Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why a Feminist Mother plays Barbies with her Daughter...

Yes, I know, she's not anatomically correct. And she has lots of stuff, including clothes and beautiful long hair. Her not being anatomically correct could easily be seen as a physical "defect"(we all have them) and her pretty hair is then her best feature.

However, when the question of Barbies came up, I referred back to my own childhood. I had played Barbies and have been a feminist my entire adult life, so what harm could there really be? Although I realize that there were certainly other factors that brought about my own feminism. My daughter received a couple of Barbies as gifts when she was even too young to play with them. So I began my quest to properly outfit a Barbie collection, which proved to be quite easy! I found more than enough to fill up the playroom at thrift stores, yard sales, and swap meets. Ready for the complete Barbie lifestyle, I only had to wait until the request for a Barbie playdate was made.

When it did come and the Barbie town was set up, I saw that there was an opportunity here. My child was young and under my guidance and influence. I use it elsewhere, why not during play? So playing Barbies became a lesson in being a strong, independent, accomplished woman. Our Barbies were doctors, librarians, writers, professors, business owners. They went skiing, surfing, snowboarding, running, etc. They also attended the opera, poetry readings, DAR meetings, took educational classes and did volunteer work at their local library. I never made a big deal out of what my Barbie was wearing, except that it be practical for whatever activity they were doing. Their hair was brushed and styled, but with no more emphasis that we have in our own daily life. And though there was one Ken doll in the collection, he's a friend- there were never any weddings. Not that there's anything wrong with marriage, but that needn't be the focus of Barbie play.

Imaginative play is important for children, but parental involvement can and should guide our children. An occasional hands-on approach allows us to demonstrate to our children our values. Barbie's gender-cliché building ability can be tamed and redirected with much success...and plus, it's just fun!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Shrimp or shrimps?

From a 1958 Carlsbad Journal newspaper:

"What is the plural of shrimp, 'shrimp' or 'shrimps'? It has been explained this way: When the word refers to a shellfish, the plural is 'shrimp.' When it refers to men, the plural is 'shrimps'."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Aldous Huxley on ready-made v. personal creative expression

I remember first contemplating the very topic that Mr. Huxley writes about in this early 20th century article after one of my many viewings of "Out of Africa". There is a scene where the men are singing after dinner and then Isak Dinesen's character tells a story. I thought at the time how sad it is that we have "lost" our own voices only to be replaced by "ready-made" songs and music. Are we all the best singers? Maybe not, but that isn't the point. We all have talents to share with friends and family: a recitation of a poem, playing a song on the piano, telling a story, etc. We could each find a song or two that we could sing as after dinner entertainment for our family. Well, it appears that there is nothing new under the sun...The following is a transcription of a short article Aldous Huxley wrote for Vanity Fair in the 1920's.

"The really great simplifications of our mental life, it is asserted, have been brought about 'as a result of the commercial application of scientific inventions.' The results of this excessive facilitation are, first, an atrophy of the artistic, musical, and dramatic faculties of those who accept their amusements ready made; and, second, an increase of boredom. There is nothing nowadays corresponding to the peasant art, the folk songs, the traditional plays and mummings of the past. The talent which produced these things lies latent; ready-made standardized entertainment has effectively prevented it from expressing itself. But ready-made art can never be as completely satisfying to a man as the art he makes himself. The cinema, the gramophone, the wireless are distractions; but they do nothing to satisfy man's desire for self-assertion."

Monday, July 4, 2011

Epitaphs from New England headstones, a sampling....

I first became interested in epitaphs after seeing a thought-provoking one in a colonial-era cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina: View this tomb as you pass by, for as you are so once was I, and as I am so must you be, prepare yourself to follow me. It was the grave of a young woman who died in the 18th century when she was 24.

I picked up a book, initially published in 1962, with old epitaphs: Over their dead bodies: Yankee epitaphs & history compiled by Thomas C. Mann and Janet Greene. They truly are fascinating: illuminating history and sensibility of early American settlers through the Civil War era.

Here are a few of my favorites:

From Litchfield, Conn.,

Here lies the body of Mrs. Mary wife
of Dea. John Buel Esq. She died
Nov. 4, 1768 AEtat. 90
Having had 13 children
101 grand-children
274 great-grand-children
49 great-great-grand-children
410 Total. 336 survive her.

From Boston, Mass.,

Here lies buried in a
Stone Grave 10 feet deep
Capt Daniel Malcolm Mercht
who departed this Life
October 23d 1769
Aged 44 Years
a true son of Liberty
a Friend to the Publick
an Enemy to oppression
and one of the foremost
in opposing the Revenue Acts
on America

From Concord, Mass.,

God wills us free-Man wills us slaves
I will as God wills: Gods will be done.
Here lies the body of
John Jack
A native of Africa who died
March 1773, aged about sixty years.
Tho born in the land of slavery
He was born free:
Tho he lived in a land of liberty
He lived a slave
Till by his honest tho stolen labours
He acquired the source of slavery
Which gave him his freedom:
Tho not long before
Death the great Tyrant
Gave him his final emancipation
And put him on a footing with kings.
Tho a slave to vice
He practised those virtues
Without which kings are but slaves

From Ridgefield, Conn.,

In defense of American Independence
At the battle of Ridgefield, Apr. 27, 1777
Died Eight Patriots
Who were Laid in These Grounds
Companioned by
Sixteen British Soldiers
Living, Their Enemies
Dying, Their Guests.
In Honor of Service and Sacrifice, this
Memorial is Placed For the
Strengthening of Hearts.

From Milford, Conn.,

In Memory of Sarah Prudden
who with a happier world in
view departed this mortal state
July 27 1788 in the 80th year of her age.
Our age to seventy years is set
How short the term how frail the state
And if to eighty we arrive
We rather sigh & groan than live.

From Winslow, Maine,

Here lies the body of Richard Thomas
an inglishman by birth
A Whig of '76
By occupation a cooper
now food for worms.
Like an old rum puncheon whose
staves are all marked, numbered and shooked
he will be raised again and finished by his creator.
He died Sept. 28, 1824. Aged 75.
America my adopted country
my best advice to you is this
Take care of your liberties.