Month: June 2014

Pink and Blue

I was at a child’s birthday party/dinner last night and we were discussing pedicures. One of the boys was running around with his nails done and I had stated that I had asked my son if he ever wanted to do that (for he was welcome to come with me) to which he assertively said “no”. When I retold the story I included my pointing out to him that they have “plenty of ‘boy’ colors” to which a friend of mine (appropriately) chided me with the question: “What is a ‘boy’ color?”

She and I both knew the actual text of the conversation was my attempt to clarify to my son that if he wanted to have his nails done a color other than pink or red that that was available these days, and that my use of “boy” was to appeal to a child who had already had societally-driven color choices drilled into him; and that her attempt to tease me was the sort of thing friends do. I am sexist in some ways but not that one. That said it did open the wider discussion of gender color stereotypes, which is one reason I like hanging out with the people I hang out with, because we didn’t have to devolve into a contrived political correctness or a stunted conversation about color choice equality.

To provide some background: one friend has a boy and girl each, another has the same, a third has two girls. I have one boy, and elect to dote on girls by proxy. But this conversation, plus a recent review of the Mindware catalog, got me thinking.

It’s no secret that the toy aisles of Target, or Toys R Us, or really any other mainstream store, are segregated into three types: “Gender Neutral” toys, “Boy” toys, and “Girl” toys. The “Girl” toys aisles are helpfully marked by pink signage and include things like dolls, baby dolls, Barbie dolls, domestic dress-up games, and (possibly) Pink Legos. The “Boy” toys aisles are manfully black and blue and red and include Nerf guns, trucks, traditional Legos, new movie-themed Legos, and Legos that look fairly militaristic. In the middle you have card games, balls, and Slip-and-Slides.

Why do my friends’ daughter’s Legos need to be pink? They are defaulted to build houses and ice cream shops, fine: you can build a perfectly serviceable house out of red and blue and yellow Legos, because we all did that when we were growing up. And if they are red or yellow or blue you don’t have to build a house or ice cream shop, you can build a rocket. Or a scale model of the Revolutionary War.

Why does her son’s Medieval Lego kit have only armed soldiers? Anyone who spent time in their History class knows that most of those soldiers were buffeted 10:1 by peasantry, either in terms of someone to go get the grain that fed them to someone who took care of the horses. There’s no queen, no princess, no baker-lady (for gender roles *were* explicit in those times and so Lego would be perfectly correct to have them in a set identifying as that part of history). But no females of any kind can be found in the kit. This very manful Lego kit is full of manly manliness and action. Girls need not apply.

The Star-Wars new Lego minifigures this year at Target have two (2) females out of what looks to be about 50 new minifigures. They are Leia in the gold bikini and Padme in the ripped-midriff shirt. Not Leia in her Cloud City costume, or Padme in her full regalia (Lego has found a way to make capes, they could’ve rocked this). (If you go to lego.wikia.com you can see the full minifigure line-up, and there are plenty of other female Star Wars minifigures. But they’re not on display at the Target.)

Why must Goldieblox, that bastion of gender correction in educational toys, be pink for girls? The whole point to Goldieblox was to get girls interested in engineering, to rail against the pink conformist aisles of toys for girls. Why, then, is it pink? Why are the cookware “play sets” for children almost always manned by a girl? My son loves to cook. But the photos on the box are clearly stating that this is a largely female domain.

While there are darned few pink toys in Mindware, there are far more boys in the pages of toys that are about engineering and far more girls shown next to the beading kits. If we can’t get our arched-brow, intelligent-snowflake-producing toy catalogs to play fair how do we ever hope to rescue our girls from the clutches of Barbie?

From the 20’s to WWII, the color “ownership” between boys and girls was inverted: boys wore pink and girls wore blue. Before that children wore white (which, if you think about it, is practical as long as you have a ton of bleach lying about). After WWII this reversed and we have the color “preferences” we see today. With all the challenges our kids have and will have (underfunded schools, bullying made easier via the internet — and this is not just kids, as adults have been doing that for years) can we please not heap upon them color “correctness”?

When you’re first pregnant the question you are asked is “do you know yet if it’s a boy or a girl?”  Some parents elect to make it a surprise and there’s that moment of “discomfort” for the families because now they “have” to shop for yellow or green baby gear. I honestly don’t think the baby will care if s/he is housed in blue or pink; the larger purpose is the social signaling device for this tiny creature to his/her audience as to what his/her gender is. I’m considering making onesies for babies that say things like “Manly enough to wear pink” and “Girly enough to wear blue” just to poke fun at this.

We live in a country of astounding wealth and opportunity and we have larger problems than the color or gender appropriateness of toys. The only way to shape and change the offerings is to vote with your dollars; it’s effective but it takes more patience than some of us have.

 

On the Naming of Me

My name is pretty unusual, in and of that I’ve been challenged by telemarketers, customer service people, and baristas alike that “That can’t be your name” or “What’s your real name?” (As if the sort of person who gives out a fake name would abruptly turn around and provide a real one). My name is in fact Bobbie, although legally it is Roberta; the only people who call me Roberta are telemarketers, teachers, and attorneys.

Per Wolfram Alpha, fewer than 200 people each year are given the name Bobbie (as a given female name – and yes it does say it assumes Bobbie is female). Less than 1 in 3331 people have the name, and the most common age for a person with the name Bobbie is 76 years. (Roberta clocks in at much the same, with 1 in 1823 people having the name and the common age is 57 years).

So it’s safe to say “Bobbie” is an unusual name, and that is that.

Over the years my name has been mangled quite a bit, from the masculine “Bobby” to the alternative female “Bobbi”. I also oftentimes get the email typo of one more o, one less b; for the most part I choose to ignore these and hope the sender goes away. That said, I wasn’t really particularly particular about how people spelled my name (with the exception of that last) until I read Freakonomics.

Freakonomics has a pretty good chapter on Correlation vs. Causality, particularly around naming conventions. The main anecdote is about a man who named his sons Winner and Loser, and the indication that the son named Loser had an extremely successful life, whilst the son named Winner had an extremely unsuccessful one. There is no causality in naming. However it also had a second anecdote, and a study, around names given to female children. Specifically, names that one would associate with strippers.

The idea was thus: if I name my daughter, say, “Bambi” or “Sugar” or something like that, am I dooming her to life on the pole? The short answer is no, you are not. By virtue of naming your daughter anything like that (there is a third indication of a daughter named Temptress who indeed had a pretty name-similar life) you are not going to ensure she ends up with a job whose uniform consists of two ounces of elastic and slightly more than that of glitter. But there’s still a good chance it will happen. Why? Because the parent who names their kid something like that is also probably not going to make sure she gets home in time for a curfew, or is getting her homework done. It’s the correlation – the fact that a parent who names their kid something like that isn’t likely to be hammering on the grades – rather than the causality that drives the preponderance of “Crystals” and the like to the pasties.

As part of this chapter in Freakonomics, there is a list of the top 10 names found amongst strippers at time of publication. The name “Bobbi” – with an “I” – is on that list. The name “Bobbi” with an “I” has a common age of 39. That means those Bobbi’s were born in 1975 or thereabouts, and Freakonomics was published in 2005, with data from studies probably the year previous, and so I think it’s entirely reasonable that their stripper population was about 29 at the time.

Since reading that I’ve made it a point to educate people on the value of the “e”. I don’t look good in glitter.

State of Education

I was born in California, and the first 12 years of my life lived there. The summer before my 13th birthday we emigrated to Washington, all six of us: my four parents, my brother, and I. Up until then we had gone to private school (in my case, religious private school) because my parents wanted to keep us out of the blackboard jungles of southern California.

When we arrived in Washington State the public school system was actually pretty darn good — the fellow students in my junior high were, for the most part, atrocious (as all junior high kids are) and my social register was somewhere beneath pond scum; but the educational offerings, while not as good as a private school, were pretty decent. My brother and I were as challenged as we wanted to be (which became “not much” and so between parent teacher conferences and report cards, the continual theme was “Bobbie could do so much better if she just applied herself”.)

As a twelve to seventeen year old student, I did not pay attention to educational funding or where public schools ranked within the state or the country; I wasn’t a taxpayer and I regarded school as a dismal use of my time (why couldn’t I just sit in a corner and read someplace?). When I finished college (the first time), left home to go create my own, and returned to the state with the intent to start a family, I still assumed Washington schools were “fine”, as they were when I was in school.

By the time my son was about 2 I was hearing, from the fellow mommy reports, that this was not so. Funding issues were brought to the forefront, and as someone who has voted in every election since 2000, I discovered a direct correlation with my vote and my taxes. I was paying for these schools now, so why was I hearing complaints from the field? Why were the local schools needing additional funding, seemingly each year, in the form of bonds and levies?

When my son entered Kindergarten, I resolved to be as involved in the school system as I could — PTA, volunteering, etc. Doing this as a single mother working full-time was difficult but necessary; there’s an unspoken “us vs. them” for the parents who contribute (in any form or fashion) vs. the parents who do not. This is not fair but it is true. With every PTA meeting and email from the school and school district, it became clear that as well-funded as our schools seem and ought to be, they are not. As we live in an area where the median house costs about $350k and nearly every high schooler drives his/her car to school, this is not what one would expect.

My son’s school — the one he is leaving — was built the year my brother was born. There are five or six portables that have been there at least twenty years, housing not only “electives” like music and computers, but also at least two grade-level classrooms. In my six-year tenure here, the PTA has paid for cement stairs and a ramp for easier access to the kindergarten area, fencing to protect the schooling area from bears and predators that walk on two legs (for we have had cases of child enticement), new landscaping, chairs for all of the classrooms, new sports equipment, stipends for the teachers annually to spend on school supplies, scholarships for children whose parents cannot afford the roughly $350/year in expected purchase of school supplies, materials, school party contributions, and field trip costs. That the direct community who benefits from this (parents of the local students) is the direct community who provides it, is a pleasant thing. The realization that we are fortunate and there are other schools in this district and throughout this state where they cannot hope to raise equivalent cash is not.

Washington state is unique in that it has a state constitutional mandate to *amply* fund education. Unfortunately it hasn’t and got sued (see the McCleary case) and lost in its own Supreme Court. Lawmakers are scrambling to figure out how, with the number of tax-reducing propositions on the ballot, they can achieve the now court-mandated requirement to fully fund education by 2018. This is not eased by Common Core State Standards (whether you’re for or against them — and my opinion is that at least there’s a standard now, even if it’s a low one — they do cost money in the form of teacher training, new materials, etc.). This is not eased by teachers unions (who fight legitimately for better benefits for people who are treated as babysitters and, for the most part, have the shittiest job around; on the flip side they protect those teachers who are not deserving of the pseudo-tenure said unions provide). I have participated in three ballot/levy votes here in our little area of Sammamish, including this last round. For this last round I knocked on 375 doors, I called 85 strangers, I emailed hundreds more. I wrote each week to the local newspaper to get them to print my letter urging constituents to vote, explaining the benefits of a properly funded and educated community to even those who do not, or no longer, have children in schools here. (I succeeded twice.) In this most recent effort, the operational expenditures the district needed to survive were approved. Our kids will have heat in their classrooms, they will have virus-free computers, they will have secure locks on doors.

But they will have this at 40 kids to a classroom, with some children being bussed in from 10-15 miles away, because the local bond initiative (to account for expansion) failed. We have a total of 300 brand new houses going up in the immediate area this year alone; the average house here has 4 bedrooms. The amenities keep expanding and City of Sammamish is spending a record amount of money on a local swimming pool and community center. If you want to go to a chiropractor, an orthodontist, a podiatrist, a personal tutoring service, a nail shop, a grocery store, a sports equipment store, or a gas station in Sammamish you have a choice of three of those (each) within a 3-mile-square area. What I do not understand is we fund all of these things through the local economy, and the demand is there for additional housing for families ostensibly with children– where are those kids going to go to school?

Already poorly-paid teachers, who will not be getting raises in exchange for some preservation of their retirement funds, will need to stretch their attention to an additional 10 or so students. The level of personalized attention is already small in a 30-student classroom (in elementary school, where that attention is needed as they build the foundations of study and learning practice). It will diminish that much more as the schooling populace swells. Sammamish, and the local school district, will not have the ability to put forth another bond measure for four years, meaning that the short-term decision-making of the paltry 34% of the populace that voted (yep, that’s right, only about a third of the voting populace voted, and while more than half voted for the bond, bonds require a supermajority (60%) which was not had) will have some long-term effects on the community as a whole.

I had been Legislative Advocate at my son’s Elementary school for five years. This last year, after the second failure of the bond (there was proposal A, and then when that failed a special election for proposal B), I gave up. It may be temporary, and I may just be suffering from fatigue of the situation; I increasingly feel that this society values an “every man for himself” view of education.

Well, if that’s how it’s going to be, that’s how it’s going to be. It’s just a sad state of affairs.