Monday, 23 February 2015

A book about gender neutral parenting

Howdy folks!
Just a short book and website recommendation for you this week. Following up on my feminist parenting posts, I have started looking at the recent books published on gender-neutral parenting and I've just ordered one for my partner to read and review. It's called "Gender Neutral Parenting: Raising Kids with the Freedom to Be Themselves."
I'd also like to recommend the website and magazine "everyday feminism" where I first came across this book. Quite a few good reads there!

Have a great week,

Monday, 16 February 2015

Playing with things girls aren't supposed to play with

I promised I'd write something about children's toys, so here you go:)
Some of you may remember my post about the Pink Stinks! campaign, which campaigns against the differences in the toys boys and girls get to play with in the UK, and there are similar initiatives in other countries as well now.

When my partner and I had Momo, we gave the whole boys' toys and girls' toys question some thought and we decided that we wanted to encourage her to play with what are traditionally considered "boys' toys". Because we knew that most other people were going to do the opposite. By encouraging her to play with boys' toys, we're redressing the balance. Or trying to, at least.

We want Momo to have the same chances in life as a boy. So I try to build a lot of cube towers with her, because research suggests that girls might be less good at understanding three-dimensional space (which isn't handy for maths) because they don't play with things such as cubes so much. So again, this is about trying to redress the balance.

So when our parents asked what they could get her for Christmas, we deliberately suggested things like a workbench with a hammer and a drill, rather than dolls or a play kitchen, because she gets to play with those a lot when she's with her minder.

One thing we definitely want to avoid however, is to make her feel guilty or bad about playing with "girls' toys" (see Sheila's post about the dangers of doing this).

Momo's 20 months old now, so a bit over a year and a half. She's enjoys playing with all kinds of toys. She likes her workbench, though she's not playing with it that much. I think that might be because neither my partner nor I are taking the time to show her how to really use all the accessories. And because she doesn't see either of us work on an adult workbench or with things such as drills. When my brother was building his house, he used his drill a lot, and I think it was quite natural for his son to want to use his toy drill as a consequence of that. Because my feeling is that children like to imitate what their parents are doing.

Anyway, that's all I've got to say for now about toys! Cheerio!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Boys' clothes/ girls' clothes

Glitter, ruffles and pearl stitching - just a few random things boys aren't allowed to wear

I've got to share the sexist comment of the day before I start because it's so good. Carneval's approaching fast, and I overheard a couple of parents worrying about their children's costume choices:

---My daughter said she wants to be either Spiderman or a pirate. That really worries me. I told her, you can't do that, but she insists that her costume's going to be one or the other.

---I know the problem. Last year our child-minder organised a kiddies' dressing-up party with lots of different disguises for the children to play with. When she emailed me the pictures there was my son wearing a Minnie Mouse costume! And pink shoes to go with it! I wasn't happy at all.

Of course, I had to jump in there, and I said that I don't see a reason why we should limit our children's choice of clothes because of their sex. That's when I decided to gather some thoughts on boy's and girl's clothes. And it struck me that society mostly limits boys' choice of clothes.

We have a daughter. She's 20 months old and I've just discovered my passion for sewing. So I started looking through the latest pattern books. And I realized that I've got a choice: either I make girl's clothes, or I make boy's clothes. Because already at this age there's a subtle difference in the way clothes are cut. Boy's tops have got wider shoulders. What for? To make boys look bulkier, stronger? And why do girl's tops have narrow shoulders? To make them look slighter? Hmmm.
Why can girls wear tights and leggings, but boys can't? And what about ruffles? Why is there an unspoken rule that boy must never wear ruffles of any kind? Or glitter? The list goes on.

The boy's section in clothing stores is far smaller than the girl's section, starting at newborn size. That's a scandal. Clearly, boy's (and men's) clothes are much more limited. Girls and women would not be frowned upon if they were wearing an item of clothing deemed "masculine". Whereas boys can't wear girl's clothes. This is starting to change, though, I think. At least there is hope. I'm thinking about David Beckham bravely pioneering the male headband in the late 1990s. Or increasingly feminized clothes for men in department stores: the colour pink; low-cut necklines similar to women's; thin cotton scarves. Granted, these tend to be worn by gay men or fashionistas. But it's a start!

Last random thought, then I'll go to bed: I read a feminist manifesto (I think it was Susan Brownmiller) a few years ago which argued that giving women and girls so much choice in clothing is a way of sidetracking them so they have less time to focus on getting ahead. Just like expecting them to spend much more time than boys on grooming of all kind, like "doing" their hair (Susan likes to joke about the use of "doing" in this context. She's like, what does a non-done hair look like?), and later, their makeup, shaving their legs and armpits etc.

Night night everyone!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Why women don't dare to speak in meetings, and what we can do about it - Part 2: Creating an inclusive meeting

me doing a "silent applause", a tool which comes in handy in very large meetings
It's basic psychology, really: when you're not active in meetings, you become sleepy. I learned this as a student and it's something I'm acutely aware of in my work as a teacher. If I talk at my students for 45 minutes, most of them will nod off. If I get them to discuss, they perk up. It's the same in meetings. In a good meeting, everyone feels comfortable participating, there are times of passivity (listening) and activity (speaking) for everyone.

Over the years, I've been able to watch and learn from a couple of really good meeting facilitators who've taught me how to manage group discussions so that everyone feels comfortable participating and gets an equal share of speaking time. Most of the time, in order to achieve this, all you need to do is make a few small adjustments. So, today's post is about what you can do to create an inclusive meeting environment if you're the one running a meeting. If you're thinking now: but I never run meetings, my boss does. Then bear with me, because

The boss doesn't run the meeting
Sound too anarchic? If you try it you'll see that it is really useful to have somebody in a meeting whose role is to manage speaking time, stay aware of group dynamics, and to ensure the meeting stays focused. The boss can do it, of course, but it might be better if they don't. Because bosses tend to ramble. Because they can.

Setting the scene
When I'm running a seminar or a meeting, I first of all make sure that the room is set up properly, ideally so that everyone can sit in a circle. This tends to be the norm for meetings, which is good. If it's not the case in your meeting, try and see if there's anything you can do about the way the room is set up.

Then, once everyone's sat down, I give everyone a big welcoming smile and I look around and make sure I can physically see everyone. I make sure I know everyone's name, and I try to address them by name throughout the meeting.

First of all, I introduce the agenda. Depending on who I'm working with and how contentious the discussion is likely to be, I may also introduce and clarify a number of ground rules before we start. For example:
1. emphasise the importance of listening: no interruptions. This particularly helps women participate, because, statistically, women suffer the most from interruptions, and usually don't speak again after being interrupted.
2. in larger meetings, raising your hand before you speak becomes obligatory. This helps avoid a situation where only the most confident people with the loudest voices are able to participate - and these will tend to be men.
3. Participants are asked to stick to the agenda.
4. if you're in agreement with something that is being said, instead of waiting for your turn to speak you can do a silent applause. A silent applause is when you raise both your palms up and wiggle them. This is a useful technique for very large meetings as it saves a lot of time and helps get a general sense of where people stand.

When you facilitate (or "chair") a meeting, try to be very aware of who speaks for how long and how often. I always take notes on who has raised their hand, and in which order. Bearing in mind that particularly women tend to speak less, you may even want to clock speaking time to ensure you stay objective when allocating speaking time. This way, you can make sure to ask those people who haven't spoken to voice their opinion, and allow somebody who hasn't spoken yet or very little to jump the queue when several people raise their hands to speak.

If no-one dares to speak
One of the challenges a facilitator may need to deal with is silence in meetings. I've got two recommendations for that:
1. It's really really important to wait (count to 5 in your head!) after you've announced an item on the agenda. Use this time to look around the room to solicit participation.
2. If you can't get a discussion going, use what teachers call the "snow-balling" technique. This means setting up small groups, for example "talk to the person sitting next to you", to discuss the issue. Warn everyone that one person of the group will have to report back to the whole group. Snowballing works really well because it builds on women's communication habits. Have you ever noticed how women will not say anything throughout an entire meeting, then the minute the meeting's over they're chatting away vigorously to the person next to them? This is because they feel more comfortable communicating in informal situations. This is why snowballing works so well, particularly for women and people who are afraid of speaking in public.

Throughout the meeting, I try to remember that my main role is to ensure the discussion stays inclusive so everyone feels comfortable participating. This includes making sure that everyone stays on topic and no-one monopolizes speaking time. This means that 1) I'm not allowed to monopolize speaking time either, and 2) I have to interrupt people who are speaking for too long in order to ask them to wrap up so we can move on the the next item on the agenda, or so other people who are waiting to speak get a chance to do so. I'm also in charge of time-keeping more generally, i.e. it's my responsibility to make sure the meeting doesn't overrun. Finally, my role also includes making sure we take regular breaks, particularly in longer meetings.

Quite a lot to juggle there, but practice makes perfect! And the dynamism this technique brings into meetings makes it totally worth it!