Saturday, January 03, 2009

In the Name of Good... and Announcements

I believe there's a lot of cross over between my blog readers and the community of writers, so I thought you might be interested in the following announcements:

First of all, I edit the review section and write a couple columns for Vision: A Resource for Writers. This is a wonderful online magazine that provides articles on markets, writing techniques, resources useful to writers, and interviews among other elements. It is also a market for beginning non-fiction writers, and pulls on a wide variety of experienced writers for articles and interviews. Most of the content focuses on fiction writing of any genre, but articles on non-fiction topics do appear and are welcome. If you haven't checked it out before, please do. And if you have, you'll be happy to hear the new issue has been posted.


The second item is primarily for fiction writers. I am teaching an online workshop on non-verbal communication: how to become conscious of its influence and how to use it in your writing. The course does require membership in Forward Motion (a wonderful writing community), but membership is free. This requirement is to preserve rights for any work you might complete during the class.

I give fair warning that my workshops are intensive, but the more work you put in, the more you get out of the workshops.

Please come and check it out at After you log in, click on the Learning Center 2009 link in the header and then go to the Workshops 2009 folder.

The workshop begins on January 5th and the class will run 6 weeks.

Hope to see you there.

For the stray thought, I give you many social restrictions do we pass on to our kids in the effort to protect their childhood?

This question struck me when reading an article in a 2003 Smithsonian (yes, I'm behind, but they're still as good now as then, and sometimes more interesting with what's happened since). It was an article about the Blackfoot language, and efforts to recover the language and the cultural aspects it contains through an immersion school. While that, in itself, is interesting, what really caught my eye was how the language dwindled in the first place.

The article explains that the tribe's children two generations back were shipped to English-only schools where the penalty for speaking anything other than English was harsh. These children came back to their reservations with the understanding that speaking Blackfoot meant being beaten, so they made sure their children wouldn't suffer the same fate by discouraging any use of their own language. In one generation, the number of native speakers was reduced to almost nothing first by the treatment in the schools and then by honest efforts to protect children.

Okay, that's horrible, but has no direct impact on me seeing as English is my native language, except...

The day before, I went with my husband to Home Depot to pick up some plastic zip ties to attach a mile counter to my son's bike (his Christmas present was missing some key, but easily obtainable, pieces). We had to ask for help to find the zip ties, and the Home Depot employee tagged along.

We turned the corner to see a bag of zip ties in the delightful colors of neon yellow, green, and of course, pink. I pointed them out to the man and my husband, laughing at the unexpected colors. The man commented that black plastic holds up best outdoors, a handy little tip I now pass to you.

It was a slow night and so he hung about as we contemplated the extensive display. My husband had hoped to pick up a bulk pack with a variety of sizes, but the options were white, and of course, the neon collection. After the man's comment about black, neither were suitable, but I jokingly said that we should get the neon pink for our teenager as this would go over very well. We all laughed at the shared cultural joke, then we picked up straight black both for the longer duration and the social safety.

All well and good so far, but now that article has me thinking.

In as late as a 1918 Ladies Home Journal, mothers were advised to dress their boys in pink to be in fashion, presumably because it was a bright, dramatic color. It's not until the 1940s that the modern gender association became common. And yet, a boy who wears pink in most modern US cultures will be subject to ridicule or worse.

That attitude is clear enough in the joke I myself made even though I normally scoff at the biased linking of specific colors to gender. In the case of my kids though, I do what's necessary to reduce the chance of them getting bullied, something they've been at risk for since the beginning because, frankly, their parents are out of step culturally. What I hadn't realized was how much I'd absorbed those cues in the context of my kids.

And now I have to rethink my position.

Not that pink being lost as boys' wear is a big cultural failure, not that a people's history will vanish because of this bias against pink, but even such a small thing makes me wonder.

I don't want my kids to be subject to ridicule, isolated by their peers, or beaten up after school as I was myself. I know that governs my choices not just of clothing but in other aspects of their lives. I give them a good foundation, or try, and then point out where they need to be cautious and protect themselves.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to raise kids to be aware and respectful of people who are different than themselves while at the same time encouraging them to act like everyone else to protect them? When what makes them unique also makes them vulnerable, how do you balance sheltering them and encouraging them to be themselves.

When my mother-in-law got the boys wind cheaters ages ago, she was startled to see them choose hot pink. Why did they? Probably because my wind cheater was hot pink (a color I happen to adore for its ability to be bright and cheery when we were living in a place that rarely got real sun) and they hadn't yet picked up on that being a no-no color for boys.

My youngest doesn't care about pink. Sometimes he even likes to wear it. When I caution against, he says he doesn't care what people think. Part of me is proud of him. The rest is worried.

This is the same son that I joked about getting the pink zip ties and then chose not to.

So what other social conventions that I don't believe in have I unwittingly supported in the interests of my children? What haven't I told them to make sure they didn't say it in other company where such attitudes would be greeted with a harsh response, whether by the authorities or their peers? In what ways have I helped the destruction of what makes our culture and my kids unique by avoiding or actively squashing things?

I don't know whether it's comforting that I can't think of any big example, or terrifying. By pure luck have I only had to compromise on the little things, or has compromise in this context become so common that even something big slips my notice? I know something important to me would not have, but there are a lot of things outside my radar that, when given notice, are clearly making a statement I don't intend. When that does happen I correct the impression, but who's there to give notice if each generation aids and abets the whitewashing of culture for purely good reasons?

Scary thoughts, don't you think?


EJ said...

When my guys upgraded cell phones last year, they both got Razors, but my teen chose the pink one. I thought he was joking but he really wanted it (to be a conversation starter). As far as I know, he hasn't taken any flak from it but he wouldn't care if he had.

ann said...

This subject is very interesting to me. I see many issues with this for girls. In school a girl will many times be praised for basically being quiet and doing their work. On the other hand, its quite common for boys to show much larger displays of enthusiasm and to be a self-promoter. I caught myself last year from criticizing my 9yr old daughter for saying , out loud, in front of her friends just how good she was at XYZ. She was boasting yes, not rudely mind you. But it sat wrong in me...I mulled it over and realized that this response in me was there because of this social norm. I have since adjusted my attitude towards this boastfulness and even encouraged it good heartedly.

Margaret said...

EJ, when doing a search for the timeframe of male pink, I ran into a ton of links about how men are reclaiming pink. It's the new rage apparently :).

Ann, Hiya :D. Very true on the sit tight and don't boast issue. It's easy, too, to lose self-confidence if everyone is shushing your efforts to say what you can do well. And yet... Good luck walking that line and figuring out a way to teach the border between self-confidence/assurance and boastfulness.

Mama Rose said...

This does hit home, having navigated the very waters you speak of. My kids made it out just fine and I'm sure yours will, too. I'm not having a lot of success with remembering a relevant story, probably because it's morning and I'm still working on my first cup of coffee.


Jean said...

I expanded the context of this a little. I noticed through the years that my bosses had biases based upon things that had caused them pain or trouble in the past.

For instance, one would not allow a weekend pass if long driving was going to be involved -- he'd had a young airman killed while doing just that. He refused to take into account that a 40-something with a lot of driving experience who had learned long ago when to take a break was different from an early twenties young man. He didn't want to take a chance of that thing ever happening to him again.

I've had other bosses with pet issues, and I long ago decided we as adults pay more attention to the things that have caused us problems in the past. Even if the focus isn't necessarily rational or appropriate in a given situation.

I hadn't thought about it with kids, but of course, it's true. I noticed it with my parents.

David & Elizabeth said...

Hmmmm. Fascinating. And what did I unconsciously pass on to you? And how much of the very conscious security training I gave you has been absorbed and become social postures. At least you were always aware that you were cultural outliers.

Margaret said...

Linda, yeah, I figure they'll turn out all right. I'm more afraid we'll be talking some day and they'll parrot back something I taught them that now, with them as adults, has a completely different significance and one I wish I'd never shared :p.

Jean, good point. "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it" can definitely be taken too far. It's very hard to let people learn from their own mistakes, especially in a work situation, rather than train them based on yours. And a death has a big impact, no matter how irrational. How frustrating for you though :p.

Mom or Dad,

Mean and cruel to use a joint id :). The answers off the top of my head are very different. I'm assuming Dad because of the security training, but I'll bet Mom gave us some too...and honestly, I don't consciously remember either.

Dad - For all I joke about how you "helped" me with my math homework, I have turned that very style of teaching into the classes I teach now, and they are rather well received.

Mom - Most of what you taught me was conscious and absorbed subconsciously. My mind took an interesting twist because I assumed what you taught was the same as what all mom's taught and so therefore failed to recognize how much of an outlier you were. Heck, you still seem to fail to recognize that at times and so think you can't do what I now know you can, so maybe that's part of what I absorbed :).

jjmcgaffey said...

Two things los padres taught us - I still have trouble criticizing the president in other than family settings. That's one reason I wasn't very active in the election - working for Obama so often meant dissing Bush. And speaking against the president/administration was an utter no-no overseas.
Another, very minor but it has a strong hold on me - Mom told me that raw flour was (I remember poisonous, she may have said 'bad for you'). This may have been to keep me from eating all the raw cookie/cake dough before it got baked. But I still can't eat (won't consider eating) cookie-dough icecream...

Margaret said...

LOL, I was thinking unconscious, but you're right about those. Uncooked flour and falling asleep with gum in your mouth=to instant death.

The first was a country specific but we didn't see it that way, but the second has saved me on more long road trips...

Does anyone else have childhood stuff that didn't quite make it past the filter as intended?

i-ddb said...

How about the concept of security? I don't find it unusual to see guards carrying large guns - yet that's a huge wow factor for most Americans.
And unlike most Americans, my first thought is "hmmm, wonder if they were issued bullets?"
I also assume I'll be able to read/translate something in a romance language - or at least get a basic idea. Turns out most folk's reaction is "I don't read *insert language here*" and they move on.
The bad part of this, is the stories we can come up with are the things we've become aware's the one's we're not aware of that can catch us.

Margaret said...

Thanks for the laugh on the bullets. I honestly have never wondered either way. I guess seeing people armed who should be is perfectly normal to me. Now I'm going to worry less about their training and more about whether they have enough to escalate but not to follow through :p.

And good point on the languages. I must admit most people I've run into seem focused more on the "this is the subset of things I can do" rather than "I don't know how to do this so let me figure it out" whether for languages or almost anything.

Michele said...

Great blog and interesting comments. This could be a forum all its own. ;-) I don't have time to add anymore of my own but you sure have gotten me thinking...


Margaret said...

Then my dastardly plan has succeeded! Trying to make people laugh, think, or buy books. That's may aim :). Well, that and come to my classes :D.

Larisa said...

Stumbled onto your blog (yours is the same name as my mother-in-law)...So wonderful to read! Thoughtful and funny, too. For my part, I have told my son repeatedly that he is NOT the same as everybody else, and that I don't care what others say or do. Honor, goodness, happiness - they're not just words. He has his own ideas, anyway - pink is out of the question, though not because I told him so... But at the age of 7, he's already decided that things that he likes (like Hawaiian shirts), he likes, no matter what anyone says. People he likes are his friends, no matter what others say. And although I would love to take credit for his attitude, I'm certain it's just inherited bullheadedness - and hope it serves him well.

Margaret said...

Welcome Larisa. Isn't it great how our kids grow into their own unique people? I mean, we definitely can influence them, but it's certainly not a cookie cutter process :).