June 29, 2011

How I Talk to Little Girls

A couple of people recently posted a link on Facebook to Lisa Bloom’s piece on the Huffington Post website called “How to Talk to Little Girls.” To sum up, Bloom, a CBS legal analyst and author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World, says that if, when we talk to little girls, we focus on telling them that they’re pretty or complimenting their outfits, that we are really only saying to them that looks are more important than brains. She illustrates her point with a story about how, when she met a dinner party host’s five-year-old daughter, she purposely did not tell her how cute she was, but instead asked her about books. Her story goes on to say that the two of them read a book together and then discussed it. In a nutshell, Bloom says that we have to cultivate girls’ brains over their beauty or they’ll end up diet-addicted and stupid.

Now, I am a nerd from way back. I have always been way better at math than mascara. I’m a feminist, a physics major, and a math minor, and I have my master’s. You would think that I would be one of the first to stand up and applaud Bloom for championing brains over beauty. But that article bothered me.

My problem is that the way Bloom seems to present it (and I’ve only read the short Huffington Post piece, not her book), you have two choices. You can either go with the establishment, tell little girls they’re cute, and set them up for obsessing about their looks, or you can engage their minds by asking them about books and encourage their cerebral development.

To me this paradigm smacks of early ultra-feminists who said that if you were going to be a feminist then the only choice in the career vs. family debate was career. You could not claim the title of feminist and also want to stay home with your kids. I am a feminist (I know I already said that), and I did choose to stay home with my kids. Feminism is not about dictating what choice to make, it’s about having the freedom to choose at all.

This is why I don’t believe that you have to avoid complimenting little girls in an effort to give them confidence in their intelligence. Nerd that I am, growing up I was also told, constantly, that I was beautiful. I was also told that I was worthy, smart, and talented. I got a lot of hugs and a lot of kisses. I was never told that it was beauty or brains. I was raised to believe that it was beauty and brains.

I have a little girl of my own. I will tell you and anyone else who will listen that she is ridiculously beautiful. I tell her probably eight times a day that she’s beautiful. Is she going to develop weight issues by the age of five? Probably not. That’s because I also tell her that she’s smart and funny eight times a day. I spend two seconds telling her that she’s beautiful. Then I spend several minutes working on colors and shapes and telling her she’s smart.

Where we run into trouble is when we only praise our girls (and our boys for that matter) for certain aspects, while ignoring the others. If complimenting a girl gives her the idea that looks are important, not complimenting her, while all other things in our culture remain equal, will not therefore tell her that looks are shallow. That strategy is just as likely to tell her that if no one mentions it that it must be because she’s not pretty.

We have a problem that it is caused by too many people buying into patriarchy’s idea that women should be only beautiful. I think that Bloom and I would agree on that point. But ignoring beauty doesn’t make that problem go away. Only by truly empowering our daughters as full and complete women can we do that.

We have to raise them to feel beautiful no matter what and also to devour the world intellectually. We have to tell them being smart is important. We have to read to them. We have to play with them at more than just dolls. We have to encourage them at sports and arts. We have to show them that science and math are fun. We have to deny that there are subjects that girls just aren’t as good at. We have to tell them that their voice is important. We have to teach them to be thoughtful. We have to teach them to be kind.

If we succeed in all those things. If we raise daughters that are smart, thoughtful, well-read, adventurous, outspoken, and kind. Then. Then we have raised truly beautiful daughters.

So I would challenge you, that when you meet a little girl, tell her that she’s beautiful and make sure that she knows that you mean that her entire being is beautiful. Compliment her dress and then ask her about school. Compliment her hair and then ask her about dance class. Compliment her shoes and then ask her about her science project. Bloom is right; you need to talk to that little girl like a person and not a living doll. But she’s wrong in thinking that because she didn’t compliment the host’s daughter that the lack of compliment was the only reason they went on to have an intellectual conversation. That little girl would have gotten just as much out of the evening with a compliment thrown in. The only problem would have occurred if Bloom had said, “What a pretty princess you are!” and turned back to the adults. When we only talk to girls to tell them they’re pretty is when we tell them that looks are the only things that are important. When we take the time to follow it up with a sincere interest in them as people, we tell them that they’re people—beautiful people.

June 24, 2011

The Hobbit

I had to go with the cartoon version. It was a classic from my childhood.

One day, much to Bilbo Baggins’s (the hobbit) surprise, 13 dwarves, all with rhyming names, show up at his house along with the wizard Gandalf. They are on their way to steal ancestral dwarf gold back from the dragon Smaug. All they need to be truly successful is a good burglar to do the stealing. They want Bilbo for the job.

The 13 dwarves, 1 hobbit, and 1 wizard set off on adventure. They start with a nasty run in with trolls. They are only saved from the cook pot by the coming of daylight, which turns the trolls to stone. The crew is then able to liberate some stolen gold and several ancient Elven swords.

After a stop in Rivendell, the Elvish woodland hide-a-way resort, they head over a mountain. Halfway over they take refuge from a storm in a cave, which turns out to be a goblin cave. Everyone gets kidnapped except the wizard. While Gandalf is rescuing the crew and killing the head goblin, Bilbo gets separated from everyone else.

After some wandering, Bilbo finds a random ring on the floor and later an underground lake. There he meets Gollum. They enter a dual of wits. If Bilbo wins, Gollum shows him the way out. If Gollum wins, he eats Bilbo. Bilbo wins by accidently asking aloud, “What have I got in my pocket?” (He forgot he had found a strange ring.) Gollum can’t guess, so he storms off to his hideout to get his Precious (the ring), which would let him be invisible and come back and eat Bilbo anyway. When he can’t find the ring, things get really hairy.

Thankfully for Bilbo, he puts the ring on and quickly discovers that he is in fact invisible. This allows him to follow Gollum to an exit and slip past the goblin guards. Once outside he meets up with the crew, who escaped with Gandalf. It’s not long, though before evil wolves, called Wargs, catch up with them and trap the crew up several pine trees. Goblins show up and have a merry fire cooking underneath them, when they’re saved by giant eagles, who soar in and pluck them from the trees.

The eagles drop them with Beorn, the half bear-half man, who helps them out a bit. Next it’s off to cross Mirkwood, an evil forest. There Gandalf leaves them. The dwarves get themselves into trouble with giant spiders and uptight forest elves and Bilbo has to save their bacon. Finally, they get to the mountain and start the difficult business of trying to steal gold from a dragon.

The treasure is nearly beyond measure. And the dragon knows every coin. Bilbo steals one gold pitcher, and the dragon knows about it. This leads to a dual of wits between Smaug and Bilbo, revealing the dragon’s weak spot—a gap in his scales near his heart. When Smaug tries to destroy the dwarves, he seals them in the mountain; then he heads off to destroy the human town that provided them assistance. During his attack on the town, one warrior is able to use the knowledge about the weak spot to kill Smaug. (How did he know about the weak spot? A bird told him. Literally. I can’t make this up.)

Should be good and happy times. Dragon is dead, and the dwarves get lots and lots of treasure. Except that the humans want the treasure to rebuild the town that Smaug destroyed, plus the ancient city he destroyed when he stole the treasure. The wood elves show up, and they want a piece of the action too. The dwarves are not in a sharing mood, and using more birds, send for reinforcements and hole up in the mountain.

Bilbo breaks the stalemate with more quick thinking, just in time for the humans, elves, and dwarf reinforcements to be attacked by goblins and Wargs who are still mad about that thing in the mountain. A huge battle ensues. Bilbo misses most of it when he gets whacked on the head.

Several dwarves die, including the head dwarf, but generally everyone ends up pretty happy. The dwarves get the mountain and most of the treasure. The humans rebuild. And Bilbo goes off with enough gold to retire on.

Other thoughts:
  • Thank goodness that this was both more entertaining and much shorter than Lord of the Rings. I was really afraid there for a while.
  • While it did move a lot faster than Lord of the Rings, there was no substantial character development. He covered so much ground so quickly and had so many characters (13 dwarves alone) that you didn’t get a real feel for anyone other than Bilbo. Even Bilbo’s character seemed pretty whiny for most of the book.
  • I’ve never heard of a plot hinging on an eavesdropping bird before. The bird hangs around while Bilbo discusses Smaug and then somehow finds the one guy in town who’s the best shot, who happens to be descended from the ancient town Smaug destroyed, whose people could speak to birds. Convenient.
  • Gollum is always creepy. The Hobbit was written before Lord of the Rings, but Tolkein does a good job of setting up the rest of the story with a seriously creepy dude.
  • I will return to my earlier assertion that Tolkein was a special kind of guy. The Hobbit was released in 1937. The first book in Lord of the Rings (LoR. I’m getting lazy.) wasn’t released until 1954, yet when he discusses Gollum there is definite foreshadowing of his whole history that you learn in LoR. Plus he references other wars and events that are weaved right in to LoR later on. The intricacy and forethought that went in to this is staggering. I both respect that and am a little weirded out by it.

June 16, 2011

Vegas, Baby!

Three days and four nights in Vegas should not be summarized in a blog post. First, it’s too long, and second, you must maintain the mystery of Vegas. I’ve been told that what happens there stays there. Be that as it may, there are some things you should know.

 The Bellagio fountain show.
  1. Keep your money handy. Las Vegas always has its hand out asking for more money, whether you’re going to a casino, a pool, or a show. You need money to play, to eat, to see, and to be seen. Gambling, of course, will take your money so fast you won’t even know that it’s left your hand. The casino floor is the only place in Vegas where you can get “free” booze. The more you play, the better they like it.
    Thankfully, we came out about even at the casino for this trip. We stuck to Blackjack and Craps. Or rather, I stuck to Blackjack, and I watched Craps. Josh learned craps from a fellow student, and I can see how it can become addictive, which is why I made sure only one of us was betting. You can win a lot of money, but when you lose, you watch a minimum of $50 be swept off the table (per player). Either way, it’s quite an adrenaline rush. Just make sure you keep some money in reserve to limp home.
  2. Keep your ID handy. It’s been a good while now since I turned 21. It’s also been a while since I got carded on a regular basis. Apparently I look very young in the state of Nevada, and I’m kind of OK with that. We got carded going to the Hard Rock pool, almost every time we ordered drinks, at dinner, and at the casino every single time we sat down to play. In fact, Kaitie got carded twice at the MGM Grand in one trip.
  3. There are no clocks. My husband actually pointed this out to me. Really, I should say that there are almost no clocks, because we did find one in a bar somewhere, but I don’t think it was working, so it really doesn’t count. Time literally stands still in Las Vegas. If you didn’t look outside, there would be no way to tell the time of day. At any given time there are people eating, smoking, and gambling. They are also dressed in any array of clothing from workout clothes to couture dresses. If you’re not careful, the city will just suck you up, and you’ll arrive back in your room only to discover that it’s 5:30, but you’re not sure if that’s a.m. or p.m. Now that you think about it you’re also not sure if it’s Friday or Saturday.
  4. Celine Dion is back. These posters were everywhere. They showed Celine from behind in a backless gown. Get it. It’s her back, but she’s also back singing in Vegas. Sigh. I bring this up only to toot my own horn on a moment of wit. When we first saw these posters a big group of us were in a taxi going somewhere. We all “lamented” at not getting tickets to see Celine. Leia pointed out that she does have a good voice. I agreed, “She does have a good voice. I just don’t like the way she sings with it.” I honestly thought that Leia was going to pee her pants.
  5. Don’t stand too close to the Bellagio fountains. Like all good tourists who have seen Oceans 11, I desperately wanted to see the Bellagio fountain do its thing. We went over on Friday night after the Beatles Love show (Which incidentally, you should go see. Right now. It’s that good. You need to stop what you’re doing and get on a plane. I digress.). There we were all decked out, squeezed into a nice spot in the middle on a gorgeous, not-too-hot night in the desert. The fountain show started with opera music in the background. It was balletic and graceful. When they fired the big bursts of water, it sounded like might cannons going off as water shot well over 50 feet in the air. And, when the wind picked up, we all received a nice misting of the very cleanest fountain water Las Vegas had to offer. As if the cigarette smoke wasn’t gift enough. Regardless, the show was the second coolest thing I saw in Las Vegas and definitely a must.
  6. Always wear your seatbelt in a taxi. I am a seatbelt Nazi anyway. I get really itchy and twitchy if I don’t have a seatbelt on in a car. This applies double for taxis. Most of the drivers we had were pretty good for taxi drivers. But we had one guy who had selective blindness. He didn’t see stop signs. He drove straight through every stop sign we came across. It was like we were on the bus in Speed, and if he slowed down we’d blow up. He didn’t even pause at the stop signs. He drove through as though he had total right of way. And the other cars waited for him! People who did in fact have the right of way stayed placidly at their stop signs and waited for us to glide through as though we were a presidential motorcade. I can only assume these people were tourists who were too intimidated to boldly assert their rights as motorists. I was never so happy when we pulled up to the hotel.
  7. Fake weddings to real husbands can be expensive. No trip to Vegas is complete with someone getting married. Leia decided that someone should be us. Of course, I mean Leia and Scott and Josh and I. Not Leia and I. That’s silly because we’re both already married.
    We wanted to surprise our men. They knew we were going somewhere but not where or what we were doing. As we were getting changed, Josh pumped me for information by asking if what he was wearing was appropriate for our secret mission. I didn’t break. Downstairs at the taxi stand, we sidled up to the valet and whispered confidentially our destination. Now, we hadn’t actually done any research. It’s Vegas. Aren’t there wedding chapels everywhere? You can practically get married in Starbucks, right? I mean, we saw at least one if not two brides every day. So we just told the valet to ask the taxi to take us to the closest one. No problem. We all hop in and the taxi driver asks very loudly, “You going to wedding chapel, yes?” Leia and I looked at each other and burst out laughing for a good two minutes. So, surprise over. But the boys were pleased with us and relieved that it wasn’t something else (not exactly sure what they were so scared of).

    Driver with no sense of discretion and very little grasp of English did indeed drop us at the very first chapel he came to. The overly helpful man in the parking lot told us the place closed at 11p.m., and it was currently 11:04. We went in anyway and a very annoyed employee told us he could maybe help us but there was a wedding going on right now and we had to step outside to wait. As we got ready to wait the overly helpful man helpfully told us that it would be $188 to get married there, and we weren’t allowed to take pictures. If you wanted pictures, that would be an extra $80. He knew because he was researching it for his brother. Brother…right. Clearly, we did the next best thing. We took pictures of us pretending to get fake married to our real husbands at their outdoor ceremony venue immediately outside the door and directly adjacent to the parking lot. You never forget your wedding…

June 6, 2011

The Bible - Part 1

I should start by saying that I’ve never read the Bible outside of a church service. This is all new territory for me. I’m going to be honest about what I read and how I feel, and I hope that you will keep in mind that this is just my humble opinion. I know the Bible can be a touchy subject, and I want to make sure we all stay friends.

I’ve just finished the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. That includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. To save a lot of space and a few brain cells, I’m not really going to do a summary of the Bible. It’s a lot of material. Suffice it to say that we covered creation, the first family, the plagues, and leaving Egypt. We don’t quite make the promise land in this section.

There is a lot of incest in the early part of the Bible! I was rather shocked. And then there was Lot, who tried to throw his daughters out the door for the men to rape at Sodom (just as a distraction). Some pretty strange things. It does seem to settle down some once you get out of Egypt.

Mostly I’ve been interested in how a lot of the material is administrative. There are all the commandments, which includes a lot more than the basic ten. There are rules for cleanliness and legal issues, divorce, rape, wills, the works. Listed here is everything that a new society might need to govern itself. To me that was amazing. I never thought of the Bible as being so literal a book of law. It was also kind of cool to see the things that they thought were really important and how they treated cleanliness and all manner of human secretions.

I am a little disturbed by the extremity of this Old Testament God. He either really loves you or really hates you. I believe in a loving, supportive God, who loves you no matter what. The idea of God instructing Israel to show no mercy to the people whose land they are taking was hard for me to reconcile. He actually tells them to kill every man, woman, and child. I can deal with war, and I can deal with conquest, but genocide, which is what that is, is never OK. I still don’t really know how to address that from a faith perspective. How could God tell his chosen people to do that but then Jesus’ teachings are very different? Any help on that one is appreciated.

The Bible, especially in the rules part, is not always a page turner, but I am looking forward to reading more. I feel good that I am becoming more informed as a Christian. Plus, there are several extra Jeopardy clues I can answer now.

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