Tag Archives: feminism

Lunchbox politics

29 Sep

Our daughter started public school this month. A veteran of full-time daycare since she was a baby, the transition has been relatively gentle. The biggest change has been having to pack her lunch every day — a task that I soon realized is not free from political controversy and authoritative judgment.

14199615_10157461747095442_7236922255141284479_n

Kiddo’s first school lunch

I remember my school lunches well — often a cheese and lettuce sandwich, a juice box, some fruit and a treat. Remember Fruit Roll-Ups? I think I “ate” one every day for at least a decade. And my brother drank so much apple juice, we were convinced it was flowing in his veins. Neither of us has any major health problems as a result.

Food shame

I grew up in a Jewish home with a father who cooked healthy and inventive from-scratch meals. I soon developed a sophisticated palette and the willingness to taste anything. But my lunches were very typical of the 1980s. And they would be the subject of shame if I packed the same items in my kid’s lunch bag.

To be fair, my kid’s school is fairly laid back when it comes to lunch rules. Nuts are banned due to allergies and juice “is discouraged.” So far, I have not been sanctioned for any of the food that I have sent for kiddo to eat. But I recently started a thread on a feminist parenting board about lunch rules and was shocked by what I heard.

Under the guise of “preventing obesity” or “promoting healthy food,” parents and kids are being surveilled and shamed for packing “unhealthy” food. And it’s unacceptable.

Here are some of the stories I have been hearing:

14364829_10157484014020442_4985513135238290774_n

Food dutifully separated to meet the child’s demands

  • Children being forced to eat their lunches in a specific order.
  • Kids being seated at a separate, “special” table if the teacher deems their lunch to be “healthy.”
  • Children having their lunches confiscated from them and replaced with a school-approved bagged lunch (without the parents’ permission).
  • Long lists of “rules” that parents must obey when packing lunches, including no juice, no pudding, no chocolate (even chocolate chips in a muffin), nothing “with sugar.”
  • No gluten in one school (seriously), because some kids have intolerances (not allergies, intolerances).
  • Teachers telling kids that the food in their lunch box is “bad” or unhealthy, and those kids quickly becoming anxious about whether their lunch would pass the test at school.

Obesity panic

I have long worried that the obsession with “childhood obesity” would lead to fat-shaming of young children. Just today, an article came across my feed about feared obesity in toddlers. BABIES. And yes, even a baby was subjected to the dehumanizing “headless fatty” photo.

This shit has got to stop. If schools want to encourage healthy eating, they can start a breakfast program or offer baskets of fruit and vegetables for kids who need them (our school does this). Encouraging physical activity and teaching about nutrition can be done without shaming parents and kids. So much of this is pure classism.

And can we talk about the juice panic for a moment? I get it. Eating fruit is better than drinking juice. Water is best. But when this Toronto school banned juice boxes, it went too far.

My friend Andy Inkster is a single father and had this to say about juice hysteria:

Juice boxes are so totally completely about class. If you’re broke/poor and a pack of  10 juice boxes costs $3 on sale and will last two weeks because it’s easier to say “Hey,  these are for school” and they’re shelf stable, so you can hide them if you need to, or  freeze them, and of you buy a 2 litre of juice, it’s heavier to carry home, and besides, the kids will drink it all tonight. That reusable juice box thing with the straw costs $2 at the dollar store but you didn’t have time to go there this week, and probably not until after next week. Besides, you bought one last week but junior lost it and it was only used twice, so that didn’t save you any money, really.

If you buy two of those ten packs on sale, that’s juice for lunch for kid for a month. And juice itself is about class. Because the more privileged kids parents can  say “Hey, here’s your $15 metal water bottle, drink tap water, it’s good for you, juice will rot your teeth.

But as a poor parent, you know juice has vitamins and that’s important, right? And besides, you don’t buy apples because sometimes they go bad before anyone eats them and at least this way the kids won’t die of scurvy. And it shows you’re a good parent and care about nutrition and you’re not so poor you can’t afford to feed your kids right.

Besides, it’s faster to shove a juice box in the lunch box, and when you’re trying to get your kids out the door and off to school on your own before running back a 10 minute  walk the other way to catch the bus to work, that two minutes finding the juice bottle and refilling it is time you don’t have.

We talk with our daughter about the importance of “growing foods” and insist that she eat at least one serving of vegetables a day. But we do not assign “good” or “bad” judgment to specific food items. We do not use the words “calories” or “diets.”

When kiddo begged me to include a few heart-shaped ginger cookies in her lunch yesterday, I did. Because food is about so much more than nutrition. Learning to eat well is also about learning how to enjoy treats.

And if any teacher tries to tell me that I cannot give my kid a cookie, they can kiss my fat ass.

Manicure camp for girls, sports for boys. Because it’s 1957.

30 Mar

Apparently the city of Richmond Hill, Ontario seems to think their summer camps belong in another era. They are offering “Boyz Rule” camp, featuring extreme sports, including roller skating, biking and skateboarding. The “girlz” on the other hand, get to partake in such womanly activities as manicures, colouring and cooking. I kid you not.

12718002_10156759336560442_2033556546243088475_n

When my friend Audra posted this on Twitter last night, it started a bit of a shit storm. It seemed totally anachronistic to be teaching girls how to be perfect, passive housewives in 2016. Surely this had to be an anomaly. Richmond Hill must the only suburb stuck in the dark ages.

Sadly, it’s not. Turns out that the Dovercourt Recreation Centre in Ottawa is offering similar programming geared to 10-13 year-old children. Girls get to learn about “keeping fit” and “making healthy” snacks.” Boys on the other hand, get to attend a camp that is literally called “Man Cave.” And another camp claims it will teach them basic car maintenance.

CezG_tCWIAE2Pr4

GIVE ME AN ALL-CAPS MOMENT TO EXPRESS MY RAGE.

There is nothing inherently wrong with activities that are generally coded as “girl stuff.” I cringe a bit at the thought of manicures being offered as a “camp” activity. But role playing and glitter represent fun, imaginative play for every kid. In fact, the LGBTQ+ camp that I volunteer on the board for even almost ran out of glitter on the second day of programming last summer. The horror!

And I was admittedly a kid who hated and feared sports. My parents were the intellectual, artsy types. In gym class, I was always vaguely terrified because I felt I was out of shape and had no idea how any of the games worked. It also didn’t help that I was never particularly masculine and sports activities were almost always geared to boys. Being segregated out of most sports activities certainly did not help. (I now take pride in lifting heavy weights while still wearing liquid eyeliner. Or running  with red lipstick on.)

But the worst part of all of this is how these camps are training young girls to be perfect housewives. In 2016. You’ll notice that basic food preparation is not included in any of the listed activities for boys. Because even today, boys are being socialized to be nurtured and served by women. It makes me want to projectile vomit all over the city recreation guide.

Kids have a long future of resisting the misogyny ahead of them. Why reinforce such blatant sexism in programming geared toward children?

(Oh and by the way, Girls Rock Camp is an actual feminist movement geared toward teaching girls how to play music and be awesome. Not to be confused with the Richmond Hill Manicure Camp for Young Housewives.)

If you want to support a summer camp that doesn’t propagate any of this gender essentialist nonsense, support our team in the Ten Oaks Bowlathon today.

[EDITED to add: Buzzfeed Canada picked up the story and as of press time, Dovercourt had pulled its recreation guide and Richmond Hill announced they would “review” their programming. Feminism FTW!]

This is what a runner looks like

15 Jul
I used to hate my thighs. Now I love that they give me power.

I used to hate my thighs. Now I love that they give me power.

This is not a Fitspiration story. There is no before and after photo. No weigh-in or declaration of a new “lifestyle change.” It’s not about how much healthier I am or more attractive I feel. It’s about how I learned a skill and got over some baggage, plain and simple.

I grew up with intellectual parents who never played sports. Gym class was torture. And even though I know now in retrospect that I was of average size, I always felt like the fat kid. Track and field day was the absolute worst. I remember being forced to participate in sprinting races, finding myself winded and in tears within seconds.

I was similarly puzzled when gym teachers assumed that I knew how to play sports. No one ever taught me the rules or any of the skills. It made no sense to me that we were entitled to instruction in math and writing, but not in the basic skills required to master athletic pursuits. So I stumbled along and dropped gym after the mandatory ninth grade class was finally over.

Until my mid-20s, I led a typically sedentary lifestyle. I always felt like my body was useful for carrying my head around, and not much else. Until I threw out my back at the age of 25 and decided that I didn’t want to live in pain. So slowly and with trepidation, I began a gym habit. I soon discovered that exercise was actually something I enjoyed.

At the time, I did lose a considerable amount of weight. Much of this was associated with the emotional baggage of a couple of bad relationships and the side effects of anti-depressants. But when I found my comfortable, active place on the size spectrum, I was still considered fat by conventional medical standards. And I still am.

More than 10 years later and after a few bleary-eyed years of early parenthood, I decided to teach myself to run. This involved exercising outdoors, in shorts, in busy parts of the city (I live downtown). It was initially very exposing. I kept thinking, “Does that man see how slow I am going … and do my thighs look huge … and why am I out of breath?!?” But I used one of those Couch to 5k apps, took it at my own pace, and soon gave zero fucks about what anyone else thought.

For bigger people, exercising in public is a radical act. And it’s one of the major barriers to beginning any sort of fitness routine. The threat of mockery or cruelty keeps fat people off the streets and out of gyms. The idea that you need to be slender to work up a sweat is self-defeating and perpetuates body imperialism.

Decoupling exercise from any specific weight-loss goals has been revolutionary for me. The only “results” I am seeking are stronger legs and lungs and the ability to keep up with my three year old daughter. It also helps that when I exercise, I can severely cut down on the number of chiro and massage appointments I need to remain pain-free.

So for the last few months, I have been blasting punk music and congratulating myself every time my feet strike pavement. I’ve been enjoying cool summer mornings and late evening sun. I’ve been running a little further and a little longer each time. And on Sunday, I completed my first 5k race, finishing in a shockingly fast 32:29.

Amanda Bingson: Olympic hammer thrower and total bad ass.

Amanda Bingson: Olympic hammer thrower and total bad ass.

Having a sense of athletic accomplishment is an entirely new experience for me. It’s not something that was ever intuitive and it did not come easily. But I am inspired by athletes like total bad ass Amanda Bingson. She’s an Olympic hammer thrower, 5’5, and more than 200 pounds of dense muscle and power. She was kicked off her high school volley ball team because she couldn’t fit in the uniform. And now she’s an Olympic athlete who says, “I’ll be honest, I like everything about my body.”

I choose to take Bingson’s words to heart: “Whatever your body type is, just use it.” My strong thighs, formerly a source of shame, are now site of power.

But my decision to run is not a virtuous one. It’s a choice, like any other. “Health” is relative and not a moral virtue. And you really can’t judge a person’s fitness level by the size of their shorts (or volley ball uniform).

Bingson is what an Olympian looks like. And I am what a runner looks like. Though I still can’t quite believe it.

Fear-mongering does not promote breast feeding

8 Nov
How the City of Ottawa views bottle feeding

How the City of Ottawa views bottle feeding

I was about to go to bed when I saw this post pop up on my feed from Fearless Formula Feeder about the City of Ottawa’s information page on “informed consent” when it comes to breast feeding. While I support efforts to encourage women to nurse their babies, I don’t think it should be done by scaring women who may be considering (or have already made) a different choice. The site lists Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and obesity in a matter-of-fact list as possible risks associated with bottle feeding, presented in such a way as to terrify new mothers. It also implies that women who formula feed will get cancer and “brittle bones.” It makes these appear to be foregone conclusions.

I work in communications for a living. I know the power of a bulleted list, of random factoids pulled from a series of unrelated studies. The way that the text is presented on the city’s website is purposely alarmist. It’s offensive and will do nothing to help women who are struggling to breast feed or who may be looking for guidelines on how to mix formula safely. It links to a page on formula feeding guidelines only after forcing the reader to scan through “facts” designed to convince women that they are terrible people if they cannot or will not breast feed.

Also? The list of “risks” is based on shaky science. As Hanna Rosin and others have pointed out, the majority of breast feeding studies do not take a wide array of socioeconomic factors into account. The reality is that wealthier or upper middle class women are more likely to nurse. They are also more likely to take their children to the doctor and have access to nutritious food and prenatal care. Their children are more likely to thrive and less likely to be “obese,”, no matter how they are fed. Breast feeding is wonderful when it works — it’s nurturing, promotes a healthy digestive system and is free to boot. But it’s not the only way to feed a baby and help them thrive.

When I switched to bottle feeding when Daphne was four months old, there were so few resources on how to do it safely and properly. I already felt like a terrible mother for feeding my baby the “poison” that the formula companies were clearly pushing on me (I got over that one fast). There was also so little discourse on the advantages associated with being able to share the task of infant feeding. Bottle feeding brought equality to my parenting relationship with my wife, in a way that I did not viscerally understand until I was finally able to get a little more sleep.

As a feminist and a mother, I am solidly pro-choice. And this includes the right to make a truly informed decision about how to feed your baby — one that isn’t coloured by fear-mongering, fatphobic, woman-shaming tactics. Women in Ottawa deserve better.

Working mama

4 Aug
I like getting to dress like a grown-up again

I like getting to dress like a grown-up again

I never pictured myself as a stay-at-home mom. My own mother is a lawyer and writer and always took great satisfaction from her career. I have been lucky enough to find work over the years that stimulates me, challenges me, and also reflects my political and moral values. I know how lucky I am to have a job at a labour union only a 5-minute bike ride from my house. I work with progressive, creative and hilarious colleagues who I count as dear friends. And my workplace is incredibly family-friendly. So needless to say, I wasn’t dreading my return to work last month.

Still, I did surprise myself with how much I enjoyed the slow pace of maternity leave. Even though I was often tired, I rarely had to get out the door to go anywhere before 10 am. If I felt like I was wandering through a fog of sleep deprivation, I could just nurse my cup of coffee and sit on the floor while my baby handed me blocks. I got used to the easy camaraderie of the neighbourhood baby drop-in and the hilarious exchange of text messages with my fellow mat leave mama friends. I looked forward to Daphne’s weekly music class, mostly because it meant lunch afterward with a few of my favourite women and their children. Despite my initial fear that mat leave would be boring or isolating, I wasn’t in a rush for it to end. I probably could have continued for a few more months, but I would have eventually started missing the world of adults and ideas.

Overall, it’s been a smooth transition. We found a truly amazing daycare provider, so I have complete confidence that our baby is being cared for in a nurturing and stimulating environment. And one of the very best byproducts of day care has been the way that it’s shifted and consolidated Daphne’s sleep cycles. Now that she is down to one nap a day, it is easy to get her to sleep for her nap and for bedtime at night. She still wakes a couple of times a night and drinks a few ounces of milk some time between 1 and 4 am. We’d really like to stop having to get out of bed to feed her. But we are trying to make the change as gently as possible, given how much adjustment our baby has had to endure over the last few weeks. Overall, Caitlyn and I are doing a good job of making sure that each of us gets at least some decent sleep. But the dream of eight hours solid is still elusive. We continue to wait it out.

So far, a year of parenting has taught me that it’s not worth it to try to parent by a book. I have little patience for orthodoxy in general. While I feel some affinity toward Attachment Parenting, I don’t feel the need to define my personal and political philosophy through the lens of motherhood. In fact, it’s quite the opposite for me. They way that Caitlyn and I parent our daughter is an extension of our feminist, queer and social justice values. I worry that even the most “gentle” of parenting trends lean on essentialist notions of gender and continue to place the entire burden of child-rearing on to women. Parenthood doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The way we model justice in our home needs to reflect the ways we fight for it in the broader community (and vice versa).

….

In addition to returning to work, a lot happened in the last couple of months that I meant to blog about:

1. Our friends in the U.S. can now have their same sex marriages legally recognized. There are so many other struggles left to fight, but this win was a big one. My heart swells for people like Larry Kramer and David Webster and for our dear friends Maddie and Rachel. This is not the end of the queer movement, it’s just one major achievement. Now it’s time for universal health care — what do you say Americans?

2. The brutal oppression of queers in Russia continues. But once again, we need to be careful before supporting unilateral calls for boycotts. Dan Savage is telling people to boycott Stolichnaya vodka, when in fact the company is based in Latvia (not Russia) and is outspoken in its support of the LGBT community. Do your research and listen to the voices from within the Russian LGBT community before taking action.

3. The awesome Offbeat Families picked up my blog post on raising a kid downtown. to all of the new readers who found me through OBF, welcome!

Baby weight (or banishing fat shame)

7 Jun
This is how we celebrate food and our bodies!

This is how we celebrate food and our bodies!

Yesterday, I was crouched on the floor at our neighbourhood baby drop-in. Daphne was proudly pulling herself up and babbling, as I stared at her with sleep-deprived, adoring eyes. A woman who takes care of three-year-old twins across the street looked over at her and declared: “Wow, she’s getting fat. What are you feeding her?” As I struggled to come up with a sufficiently smart-assed response, she continued:

“And you are getting so skinny. Not chubby like before. Do you remember how chubby you were? I thought you would never lose the baby weight.”

Once, again I was too shocked to respond with a sarcastic retort. Instead, I mumbled something about how it took nine months to make a baby and another nine to get back into my jeans. But I found myself stewing all day, wishing I had taken the opportunity to challenge this woman on her snap judgements about weight, attractiveness and general health.

There is so much to unpack in that brief exchange. First and foremost, the notion that an 11-month old baby is “too fat” represents the projection of our cultural obsession with thinness onto a child who hasn’t even taken her first steps. And it’s such a pernicious contradiction from the messages that mothers get in a baby’s first few weeks of life. At first, we are told that our babies’ weights need to double and triple. Breast feeding women are pushed to supplement with formula, even if their babies are perfectly healthy and getting plenty of breast milk. But after a few months, we are told to worry about whether our chubby babies will turn into obese adults. Adding to the general panic, many breast feeding advocates argue that formula will inevitably lead to childhood obesity, piling even more guilt and worry onto mothers (like me!) who choose to bottle feed their babies.

When I was growing up, the media focused a lot on the dangers associated with eating disorders and the importance of improving girls’ self-esteem. As I wrote about a few years ago, the societal obsession with the “obesity crisis” has changed the conversation completely and only increased the pressure on teens and young girls. Instead of focusing on food security, walkable neighbourhoods and physical activity, the discourse is focusing almost entirely on the number on a scale. And as Paul Campos (and many Health at Every Size advocates) argue, the “obesity crisis” is largely a manufactured one. There is so much I would love to quote from Campos in this article on the moral panic over obesity, but here are a few good tidbits:

The correlations between higher weight and greater health risk are weak except at statistical extremes. The extent to which those correlations are causal is poorly established. There is literally not a shred of evidence that turning fat people into thin people improves their health. And the reason there’s no evidence is that there’s no way to do it. 

(…)

… the increased risks associated with being heavy come from (such as they are), many of them come from weight cycling, which is clearly bad for people, and which is the outcome of 98% of diets. Others come from the stress and social discrimination generated by having what’s considered an inappropriate body in this culture. Others come from diet drugs, eating disordered behavior, poverty — all things strongly associated with higher than average weight.

(…)

…  if there’s one thing fat kids need, it’s to be made to feel bad about feeling fat. The current stigmitization of fat kids is essentially child abuse as government policy, and the people behind it are, as far as I’m concerned, either incredibly stupid or very evil or in some cases both.

The other part of yesterday’s exchange that was disturbing was the approval I was suddenly granted for being less fat. Let’s be clear — I am not a small person. Even though I have now lost all of the “baby weight,” I wear a size 14 and my weight is still considered “too high” on the (flawed) Body Mass Index. I cook and eat healthy food and get a reasonable amount of exercise. I make it to the gym or a yoga class when I can and rarely use the car. But unless I severely restrict my caloric intake (weighing and measuring every bite that goes into my mouth), my weight will continue to hover where it is now. And I am okay with that.

I wasn’t one of those women who dropped all of the pregnancy weight after a month of breastfeeding. It took almost a year to be able to wear my clothes again. And though I am loathe to admit it, I did use a commercial diet program for a few weeks, to help me get a handle on my eating habits. I felt sheepish about that decision, but I soon returned to the form of intuitive eating that works best for me. I feel comfortable in my skin, but am deeply disturbed when people give me approval for being “less fat” than I was a few months ago.

Even though my daughter is only 11 months old, I work hard to model positive attitudes about food and eating. The only message I want to impart is that food is delicious and that we are so lucky to be able to afford to fill our bellies with such healthy and appetizing choices. And I will kiss her chubby belly and squishy arms every second I can.

Finding joy in parenthood

23 May
Photo by Jenna Sparks Bradbury: http://jsparksphotography.zenfolio.com/

Photo by Jenna Sparks Bradbury: http://jsparksphotography.zenfolio.com/

It may be love at first sight for some parents, but all I could feel at the beginning was awe and the weight of responsibility. The first few weeks of parenthood consumed me with the obsessive quest to get my baby to breast feed, my physical recovery from labour and the knowledge that Daphne was ours to keep. I worried a lot. Was she eating enough? Was she in pain? Why was she so frustrated all the time? Was I a bad mother for resenting how nursing tied me to the couch and didn’t seem to make either or us feel better? It was hard to discern a personality from a  tiny being who felt like a breathing bundle of needs. I loved her fiercely, but we were still getting to know each other. On some days, Caitlyn would get home at 6:00 and I would dissolve into a puddle of tears and order her to take the baby away from me. I was touched out. I was exhausted. And I didn’t have an ounce of energy left in me to get through the evening “witching hours.”

A major turning point occurred when I gave myself permission to bottle feed my baby. Suddenly, we both felt nourished. Daphne wasn’t hungry anymore. Her personality changed radically — from furious to rather zen. And suddenly Caitlyn and I were equally equipped to feed her and put her to sleep. While I still harbour a tiny morsel of regret that nursing didn’t work out the way I’d hoped, I am 100% sure that I made the right decision to move on. Daphne and I really started to enjoy each other when she was about four months old. I no longer dreaded leaving the house, fearful that she would refuse or be unable to nurse. And while we struggled through a few months of reflux-related tummy issues, it was gratifying to know that our baby wasn’t hungry anymore.

But it was around eight months old that Daphne’s sense of humour and delight really started to come through. Now that she is babbling, crawling and climbing, she is so thrilled with her abilities and eager to tell us about them. She points to things, hands us food and toys to share and routinely steals treasured items from other baby friends. Parenthood has become a lot of fun, as our baby is finally old enough to enjoy swimming, swinging and playing in the dirt. And we can see how the ways that we’ve nurtured her have helped her transform into a confident and hilarious little being.

I really enjoyed Jessica Valenti’s book Why Have Kids? She questions the idea that motherhood is a “job” and instead re-positions parenthood (and the accompanying domestic labour) as a relationship. It seems obvious, but it makes so much sense. There are days that seem long or moments that are frustrating or mind-numbingly boring. But for the most part, parenthood is all about give and take. She belongs to us and we belong to her. I never imagined how much joy I would take in watching a little person learn a new skill.

While I have every intention of returning to work, I now understand why it’s so tempting for many women not to do so. I could rhyme off statistics about how every year that we remove ourselves from the workforce results in a permanent reduction in our net worth. And how women (particularly in heterosexual relationships) are placing themselves at serious risk of financial and professional devastation if they don’t keep up with their careers. But if we are serious about raising a generation of compassionate, articulate and justice-minded children, the best we can do is nurture them when they’re young.

I am so grateful to the workers and activists who came before me and fought for paid parental leave. I am also so thankful to my employer for topping up the government’s benefits, so Caitlyn and I did not need to take a major financial hit to be able to spend this precious time with Daphne. Our friends in the U.S. were only able to spend a few (unpaid) weeks at home with their tiny babies. So even though I am starting to get melancholy about this wonderful year coming to a close, I recognize how privileged I am to have been allowed to experience it — crying fits, sleepless nights and vomit explosions notwithstanding.

While the first few weeks of parenthood felt heavy to me, now it’s all joy. Daphne will take her first few steps and walk away from us some time soon. But I am in no rush for her to do so. She can stay close to us for as long as she wants.