Be the change you wish to see in the world.
There are days when I feel like I stand alone against the cultural tsunami that threatens to rip my babies from my arms. I will then have to hunt for them amongst the debris and other broken bodies and find them too, broken and twisted by the sheer weight of what our culture tells them is “right” about so many things. Like how white is best, being male is often better than being female, violence and intimidation is ok, labelling is de rigeur and sexualisation is the way to grow up. Those days are not often, but they are often enough. I remind myself that our house is the shelter from that tsunami and that the values my husband and I actively and consciously choose to bring into our house are the values that will be most important, the ones that will guide our children through this so that one day they too can stand against the tsunami, perhaps even ride it out and not be crushed by it’s devastation.
What do I mean by a cultural tsunami? The messages that my children hear about gender can be summed up elegantly in these gorgeous word clouds. And this is just about toys. What about sexualisation where clothing manufacturers make things that look like thisand girls are wearing these things? The dolls that are most common for young girls, Barbies and Bratz (don’t even get me started on Monster High)? Well here’s a picture of Barbie as a real woman, not a role model I wish my daughter to emulate. Not to mention the fact that Barbie is white. She always has been and always will be. Despite attempts to have other dolls, the norm, the Barbie is white, and her onlookers are allowed to be brown, but they certainly won’t ever attain true “Barbie” status. What message does this give my stunning cocoa coloured daughter about being a strong, normal, intelligent girl?
And if you think that this is something that’s just about girls in my house, well that’s where you would be mistaken! I have a real concern about the message that my son receives via toys that distort the male body too. I dislike the fact that most male toys glorify violence, downplay anything remotely feminine and decry anything that vaguely looks like an emotion.
I don’t like violence, I don’t condone it in any way shape or form, and I don’t like it in my house. Children do learn from watching violence, reading violence and hearing violence. Sure, my husband and I argue, and sometimes the kids hear it, and sometimes we raise our voices at the kids. We try to not do this, it’s a work in progress.
I don’t like commercialism. I never have and I doubt the messages in them. Advertisements have only a few seconds to convey a message to us, and one of the easiest ways to do that is through the use of stereotypes, we all “know” what is being stated because after all, stereotypes are out there, and exist about every single group. I don’t want my children to judge people based on advertisements when they barely have the cognitive skills (at 6 and 4) to decipher Winnie the Pooh let alone what on earth is meant by Mantrol. When they are exposed to these sorts of things on a regular basis I would like to think they can reason their way through the messages that they are being exposed to.
I also don’t like organised religion, and so we don’t practise one in our house. We do however spend a lot of time talking about all types of beliefs and belief systems and values. We celebrate things like Matariki, Easter, Christmas and Diwali because it’s relevant to the children and we like the family values in each of these things. We would celebrate more, but those are the ones we have done so far. I look forward to exploring more of these as the children are older.
My house is an oasis from these things and so we try to do the following.
- There are no Barbie, Bratz or Disney Princess dolls in my house.
- There are none of their accessories. And there are literally tens of thousands of these available, so it’s very hard to stay free of this stuff.
- There are no Ben 10 toys, Transformers, army toys, guns or other toys that glorify violence.
- My children only watch DVDs, and we use www.commonsensemedia.org to figure out what is age appropriate for them and what themes each DVD is exploring.
- We don’t have the TV on when the kids are up, in fact it’s barely on at all.
- All emotions are ok in our house, there are no bad ones, there are no female or male emotions, and we talk about them A LOT.
- There are all colour dolls in my house, from baby dolls to gorgeous “Only Hearts Club” dolls that look like real girls.
- There are plenty of toys in my house, lots of science based toys and plenty of cars, generic or City Lego, puzzles, Sylvanian Families – and too many other things to mention.
- We don’t allow junk mail into the house (it’s a waste of paper and it contains too many “perfect” images).
- We don’t tolerate gendered, racial or other derogatory statements. We say police officers, not men, and we say fire fighters not men. We try to maintain a neutrality and we expect visitors to our house to do the same.
- We try not to play any music that denigrates any particular group.
You may think I’m trying to shelter my children and that’s where you would get the wrong idea. They get exposed to all of the things that are not welcome in our house. We talk about them all the time. They get exposed to them in shops, in signage when we go out, through class mates, and there is a significant amount of leakage into our oasis. My point is that your house is YOUR HOUSE, You can choose what comes into it or what does not come into it. You can choose to equip your children with whatever values you deem to be the most important. You can choose to give them the gift of critical thought
I can imagine that some of you will shake your head at me thinking that I am mad, and wondering at some of my choices. Remember it’s my house, it’s your house, and you choose what comes in that front door, your choices may well be different to mine, and that’s ok. But my message here is this, if you don’t like it, don’t let it in. Yes, your child may beg you for it, but if you explain your reasons in a gentle and loving way, repeatedly, and surround them with the critical skills to encounter these things, then you will have provided an oasis from a world which encourages our children to be and behave in a certain way.
So stop, and think, when you struggle to get into your “skinny” clothes and you wish you were a few kilos lighter, and you doubt yourself, and you (and I cannot believe this is true, but people think this) wish that you skin was a different colour, what messages are you allowing your children to be exposed to and what armour have you given them against it?