Sunday, January 11, 2009

Picture it:

A two and a half year old boy is left alone in the basement playroom for 5 minutes.

What happens?

If your answer is "He takes a wire hanger, unwraps it from itself, and jams it down the floor drain," I'll give you a few points as that was Carter's first experience in the basement playroom. But once he's comfortable in the basement and the playroom and has gotten over his drain obsession. What then?

If your answer is "In his gorilla costume, he moves 6 empty cardboard boxes to find 2 sealed boxes underneath, opens one of the two boxes to reveal tons of newspaper covering kitchen materials, digs through said crumpled newspaper to unearth two shiny knives, and then runs around the basement screaming while banging the two knives together" you are today's winner.

And your prize is my son for one whole day. I'll be around all afternoon. Please call to collect. Please.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Twilight and the modern zeitgeist

I've been working in my head for a few weeks now on a discussion of the Stephenie Meyer Twilight series. My intent was to discuss misogyny in the text. A few searches of the web brought forth postings from many smarter than me that well-cover the issues, in my mind. I think that this article and the links therein do an excellent job discussing sexism in the text.

I am left thinking on two separate but important issues: the inequity of the main characters' relationships with each other -- and the subsequent issues the novel brings forth for me as a woman and the mother of a girl and the vehemence with which people defend and support the book against criticism with the cries of "It's only a book!"

First, I'm torn in terms of what the book says to women about what women should be and should want. Our main character's only purpose -- as she states clearly several times in the text -- is to be with her man. Her man controls every aspect of the relationship, sneaks in to watch her sleep, saves her life multiple times, and consistently perceives her (as the author writes her) as feeble and unable to take care of herself. Around the world, millions of women and young girls are swooning at this "perfect romance." As I read it, though, I kept thinking of the the struggles of feminists over the years -- working to show that women have strength, aptitude, wants, and desires. Now in our most popular youth-focused literature we are drawing the most inequitable of roles as the penultimate love experience. That, for me, is utterly problematic.

Finally, the rabid cries of "It's only a book!" Why take it so seriously when it's only a book? What's the problem when it's just a piece of science fiction writing about an inhuman relationship between a vampire, a human, and a werewolf? Surely no daughter would misconstrue such writings as a guide for daily living!

To them I would reply that the Bible, Catcher in the Rye, and Animal Farm are only books as well. Our books -- and our music and television/movies -- inform what we believe about the world and further how we act in that world. Rather than the stodgy academic attitude that we should only study "literature" (a group for which most have failed to create satisfactory parameters), I think it is essential that we discuss what we experience the most. Our popular fiction is more reflective of what's going on in the modern zeitgeist than much that appears in the New Yorker (sorry, I adore it, but even people who subscribe to the New Yorker sometimes skip the fiction section).

Mothers are reading the series with their daughters and collectively swooning over the Bella/Edward relationship. In doing so, I believe they are perpetuating to their daughters the ideas of inequity being linked to romance. To be loved is to be controlled. This is problematic at best.

There are entire genres of fiction that focus on women being controlled, and to be clear, I have very few problems with much of it because it is titillating and exciting to be controlled (or so I hear) and because those genres are written for adult women. What bothers me is that in the Twilight series, this inequitable relationship wherein a rather empty female character is controlled by a "hot" guy, this titillation is mistaken for love and romance in a series written for young adults. Much of its content falls outside of the bounds of appropriateness for the audience and often young adults are unable to sift through the differences between a mature romance and the romance contained in these texts.

Ultimately it's not the texts themselves (although as an English teacher, I have plenty of issues with Meyers' construction of the books), but the ideas that they put forth that are the most dangerous. In my opinion the series isn't worthless -- but it does provide parents ample opportunities, should they choose to read the series with their children, to discuss what does and does not make for real "romance."

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Nearly a month with no post!

December was a long month of preparation for Christmas: we snuck open our Advent calendars when nobody was looking (the kind with chocolate not chores!) and I worked busily on finishing my semester and a variety of hand-made Christmas presents for several people.

Unfortunately the month brought the passing of my grandfather. He suffered a stroke several days before Christmas and passed on the 27th. We buried him three days later with full military honors. As our family filed into the tent, wind whipping around us, the tent itself bending under the stress, my son said quietly: "Is this heaven? Do we get to see Grandpa now?"

Over the years, grandpa gave me many gifts. Rather than reflecting on the lovely things I got for Christmas (which I adore), I wanted to take a few minutes to write about what my grandfather gave me.

My grandfather gave me an image of himself and my grandmother in their youth. He gave me the knowledge that two people can commit to each other and work through any variety of significant issues if they are committed. He taught me that working his small farm was a life -- that a life wasn't made from an overabundance, but from enough. When I was a child I watched him sit in his recliner and read the Bible in German.

When I grew older, grandpa taught me to drive a four-wheeler. And a tractor. And to spend hours upon hours exploring the farm on my own. Grandpa taught me to fish. Once, while fishing, grandpa taught me that "chew" and "bubble gum" were not one and the same. He taught me to turn slowly with a fish on the line.

When I was about my daughter's age, six, maybe a bit older, grandpa allowed me to enter a pen and pet a newborn calf one spring. A few years ago, he told the story to me again - he spoke of his fear centered over the mother cow's reaction, my safety, and how he weighed the two against my begging to be allowed to pet the cow. As an adult - and a parent - I'm paralyzed by the fear. I have no doubt that I would deny my daughter that experience in a heartbeat, claiming her safety to be tantamount. But as the child who snuck into a pen and pet a cow still slick with amniotic fluid and the ick of birth, I'm eternally grateful for that moment. It was captured in a photograph that sits, curled, inside a frame on my bookshelves today.
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