Teaching Our Girls to Dance

1 09 2012
Something else from my old Culture Kitchen blog, original post from March 2006 and some additional comments and updates later, retrieved from the Wayback Machine:

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Talk about the dance of planned parenthood — I’ve known two families through their adoption of baby daughters from China.

Adopted in China, Seeking Identity in America
Most of the children are younger than 10, and an organized subculture has developed around them, complete with play groups, tours of China and online support groups.
Molly and Qiu Meng represent the leading edge of this coming-of-age population, adopted just after the laws changed and long before such placements became popular, even fashionable. . .

The first was an older couple, financially and professionally well-off in their second marriage and wanting to be a family with children. They went through a Catholic adoption process and asked us to write a formal recommendation for their application, assessing the qualities we believed would make them good parents.

Although my family left the immediate neighborhood while the daughter they’d named Amber was still a toddler, we see them out and about, at the grocery store, park or credit union. Today she is a gawky, grinning ‘tween, strikingly similar in age, culture, cadence and affinities — for Harry Potter and chess — to our Florida-born son. The two obvious differences between them, race and sex, seem irrelevant.

The second family was younger, a physician and his philanthropist wife who had four children the usual way but only one a girl, excited about adding another. Baby Lydia soon began dance classes with her doting big sister. It took her a long time to say much, but at six she’s a regular chatterbox.

In both cases, I got to see the whole “planned parenthood” process play out, from the initial exploration of the idea, the decision-making and then preparations for the arduous trip itself — halfway around the globe to a foreign land where the officials literally holding your family’s future in their hands don’t speak your language and are communist to boot (you think our bureaucrats are hard to deal with??) and home again wrung out emotionally and physically, trapped over the ocean on an airplane as brand-new mom to a disrupted infant you didn’t make, don’t know and can’t even nurse to comfort or feed, and then the ever-after of adjustments and growth within family relationships, including all the questions about how much or how little to emphasize the child’s country and culture of origin.

Such planned parents by choice generally impress me with their healthy, open attitudes and beliefs, a wish to balance, embrace, discover, celebrate, blend and include rather than to define, delimit, or (that disingenuous codeword) to “clarify” racial differences and identity.

The busy mom of five determinedly made time late at night to read Mao’s Last Dancer, a culturally shocking and saturated memoir she later loaned to me and shared with other dancer moms, in a sort of cultural ripple effect:

“Chosen on the basis of his physique alone, Li Cunxin was taken from his family and sent to the city for rigorous training. What follows is the story of how a small, terrified, lonely boy became one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world.”

In turn I’ve ripple-recommended the book to planning and thinking parents as a dance metaphor for lessons that have nothing to do with ballet . . .

I noticed that even the names these families chose were blended, able to honor more than one tradition at the same time rather than set them against one another in “forced choice” competition — the first names Amber and Lydia sound solidly American-English, but their middle names are not only Chinese but carefully refer to each girl’s particular regional heritage within that country.

Those are positives that make me feel like dancing.

But I’m also feeling helpless, thinking it’s ironic and especially wrong for tens of thousands of Chinese girls to be displaced by repressive culture and government policies just because they are girls instead of boys, and then after we adopt them as daughters of America and lovingly raise them to be beautiful, brilliant, accomplished young women ready for college admission — they will be systematically disadvantaged all over again in OUR system and culture, just because they are girls instead of boys.

. . . the standards for admission to today’s most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men.

. . .Beyond the availability of dance partners for the winter formal, gender balance matters in ways both large and small on a residential college campus. Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive.

What are the consequences of young men discovering that even if they do less, they have more options? And what messages are we sending young women . . .

More culture of dance? — girls as a group are better dancers (students) than boys, like it more, but still must wait to be asked, held back by the less-willling and able boys? How many girls finally become frustrated enough to just dance alone or with each other, forget about waiting for the boys to catch up? Seems to me girls already adept at the dance of cultural change will not wait long and will be right not to, that they’ll tend instead to make over their identity once again and never mind those trying to engineer their differences into some standardized social configuration.

Will our nation’s cultures and creeds, our empowered parents and our world-renowned educational institutions, merely keep up our stylized minuet as we go right on fancying ourselves the belles of the cultural ball, uniquely superior to all those backward places where geography and demographics are destiny?

David Brooks has me believing we just might:

Bush hit all the high notes of the American creed, while not dwelling much on the intricacies and stubbornness of foreign cultures.
. . . many Republicans have lost patience with Bush’s high-minded creedal statements. . . (and) efforts to transform patterns of behavior, and come to believe that we shouldn’t exaggerate how much we can change. . .

Republican sentiment seems to be shifting away from the idea that the United States is a universal nation, where immigrants come from across the world to work, rise and join in the pursuit of happiness. Now Republican rhetoric emphasizes how alien immigrant culture is . . .how much disorder and strain their presence creates. . . from believing that culture is nothing, to believing that culture is everything — from idealism to fatalism in the blink of an eye.

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More reason not be dancing in the streets about our cultural superiority in “From classroom to tar pits?” by Marion Brady:

James McGregor, an American businessman who has lived in China for 15 years, says Chinese leaders monitor the United States. It has led them, he says, to “admire, fear and pity” us, the “pity” coming from their belief that America is a country in decline. . .

Why, they wonder, when we’re digging ever deeper the hole they think we’re in, are we so caught up in what they see as trivia — arguing about where to hang the Ten Commandments, preoccupied by homosexuality, fixating on news about murdered or missing pretty white females, legislating steroid use in sports, punishing flag burners — getting all emotional about issues they see as only marginally or not at all related to what they believe is America’s long-term well-being and continued power?

We may not agree with the Chinese leaders, or may think they should be putting their own house in order rather than inspecting ours, but they raise some important questions for Americans in general and educators in particular.

I doubt we’ll meet those challenges. However, if there’s hope, it probably lies with the kids. . .

And more with how they think than how they test.

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Then in June 2009 I followed up on Snook with:  Teaching Our Girls (Boys Too) to Dance With Democracy





Pregnant Woman Maced by Riot Police and Miscarries — Serve and Protect?

23 11 2011

UPDATE July 2013: a small measure of justice?

In some places the police were unbelievably violent in their quest to silence the Occupiers. Oakland, California was one of those places. . .This week the U.S. district court in San Francisco awarded a group of 12 protesters one million dollars after they sued the department for police brutality. The dollar amounts vary, with some protesters getting $20,000 and another getting as much as $500,000. . .

The settlement was a step in the right direction for the police department and it was a victory for the movement. The actions of law enforcement officials towards the Occupy protesters across the country were atrocious. Last year the University of California Davis offered each of the students who were pepper sprayed at close range by campus police $30,000…The monetary awards are small but at least they are an acknowledgement. The way the Occupy movement was silenced was a disgrace.

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What does it mean for armed authoritarian police in riot gear to “serve and protect” — and who is being protected from whom, for what, under what Authority? Are Thinking Citizens ready for this debate, finally?

Pregnant woman miscarries after being sprayed with pepper spray

What follows are comments JJ is making in an effort to marshal moral principle that might transcend a conservative man’s flinging his own authoritarian feces about, all while claiming to be a multicultural minority himself and more compassionate as proven by charitable donations than “liberals.”

About miscarriage following pepper spray, he said without a trace of self-mocking:

unlike many leftists, we believe in law and order and contesting within the system and established norms, and put our lives on the line fighting for it, and unlike anarchists and their fellow travelers, we dont worship killers of cops, judges and soldiers and dont automatically blame everything on police brutality.

That’s what got me trawled/trolled into the conversation, starting with a quote intended to describe the Authority Personality he seemed to fit and drawing a retort from him that he agreed with Fromm but “it goes both ways” (??):

“. . .the individual’s goal must be to become his own authority; i.e. to have a consciousness in moral issues, conviction in questions of intellect, and fidelity in emotional matters. However, the individual can only have such an inner authority if he has matured enough to understand the world with reason and love.

The development of these characteristics is the basis for one’s own authority and therefore the basis for political democracy.” — Erich Fromm, 1957, “The Authoritarian Personality”

If the “it” that goes both ways, is maturing in reason and love (so that we can transcend animal authority and become Real Boys and Girls) then certainly I agree.

Pregnant women are a very specialized “minority” btw. Even those of us who have been one know primarily how to live as NOT one, because it can’t last long. It might be interesting for us to think about that.

First, no one is born that way or stays that way, although Mrs. Duggar comes close.. 😉

And second, the whole community has a stake in pregnant women, both literally and emotionally: she biologically holds the power within her own body (corpor-al personhood?) to bring forth life and continue the human race, yet to do it, she becomes at her most vulnerable, and is often mistreated for it both by authoritarian individuals and authoritarian society’s rules, laws and cultural hierarchies.

Pregnant women — would it help to rebrand them as citizen creators? — tend to be stunned/shocked/struck (all violent weaponized police control concepts, think about THAT!) by just how dramatically their status change brings out the “authoritarian” in personalities! People get proprietary, want to touch us and tell us what to do and not do, where to be or not be, what to ingest or not, etc etc etc. They call it protection the same way cities and campuses are claiming police violence against peaceful citizens is protection. The same way America’s war-waging is called the defense department . . .

We could have our own reasonable and loving mature debate on, say,

RESOLVED: This culture is more authoritarian toward citizen creators and their corpor-al personhood than toward job creators and corporate personhood.





What’s in the Words “Red Meat”?

21 09 2011

Today we bring you Fightin’ Mad White Women in a Meat Locker. Like Rocky Balboa . . .

Remember tough GOP campaigner Sarah Palin chirping on about family holidays in front of turkey slaughter in what looked like a wood chipper, body still twitching and blood flying? The joke then was “pro-life, huh?”

But the image fit and she didn’t seem as bothered by it as even her own team was, much less the rest of us. It vividly showed her to be one tough force to be reckoned with, a warrior not merely of culture but blood and guts, bullets and guns, spoiling for a fight, a warrior unconstrained by truth and unable to tolerate (much less create and sustain) peace, according to (most recently) the Palin portrait painted in the new Joe McGinniss book aptly titled The Rogue.

I haven’t read the book, only heard several interviews with the author. What I heard in his storyline about HER storyline, is that that she’s ruthlessly competitive, so much so that she (and her father and her husband) are insidiously, intentionally menacing for effect, to demoralize and destroy not just enemies but opponents, folks across the country and the guy next door — even those few individuals close to her who dare to feel friendly to her much less try to work with her. (No wonder her own high school basketball teammates called her Sarah Barracuda.)

This all once upon a more innocent time, made me think of her as a somewhat sympathetic Scarlett O’Hara but now it seems more like Lou Gossett Jr. except unfortunately she’s in my real life whether I buy a ticket to keep watching or not, and her competitive power of story is only about winners and losers, just to beat everyone else down and step over their bodies, not to teach and raise them up, not to make us all better for the greater good:

I’ll use any means FAIR or UNFAIR to trip you up!

Now presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is manhandling some red meat for the Red Vote. To prove what a tough competitor she is? — but it seems to me what’s really tough in ways both fair and unfair, is believing she can be so tenderly concerned about our “little girls” when she opposes American society working effectively together to help them stay healthy! — she very publicly opposed a cancer-preventing vaccine last week, and this week stands in a meat locker calling for an end to food inspection, unconcerned about e.coli (which disproportionately threatens young children) . . .

Like Gene Hackman in another movie, I “feel like I’m going insane.” Or from the same power of story:

Not-so-bright performer: “Chewing gum helps me think.”
Older, wiser performer: “Sweetie, you’re wasting your gum.”

Finally, it put me in mind of this, remember?

Oh shoot! (pun intended.)
Federal control with licenses and training and stuff?? Can’t we just open it up for free market sport, this constitutional freedom to pursue happiness by killing, Read the rest of this entry »





“Partisan Polarization” Just Another Pathology of Hypercompetition?

13 09 2011

Conservative ideology and racial resentment swamp every other factor. Maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s counterproductive to even mention racial resentment these days. Maybe it’s unfair to lots of tea partiers who care only about taxes and big government. But unless there’s a problem with Abramowitz’s data, it’s there. Pretending that it’s not doesn’t make it go away. . .

These fears and resentments were of course stoked by right wing politicians, media commentators and websites . . .

There’s been an exhaustion of all patience followed by widespread progressive grumbling (or was that just me?) about the single-minded, spittle-flecked viciousness of win-at-all-costs in our politics, denying the humanity of one’s opponents let alone enemies, up to and including television caesars pandering to the bloodthirsty hordes, Dick Cheney still defending torture for personal profit, Rick Perry supporters cheering executions as pro-life governance.

“How you play the game” isn’t much of a consolation prize for the defeated even when it’s just a game, much less when the stakes are so high that you literally can’t afford to lose. “Living well as the best revenge” only adds insult to injury in forced competition that puts your health, wealth, dignity, liberty and life itself at risk.

We’ve cocked a snook several times at competition versus collaboration in different spheres, wondering whether it’s gotten all out of whack and what those experiences can do TO kids rather than FOR them. We’ve even looked at killer-instinct gameplay about chess specifically, the power of this next story:

I dare say this chess board may survive a nuclear blast! The pieces are made using .223 caliber bullet shell casings, decorated with cuts, slashes, curls and bends.

Photo source

She was, and is, a ferocious competitor, a psychological attribute that is quite separate from purely intellectual ability. As the former US chess champion Joel Benjamin reported after playing her: “It was all-out war for five hours. I was totally exhausted. She absolutely has a killer instinct.

Well, there you go! If only all our daughters were so ferocious about “winning” think what Read the rest of this entry »





Wanna Help Think About “The Help”?

31 08 2011

I was up past 3 am reading in bed and couldn’t quite finish, but I’m ready to talk and it seems worth its own post if not several posts.

Already I’ve been swamped by outrage from my African-American female friends, particularly those who didn’t grow up in the Jim Crow South themselves, and I’ve heard (and felt myself) some reverse-outrage from “white women” in response, particularly those who DID grow up in the South and resent being lumped together and set apart by people insisting that the lumping and setting apart by race is wrong, especially after a half-century when we really believed the woman part of that phrase had taken precedence over the white part — but there’s plenty more power of story to this story than race and region to think and talk about, too.

So consider this an open thread for all our friends, to discuss The Help.

The Upside of THE HELP Controversy:
I thought about my own power and class privilege. Seeing The Help has made me even more committed to challenging racial disparities in Hollywood. And it has reminded me to keep encouraging people of color to write, produce, and direct films—to keep fighting for our stories to be told through our own eyes, not through others’ fantasies.

Mostly, seeing The Help made me want to hear my own grandma’s experiences. I have a plan for the next time I visit her in North Carolina. I’m bringing my Flip Cam, sitting next to her, listening to her story, and recording it—on my own terms.





Asking Candidates About Their Faith (and Extraterrestrial) Beliefs

26 08 2011

“God chose me for that moment!” she thrills . . .

Following up after the GOP debate controversy around asking Rep. Bachmann about the implications of her bible-based wifely submission beliefs should she become President:

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans.

Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a “cult” and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”) Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are both affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity — and Rick Santorum comes out of the most conservative wing of Catholicism — which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

And let’s not skip too quickly over Read the rest of this entry »





Happy Home With Littlies in One Southern Suburb

25 05 2011

. . .a headline you can read as both a noun phrase — a happy home — and as a personal description of the subject’s state of mind — the author is happy being home. She’s “happy (to be) home.”

Just a little writer’s dalliance. 😉

An Open Letter to Door-to-Door Salesmen

Let’s talk about the issues that we’re facing here. First, it’s between the hours of 1pm and 4pm, which are prime naptime for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. When you walk up and pound on my front door, which is just a few feet away from my baby’s crib, it’s gonna piss me off. . .

And I don’t blame you for not knowing; by your age and gender I am guessing you have never spent time as an in-home caregiver for two children under the age of four.

We talk so much about parenting and educating older kids now, and how the current state of society and the economy affects all that. So I was delighted for a change of perspective, to see this young mommy’s power of story. The author is our dear family friend IRL, a writer/editor/teacher and fulltime liver of an exquisitely examined and recounted life.

I don’t blame you for seeing me as an easy mark. Suburban, nice home, decent car, cares about family and safety. But when you interpret my stay-at-home status as an indicator of affluence, that’s where you go off course. In the current economy, I might be the least likely person on my block to make an unplanned purchase.

For one thing, I am still living in my house, which means I haven’t foreclosed, which means that I am making mortgage payments based on an inflated home value that was in place when we made the home purchase four years ago.

Secondly, I do not have a full time job, which is why I am home and you see my car parked in the driveway. . . Read the rest of this entry »