Over the past several months, I have found myself increasingly depressed and enraged by what seems to be endless stories about sexual and physical violence directed toward girls. There is something that tends to haunt our culture's thinking about girls: suspicion.
Today is Equal Pay Day, the day in 2013 that the average woman in America has made as much as the average man did in 2012. With women earning anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of what white men do, our fiscal year needs an extra three months to make up the difference.
If you've ever scanned your Facebook feed and wondered what possessed your old college suitemate to post a full-color photo of her fresh, glistening placenta, well, Blair Koenig feels your pain. We interview Koenig about her popular blog STFU Parents, which is launched in book form today.
It doesn't take a skilled gender detective to deduce the target audience of the Rainbow Magic books for early readers. These wildly popular books feature covers that literally sparkle, covered in lithe fairies dressed in pointedly feminine clothing and accessories. The series' titles boil down to Feminine-Name the Feminine-Noun Fairy (as in Grace the Glitter Fairy or Bethany the Ballet Fairy). They're published under the pseudonym Daisy Meadows.
These are the girliest girls' books in Girlville.
Why am I so familiar with these gems of English literature? Because they're among my six-year-old son's very favorite books. He devours them, shrieking with laughter at the bumbling goblins. We spend hours playing Rainbow Magic Fairies: "You're Queen Titania and I'm the Museum Fairy. What could a Museum Fairy's object be?" Or, "We're all goblins. Where's Goblin Steve?" These books are very big in my house.
Well over a hundred Rainbow Magic installments are available, but the plot is always the same. Jack Frost and his goblins have stolen some magical object (the weather fairies' feathers, for instance). The displaced objects cause some sort of wonkiness (unusual weather, say). Kirsty and Rachel, human BFFs and friends to the fairies, help recover the objects. The goblins are ugly, mean, and male, and they always lose. The fairies are pretty, sweet, and female, and they win through the power of friendship.
Reading the books is actually teaching my son an unexpected lesson: recognizing sexism.
Last week, novelist Benjamin Percy was interviewed on the TODAY show about his experience of being "man pregnant." Percy wore a Japanese-engineered pregnancy suit for nine weeks in an effort to be a better father by gaining an understanding of what women go through when they're pregnant. When I saw the story (and the smug interview), I was uneasy. Not only was the interview tediously unfunnny, Percy's pregnancy suit struck me as a rude, half-baked attempt to figure out what the hell women have been complaining about since the beginning of time. But Percy's story, originally written for GQ's humor section, isn't the first "dude tries to approximate pregnancy" experiment we've seen lately.
The most frustrating about New York Times columnist Ginia Bellafante's Sunday column, "After Hurricane, a New Calling for Mothers" is not that it's sexist. It's that she so easily could have avoided being sexist. People? Volunteering to help other people, because they have the time and resources to do so? Great! Newsworthy! Heart-warming! But Bellafante (and her editors, who deserve honorary Decrees) decided it was critical to their journalistic project to insult and exclude fathers. To say nothing (literally, never mentioned) of alternative parents of any kind. Twice nominated, once victorious: This Decree's for you, Ginia.
Over the last two months, I've written more than 20,000 words (!) about male primary caregivers in popular culture. I hope I've illustrated that while the rise in non-stereotypical portrayals of men is in some ways a step forward, it's also often just another means by which the mainstream media reinforces gender norms — often at women's expense.
When I started this series, I thought the increase in narratives about single and stay-at-home fathers reflected a genuine sociological phenomenon, because more men than women lost jobs in the recession and became stay-at-home dads as a result. However, I soon discovered that while the number of men who take care of their kids full-time has doubled over the last 12 years, it's still just 176,000 people, or 0.8% of the population, according to Philip N. Cohen's interrogation of the stats. (This rises when dads who work part-time are included, but only to 2.8%.) Plus, men are returning to work more quickly than women, making this much-discussed "trend" little more than a blip. What's more, as Bryce Calvert pointed out in her Forbes column, it was only ever a partial victory considering that being a stay-at-home parent wasn't a choice for many of these men, just as it isn't a choice for many women.