainless moms busy ourselves with... like raising everyone. Okay, okay. Just a misunderstanding. Empowerment doesn't have to come at others' expense, and when I saw pink-swathed "girly girls" on the receiving end of three death stares in that commercial, it wasn't personal. It was a death stare pointed at the institution the pink-lovers represent, right? I'm sure the kids will pick up on that nuance, and not perpetuate the age-old "tomboy vs. princess girl" dynamic. Whew. 

    Moving on to the ways Goldie Blox is smashing stereotypes: the subject matter of the accompanying book for the first engineering set. A beauty pageant! Do I need to elaborate? At least the character loses? But don't worry; her friends use their engineering skills to build her a float so she can ride in the parade just like the actual reigning princess. The quality of the story is abysmal -- somewhere between a glorified instruction booklet and uninspired rhyming exercise -- as though the makers of Goldie Blox aren't even fully invested in the (arguably flawed) idea that girls require verbal engagement. 

    Do I buy the idea that, given our culture and the dearth of resources for engaging girls in the "hard" sciences, we need some kind of hail mary, and that the likelihood is high of that hail mary coming in a pink package? YES. Do I think we all need to celebrate the first product that capitalizes on that fact as a victory for tiny mainstream feminists and their princess averse parents? No. We can be discerning on behalf of our daughters. On behalf of all our children! We can ask that companies not play into the trope of smart girls versus pretty girls and insult the less mechanically inclined among us in their commercials, while their actual products glorify the worst of the beauty industrial complex. We can stop giving for-profit companies the benefit of the doubt, or credit for a deeply flawed "small step" or a "good try." We can and should demand high quality, not just a shiny feel-good gimmick wrapped up in a catchy piece of our own childhood.

    I can hear the same old gaslit refrain starting up: some people will complain about anything. Doesn't it get old, being the cynic? And, yeah, you know: sometimes it does. But what gets older is seeing money made by companies that perpetuate the same old hurtful stereotypes with a side serving of education. They are savvy, hip -- they know their demographic, they pay the appropriate lipservice, and they earn widespread backing by people who rightly put their faith in the girls the product purports to uplift. But what our girls need is engagement. Real engagement, not the kind that comes in a poorly written storybook. No gimmicks. Role models. Support. Trust. The freedom to explore, and fail. The freedom to like pink or not, to love babies or not, to be a physicist or a housekeeper, instilled with the knowledge that nary a person alive does a job without using her brain, and empowerment is, and always has been, free for the giving or taking. 


    An education

    Taking a childbirth educator training is not something I would have done of my own volition anytime soon (and perhaps this is my mothers' day post, since we both know I won't get around to writing again before Sunday), priorities being what they are; self worth (frankly) being what it is. My interests and value, monetarily speaking at least, have been on the back burner which, on our 30 year old stove, means the non-functioning burner where we keep the compost bowl (true story). My value lies in being home both because I have few marketable skills and because I am an educated and intentional mother. So, to be a nice guy, Nathan signed me up for a class. It was not a cheap class, nor was it, in actuality, the workshoppy pastime for idle stay at home moms I envisioned (because, real talk, I have devalued my own interests and motherhood-related intellectual pursuits as passing, hormone-driven whims. Do you do that too? Because stop; it is total bullshit!).

    It was rigorous and in-depth and involved many, many, many hours of online coursework before the three in-person days spent at Bastyr University's Simkin Center in a classroom just like real people learning things in an official capacity (read: students). It was facilitated and taught by people who, had they looked hard enough, might've seen the cartoon hearts dotting the path straight toward them from my eyeballs. It was unadulterated birth junkie heaven, yes, but it was also intellectual. Scholarly. It was revitalizing and legitimizing to be in a roomful of current and future professional women all interested in the empowerment of pregnant people, and the healthy growth of new families. I sat next to midwives and naturopathic doctors and doulas and other mothers and did the same assignments, dove head first through the same hoops, and I can say without hesitation something I never would've guessed before arriving in that classroom: the floor beneath those hoops was the same distance away for all of us.

    Prior to the in-person portion of the class, I fretted pretty much constantly about everyone else's expertise as it related to my own (or lack thereof). Reading their forum responses to our readings, I was drawn to the credentials that I don't doubt were dropped on purpose to assuage their own self-doubt, because, as I learned, our guts were all teeming with butterflies. But in discussion I quickly realized that the field was level: future midwives who had not, themselves, yet given birth worried about their lack of experience. Women who'd had one baby pointed out that they hadn't had two. Older women had trouble with technology and pregnant ones lamented the fog that settled in their minds, making them lose their train of thought. Most everyone dreaded the practice teaching we obviously had to do. When I worried about how I'd be received, as I now know others did too, I neglected (as did everyone else) to remember that we were all taking a class whose main purpose was to imbue us with the ability to be unconditionally supportive. Predictably (in retrospect), there was no (or very little) competition; there was only admiration, constructive feedback, and a lot of over-sharing.

    I thought I would leave the training further determined to teach natural-focused childbirth classes to those who are traditionally excluded from participation in them. Teenagers, poor families, those whose cultures hold the medical model of care and allopathic physicians as superior, godlike. My vision of that was flawed in many ways but the most flagrant flaw was that I would have presented my own steep bias. During my own childbirth class I closed my ears to the information on cesarean birth because I thought doing so would ensure my "perfect" outcome. Willfull ignorance is never okay, and is not a state I prefer. Still, unchecked, I may have imposed that on others, which would've been a disservice of such ridiculous proportion I can hardly stand to think about it.

    My vision has changed, obviously, partly because my belief in "the facts" has solidified (for a good read on this, see Dr. Claire Wendland's article called The Vanishing Mother which totally blew my mind). I don't need to dance around the reasons for, for example, elective induction because I believe in the data that says it's a bad practice; I believe in people's concern for their babies, and in their ability to understand the data. And, as I realized while listening to Kim James, doula, educator, and fancy lady, I believe so strongly in these things that it doesn't matter if pregnant people make a different choice than I would. As long as I'm giving them all the facts I can move on with confidence that I haven't shortchanged them with a lie of omission, or myself by letting my belief in nature, support, knowledge and women waver by failing to present every side.

    I don't know how long it'll take me to collect the baby dolls and pelvises and posters I need or to develop a curriculum, but I'm excited. As one of my classmates and fellow at-home mamas said in our closing circle (because it is hippie Bastyr in the hippie PNW), it was nice to realize that I still have valuable skills. I'm in a nice position, since you can't make less than nothing, and that is what I earn right now. I could, theoretically, offer workshops for free or very cheap. I can, in the immortal words, go my own way, easily and without much risk. I can, and plan to, take my time gathering resources, observing others, and continuing my education, because even though I feel fairly good about the content, my delivery needs quite a bit of practice and refinement.

    Finally, I'm glad that my kids saw me doing something that had nothing to do with them, and in which I was clearly emotionally and intellectually invested. I have no problem with motherhood as an occupation, and the fight over its legitimacy and importance is a hill I would more than willingly die on, but until the kids stop needing me so much, I'll think of this as my night job. My other night job, I guess. I hope that's your takeaway from this long story of my long weekend: motherhood is fucking legitimate, whether you're doing it, and only it, full time, or teaching others how to follow the path of their intuition and bodies to the moment it becomes manifest in their arms. Neither is frivolous, neither is easy, and for some reason I am still learning that. Happy Mothers' Day, mamas.