Sunday, 28 December 2014

How our struggle to be equal parents damaged our marriage

We're spending the holidays with my family in Germany at the moment, so my partner is doing most of the parenting. My partner and I have this arrangement whereby he is Momo's main carer when we're with my family, so that I can make the most of what little time I have with them. So whenever we do see them, I withdraw from parenting almost entirely. This raises some eyebrows, particularly in the Catholic backwaters of Bavaria which I call "home". I know that some people even think I'm a bad, uncaring mum when they see me lying on the sofa all day chatting to my brothers while my partner is playing with Momo. But we also get pretty positive reactions, usually from young mums who wish that their husbands were such involved parents. Some are even downright jealous.

But here's where I've got to say: wait a minute! Yes, I think it's great how equal we are as parents. But in order to achieve equality, we have fought very hard, and it has done us a lot of harm. And that's what today's post is about. Just how much our struggle to be equal parents hurt us.

Maternal gate-keeping: fathers as glorified babysitters

First, I need to explain a concept called "maternal gate-keeping". Maternal gate-keeping basically means that mothers are in control of who gets do do what when it comes to parenting (hence the image of them "keeping" or "controlling" a gate): they feel they know best and should therefore be the ones who take all the decisions relating to the baby. They may want their partner to also do some parenting, but mums are the ones deciding what they get to do, when they are allowed to do it, and how they need to do it. They know what's right for their child, they know which clothes they should wear today, whether they need their feed now or later, whether or not they need to be changed. So they will tell their partners what they need to do and how, and correct them when they're doing something they think they shouldn't do. Often, other women will also participate in this process. It's surprising how many women feel they can tell fathers what they need to do: their own mothers, their mother-in-law, and even random women on the street. Gradually, this female gate-keeping erodes the father's confidence and all he ends up being is a secondary parent, a glorified babysitter. My partner certainly felt like this initially and was very bitter about it.

As a mum, it's very hard to take a step back and relinquish control of the gate. It's very hard to stop checking what your partner is doing with the baby. It's hard not to take your baby out of your partner's arms when you're convinced that you will be able to calm her much more efficiently. It's hard to stop yourself from saying: "Don't go out like that, he needs to wear a jumper, it's too cold out", or "this isn't the right puree for lunch, she has potato purée for lunch, not carrot". Yet taking a step back and giving up control is what you need to do so your partner gets the space he needs to fully be a dad.

Fighting the urge to stay in control

I strongly experienced this urge to control when I first became a mother. I spent far more time with Momo than my partner during the first three months, and because I was breastfeeding I was more important for her than he was. Because of this natural imbalance, and maybe for other reasons as well (such as: I'm a control freak?), I quickly got into a habit of making all the decisions concerning Momo. Which led to a LOT of fights with my partner. In fact, we had screaming matches every single day for about 8 months. Or 10. Because I didn't want to relinquish control, and neither did he. My partner was determined to fight for his right to be an equal parent. Boy, I hated him so much for that. I just couldn't let go!

But because we're both such stubborn people (our marriage can be like a bull fight at times), we just slammed into each other repeatedly until our heads were completely mushy and we didn't have any fight left in us. My vision's still blurred from all the head banging but I can see that we are coming out of this fight as equals. Tired, hurt, and frustrated maybe, but equals nonetheless.

We both feel that we've achieved something amazing here because we really are equal parents. If one of us just had to leave right now, the other one could take over without a glitch. And neither of us needs to carry the heavy burden of being the main carer. It's relaxing to know that you're not irreplaceable. And it gives me so much more freedom than most other mums.

On the other hand, we've accumulated quite a bit of resentment for each other because we had to fight so much. This says more about our flawed communication style than about equality though, I think. Anyway, I just wanted to say that becoming equal parents is not necessarily easy and it means having to dicuss things a lot.

Taking decisions together = more arguments

Just think about it. If Mum is the only person taking the decisions, then she just makes her decisions. If Dad wants to decide, too, then every decision needs to be discussed. And that's when you realise that there are DOZENS of decisions that need to be made every single day. You don't notice so much just how many decisions you make when you're the only one making them. But believe me, when somebody stops you every time you make a decision and wants to discuss it or question it, then you realise just how many decisions there are.*

So, I really really don't want to stop any of you from trying to be equal parents, but beware that it might not be easy, and please try and be nice to each other, even when you disagree and you've only slept 3 hours and are in a really foul mood!!! Finally, if you are the woman, get into a habit of asking your partner's opinion before taking decisions about the baby. You don't tend to hear Mummy asking Daddy whether he thinks the baby needs an extra layer of clothing, whether he thinks they might be hungry, thirsty, tired etc. Yet, I believe that this is one of the prerequisites for egalitarian parenting.

*when the child should sleep, for how long, what they should eat, how much and when, do you let them cry or pick them up? Can they have their dummy or not, if yes, when and under which circumstances and for how long? Do they need a bath? Does their hair need to be washed, their nails need to be clipped, their ears cleaned, their nose washed, which shoes should they wear, do they need to burp or not, does their hair need to be brushed before you go out, do they need an extra jumper in this weather, do they need a hat, gloves, are they allowed to have a cracker now or not, are they allowed to play with your mobile phone, are they allowed to throw food on the floor and if they do it how should you react, how do you react when they scream....? I could go on all day.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

To all men who think they're not muscular enough

Women don't necessarily fancy muscular men, yet this is the ideal many men are striving for.


I used to play waterpolo back in Scotland. Very badly, but it was great fun. I just had to share our team picture with you because I think it's hilarious, particularly the American dude on the left who insisted on wearing a wooly hat. Granted, taking a team picture in your swim suits in the middle of the winter is a bit nuts. The woman sitting with her legs spread is obviously me.

The protein guys

Anyway, some of the guys on the team were very openly concerned with their looks, particularly with all the muscles from the waist up (none of them seemed particularly concerned about their buttocks or legs for some reason). So, their biceps and other upper arm muscles whose names escape me, and their pectoral and abdominal muscles. Once I got to listen to a conversation which lasted the best part of our train journey to Edinburgh and which made me want to repeatedly hit my head with a heavy object. The entire conversation revolved around the exact amount of protein intake needed to build optimal muscle mass. It went something like this:

"Yeah, so, Monday through Thursday I eat 11.8 ounces of protein per meal and 0.5 ounces of carbs, so I get very tired, but then on Friday I splash out on carbs before the match and it really boosts my energy levels".

For 45 minutes. Discussing the most effective protein supplements, exact amount of chicken to be had for lunch, frequency of meals and gym routines. Now I learned from the protein guys that in order to get very defined abs (=abdominal or stomach muscles) they needed to eat very little carbs (=carbohydrates, i.e. pasta, bread etc.) and a lot of protein, to make sure they had a lot of muscle and very little fat (because they obviously didn't want their abs to be hidden under a layer of fat).

Girls' talk in the shower room

Meanwhile, I remembered two of the girls on my team talking about the protein guys in the shower room:

"Did you notice X. has become a total hunk, I love it!" "yeah, and Z. has got his abs back, that's so great, isn't it?" 

Blablabla. What do I care if Z. is ripped or not?!!!

I've got a confession to make. I like guys that don't work out. That just have the amount of muscle they naturally have without going to the gym. I also like chubby guys, because they're so soft and cuddly! I don't like gym-steeled men with bulky muscles. They're just not my type. Plus I can't imagine having very much in common with somebody who goes to the gym 5 days a week and spends every waking hour worrying about their protein intake. But that's just me.

Male actors and models

The holiday season is coming up and everyone's buying presents. And there are so many adverts everywhere with half-naked guys on them, advertising anything from aftershave to protein supplements. I've noticed that the men in these adverts are usually very muscular, they have a super flat stomach with defined abs and there is not a single hair on their torso. Then that made me think of the different types of men that have played James Bond. Sean Connery, for example, has a hairy chest and is not overly muscular and that was seen as attractive back in the day. Whereas the latest James Bond, Daniel Craig, has humungous muscles and not a single hair on his chest.

Male actors and models are becoming more and more muscular. What is it like to be faced with all these super muscular, clean shaven men with flat stomachs? What if you're just a normal kind of guy? Too fat, too hairy, too skinny, too short, too unfit... to be a model? Well, I hope that the fact that women don't necessarily like super muscular hairless men helps. Guys: stay the way you are, and don't let anyone tell you you're not handsome!


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Doing things girls aren't supposed to do

Disclaimer: it's really important to me to be very clear that I don't think feminism should be a prison. So, while I said that we dress our daughter like a boy, this was meant to be provocative, and I want to be very clear that we don't want to stop her from being feminine if this is what she wants to be like. In fact, next week's post will be my friend Sheila talking about why growing up with dogmatic feminist parents is hell.

Meanwhile, today's post is a list of strategies I have developed to encourage our daughter to do things girls aren't normally supposed to do.

"Look how strong you are!"
I try to deliberately compliment Momo on being strong. It felt weird at first, but now I do it without thinking. My husband and I also try not to be too protective around her in terms of letting her do physically challenging things, because research shows that girls lose confidence in their physical strength very early on. I remember a woman telling Momo she looked "like a Hulk" when she was carrying a heavy box around, and she suggested that she might want to stop doing that. I immediately said that I disagreed and that I was proud of her.

"Hush hush!"
Last week I overheard a mum at the playground telling her two girls this: "be quiet, you know that I don't like it when you're loud". What shocked me was that, meanwhile, her son was running around screaming his head off, and that was seen as completely ok. I try to make a particular effort not to hush Momo unless she's driving me nuts or she might be driving other people nuts, because research consistently shows that when a boy is loud, he is just being a normal boy. Whereas when a girl is loud, she's naughty. Just go to any playground and compare the amount of noise boys make to the amount of noise girls make.
Another thing that's important to my partner and I is to not make Momo shut up by shoving a dummy in her mouth. That's pretty tricky though, and I don't think we always get it right. We try and have clear rules as to when she can use her dummy (in bed and in the car). Whether or not to use a pacifier in the first place is a touchy subject though, which I might discuss in a separate post - if I can be arsed, because that's a debate that frankly just pisses me off and I'm pissed off enough as it is these days.

"Cheeky monkey"
Also, being naughty is tolerated more in boys, and even seen as endearing ("look at that cheeky monkey!"), whereas girls are supposed to be more well-behaved. So, being aware of these trends, I tried to work against them consciously, and now it's become second nature to compliment Momo on being a cheeky monkey. This doesn't mean that I'm an anti-authoritarian parent (not that there would necessarily be anything wrong with that -another debate that pisses me off so much I'm not going to get into that). If Momo deliberately goes against something I just told her not to do, she will feel the heat. I'm more talking about cheeky in terms of snatching two cookies out the bag, rather than just one, or throwing soft toys on the floor. In fact, I taught her it's ok to chuck soft toys on the floor with all her might, and it's become one of our favourite games to do that together, and it sets us off laughing out of pure mischief.

"It's ok to be angry"
Also, when Momo's angry, we have this game where I take out a box and she chucks wooden cubes into it, which makes a lot of noise and helps her express her anger, and not try to bottle it up.

So, what are the results of these techniques so far? Well, I don't know if it's got anything to do with what I do, but people are often struck by Momo's volubility. She just speaks, and speaks, and speaks. Quietly, loudly, happily, angrily... It gives me great pleasure to see her tumble round the house enjoying the full spectrum of her voice and exploring and expressing all kinds of emotions. And as far as her body confidence is concerned, she still does enjoy carrying heavy objects around.

Anyway, that's me for today. My next parenting post will be about our choice of toys for Momo.


Monday, 1 December 2014

Head over heels for Japanese Bondage?

I like bondage because I like being in control. It’s a huge turn-on for me. 
I like to see the rope as an extension of myself, holding my partner in the position in which I want her.

When he binds me, I feel completely calm. I feel so safe. 
Like he’s holding me in his arms and protecting me. 

I hate bondage. When we tried it, it brought tears to my eyes.

By Gwen Windpassinger & Nicolas D.

First of all, could everyone make sure NOT to tell my mother-in-law we abused the cuddly sheep she gave Momo or we'll be in serious trouble!

Anyway. Variety, variety, variety. It's the spice of life, and the spice of sex life. So today I'm going to give you an introduction to the Japanese bondage art of Shibari (Kinbaku). Shibari is a very aesthetically pleasing type of rope bondage. It’s really intricate and the “model”, as the person who’s bound is called, ends up with two or all four limbs tied up in beautiful patterns, and is sometimes even suspended from a ceiling bolt, and then spanked, licked, f*cked, etc., just in case you thought this was purely for artistic purposes, you little naïvelings!

First of all, I’ve got a confession to make. This really isn’t my field of expertise, but I found someone who has been practising Shibari for years: Nico. Nico and I sing in a Jazz band together, and when we first met we had the following conversation:

Nico: ---“So what do you do for a living?”
me: ---“Ehm… I am doing… research on sexuality”.
Nico: ---“Cool, I’m really interested in that. I’m totally into free love."
me: ---“Free love? Yep. I used to be into that but not anymore.”
Then he said “that’s a shame! It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread” or something along those lines. And then, later that day:
---“Have you ever tried Shibari?”

I hadn’t. Ever. But with variety being the spice of sex life and all, I decided it was time I learnt a thing or two about it. I figured that, even if I wasn’t going to like it, I could always share it with you guys. Now unfortunately there was no way I was going to get Shibari tutorials from Nico, because I’m in an exclusive relationship with my partner, and I’m not sure Nico would have been up for it anyway. Hang on, he's saying he would have been up for it:)

And he agreed to write this post with me! And thank Zeus for that, because otherwise I might have ended up like a friend of mine whose forays into Japanese bondage ended up in disaster. He had decided to start with what, in theory, looked like a very simple harness around his partner's hips:
So I looked at a few different types of knots and then had to go to a DIY store to pick up two different strengths of rope. One was 8 meters, which was ok, but the other one I got was 12 meters long and that turned out to be a complete pain in the ass to tie around her because it was far too long, so I had to keep pulling, pulling, tying, pulling, pulling, pulling. So the whole thing started off as a pretty frustrating experiment.
So we had planned this as part of our foreplay, and I started tying this long cumbersome rope around her hips, which just wouldn't fit properly. It was either too long on one side, or too short on the other. In any case, it was never symmetric. And I wanted to get it right, but no matter how hard we tried, it just looked SHITE.
Then when her wonky harness was finally ready, it was pretty ok for holding her and directing her movements during sex, but there was so much friction of that bloody rope between her legs and my penis that the whole experience was bringing tears to my eyes. We've never tried it again. A complete and utter waste of money if you ask me.

Ok, I think we've all got tears in our eyes now. What do we learn from this? Nico says: make sure you get the right length of rope. It's better to have several, shorter, 6 meter pieces (for smaller people), or 8 meters max. for larger people, and tie them together as you go along. Also, when tied correctly, there should not be any friction. I'm deliberately saying "people", rather than "women" by the way, because I realise that most depictions of Shibari are of women being tied up. But I see no reason why that should be the case. Just be careful not to tie those ropes too tightly around your partner's balls or they'll explode.

Speaking of which (tight ropes, I mean, not exploding balls), one of the most important safety measures in Shibari is to make sure that ropes are tied correctly. If done wrong, it can cause permanent injury and paralysis. If you want to try it, you should first read a bit to avoid cutting off circulation or straining tendons. Nico strongly recommends getting an instruction manual and/or DVD! If you are planning to do a suspension, then you must be damned sure the thing will hold, so follow instructions very carefully. Also, be sure to test the ceiling eye bolt and check the rope for any faults before suspending your partner. Their legs and wrists are likely to be tied up when suspended, so if they fall they might actually break their neck and die.
Shibari bondages take a very very long time to do and undo. In case of an emergency (the model is starting to feel numbness or a tingling sensation in one limb, there is a fire in the building and the apartment needs to be evacuated quickly, …), it might take too long to untie all the knots. This is why one of the first rules of Shibari is to always have something to cut the ropes at the ready. A pair of EMT shears is perfect for this. You know, the type of scissors emergency doctors use for cutting off your clothes after an accident? They can cut through anything very quickly, without injuring your partner. They can also be fun to use for cutting through your partner’s clothes while playing.

Also, make sure the rope is the right strength, as too thin means it'll cut into your partner's skin, and too thick means it might be too rigid and you might not actually be able to tie it the way you want to. A good diameter is between 6 and 8 millimeters for harnesses and tying up limbs. Ropes for suspending your partner from the ceiling should be thicker (10-12mm). Rope material* is also something you should consider as some ropes are abrasive, which is something you might, or might not like.

Anyway, enjoy playing around with this, but remember: with Shibari, preparation and safety is paramount. If you want to go for the real artistic stuff, it's a major investment in terms of (preparation) time, and you're also going to need to spend a bit of money. It's certainly not something you can just try spontaneously on a Sunday afternoon and expect to be doing amazingly artistic stuff with immediately. The best thing might be to start by tying your partner's limbs to the bedpost or simply tying their wrists together. With a few basic techniques you will already be able to have fun after a few hours of practice.

I've been attracted to Domination and bondage for some years now. It started with an ex girlfriend, telling her she had to be “punished” whenever she said something to jokingly make fun of me. Her punishments were not really elaborate, and consisted mainly in me (clumsily) tying her hands together or to the bedpost with a scarf, then f*cking her. We both loved it but it stayed pretty tame at that time.

It was only a few years later that I discovered Kinbaku, and it appealed to my artistic sense. It is not just sexual bondage, it is really something beautiful, a piece of art that you make with your model and rope. I started to read a lot of documentation online, and to watch videos explaining the basics. That’s when I bought my first set of ropes. I was lucky I lived very close to a store specialized in ropes! Of course they had hemp ropes, so I went and bought a couple of dozen of meters of pre-treated rope. I just had to cut it myself and tape the ends so they wouldn’t fray. After experimenting a little bit with Kinbaku and other types of bondage, I decided to buy an instructional DVD for Kinbaku which gave me a solid base of techniques for experimenting and start creating my own designs. I started experimenting more with girlfriends and f*ck-friends, trying new stuff, sometimes experimenting and rehearsing new techniques on myself (tying my leg to a bedpost to learn a new knot) so I wouldn’t look clueless in front of a date.

For me, bondage is linked to domination and submission play. I like to be in charge, and to have someone else relinquish control to me, surrender completely to my will. I like bondage for the same reason: to be in control, to feel the other person surrender to my will. This is a huge turn-on for me. I like the concept of the rope being an extension of myself, holding my partner in the position in which I want her.
I prefer Kinbaku to Western types of bondage for aesthetic reasons. However, I still use some techniques that are not really part of Kinbaku, and sometimes even leather restraints when I don’t have the amount of time required to do bondage, or when I just don’t feel like spending the time to do it but still would like my partner to be bound.

Another testimony:
A friend of Nico’s told him she liked being tied up, not for the thrill of being powerless against him, but because she experienced some kind of serenity doing it. Knowing there was nothing she could do and that she had to trust him completely, knowing she had to accept what he was doing to her, put her in a trance-like state. She told him she felt safe when she was bound, like he was holding her in his arms and protecting her. She had reached that kind of inner peace before while practicing yoga.

*Nico says that the most widely available (and used) types of ropes for bondage are hemp, nylon, and cotton. However, traditional Shibari is always done with hemp rope. While no type of rope is perfect, he thinks hemp rope is the best compromise, even when not doing traditional Shibari. Actually, cotton, while easy to dye and less abrasive than hemp, has a tendency to extend during use, which causes knots to come loose too easily, and is not only annoying but can be dangerous during suspensions. Nylon, though more durable and resistant, is very abrasive and knots also come loose too easily because it is somewhat “slippery”. You can buy sets of hemp ropes for bondage in online bondage stores. Some of these sets come with EMT shears and instructional DVDs. You can also find hemp ropes in DIY stores, but then they might not be treated with oil to make them smoother and more resistant to fraying. Buying them in online bondage stores ensures they have been treated, but of course they will be more expensive. If you want to save some money, you can buy the oil and treat them yourself.