Why the Big Eyes?

January 21, 2010

girl with big eyes

Applying Tinkerbell-sized eyes

I have a problem with the big eyes.

[Note: I have small eyes – tiny, beady eyes that I always wished were bigger – it’s a sore point with me, so if I sound slightly bitter, now you know why.]

But even despite my personal hangup, you have to admit that from the Disney princesses to the Dora dolls to Tinkerbell fairy cartoons to all the little dogs and cats and ponies marketed to young children, the eyes are always MASSIVE, completely out of proportion, and bordering on the hypnotic/psychotic/ frightening.

The eyes on Josephine’s Tinkerbell doll take up HALF her face.

Believe it or not, I have a theory! Sure, on the surface, toy designers are probably exaggerating features known to be attractive, the way cartoons tend to exaggerate features as a general strategy to make a character larger than life. We all know big eyes are signs of beauty. So, make them BIGGER and the doll will be REALLY BEAUTIFUL. (Ahem.)

But there’s more than meets the eye (ha ha) if you dig deeper and consider research that looks at iconography and symbols going back into the old stone age and beyond.

Psychologists have found that infants register their mother’s eyes and recognize faces in general by the eyes and maybe mouths – not noses or head shape of anything else – they play a prominent part in forming our earliest imprints of connection.

Anthropologists have used these findings to explain the predominance in the many ancient goddess/mother figures dug up in Turkey and thereabouts, have only eyes, maybe mouths, where the eyes are huge.

Greek religious ikons also feature giant eyes; so do our contemporary imaginings of aliens.

It seems humans tend to attribute mythic, spiritual, special beings – deities, saints, aliens – with the large eyes that connect in our deepest brain matter to our first images of love – our mothers.

I took a film class in college where the instructor showed us a number of films that used iconography to imbue main characters with that supernatural quality – of course, all of the actors in these roles had prominent eyes.

So, go figure – that annoying, horrific, plastic Tinkerbell doll shares her cultural roots with Venus figurines in Mesopotamia and Greek Orthodox Madonnas. The toy and cartoon producers know instinctively what features will make their characters seem extra-special to our children. Too bad the doll is still really ugly.

And can we do anything to promote the idea that people with small eyes can be attractive??


Those French, or Put Your Children Last

January 12, 2010

So, apparently the French don’t put their children first.

Those French!

I heard about a magazine article written by an American woman raising her child in France and discovering that the parents there expect their children to learn to accommodate them – not the other way around. Which means:

  • – no sippy cups
  • – no childproofing
  • – walking strollers in high heels
  • – no toys all over the place
  • – going to bed on time so parents can have their adult time

And more.

Wow! What a good idea! Certainly, this doesn’t just sound like some random invention of those cranky Europeans; it reminds me of ‘how things were done in the old days’ on this side of the pond.It used to be like that here – but in the last thirty years or so, we’ve gotten into this mindset that we ‘do it for the children’ to the point where things are pretty out of balance.

The outcome?

1) Our kids grow up with an inflated, egotistical sense of entitlement. With a “soccer mom” around, who needs a servant or a slave? Kids learn that their whims, needs, get catered to; they get cell phones and rides on demand; the family schedule revolves around their schedules; the family vacations, the house location – all of it is about what’s “best” for them.

2) Women become identified as “mothers” only – which, here, is tantamount to second-class status / near servility. Harried, exhausted, stressed, and completely banished to the sphere of children (playgrounds, PTA meetings, soccer practice, playdates, dr visits) whether working or ‘stay-at-home,’ the mother/wife/woman is a domestic servant. Her life, her needs, her friendships, her sexuality, her career, her hobbies, are LAST on the list. Not only does this ruin her as a person, but it sets up her sons and daughters to believe that this is the predictable status/end of every woman.

Let’s re-prioritize and re-balance our homes and our lives. Without a solid identity, a solid marriage or romantic partnership, without friends and a life and being valued as a person first, a woman-mother can’t be the example to her children for how to live a happy, fulfilled existence.

So: Let the kids struggle a bit with the regular glass. Teach the kids not to interrupt you when you’re on the phone. Make your children adhere to a sensible bedtime. Instill in your children a sense that they are part of a community, a household, a world – not that they are the driving center of it.

And they will grow up to respect you, others, and eventually themselves – and the world! – and you, likewise, will respect – and not dislike – your grown, adult children. If this doesn’t work: Send them off to France.

Workforce News: When it helps to be underpaid, underemployed

July 22, 2009

Apparently, men are losing their jobs more than women are during this “economic downturn.”

Not surprising, really – because most of the jobs lost have been in the construction and manufacturing sectors, which are mostly populated by men.

The USA Today article notes that

Women are more likely to work part time than men, perhaps making them less vulnerable. Approximately 25% of women work part time vs. 12% of men, Mission Residential chief economist Richard Moody says.”When employers are actively cutting hours for the workers they do keep, it could be that those already working part time have a bit more security … as they are not likely to be receiving benefits and in general, are likely to cost employers less than full-time workers,” he says.

It’s great to know there’s an upside to being the underdogs in the workforce, isn’t it?

Now, the NPR story did wonder if, as women become the primary breadwinners of US households, if employers will start offering more childcare/eldercare benefits – and if the equal pay cause will get a boost.

I doubt it. Not to be bitter, but it doesn’t look promising. If the reason women are more employed now is because they make up the majority of teachers, nurses, health aides, secretaries, housecleaners, daycare providers, etc., it’s not exactly like they’re in some power position to broker additional perks.

And those of us who are not in a two-parent household, while we may have that part-time job, well, while that’s better than not being employed at all (maybe?), not having benefits or the wages of a full-time job may push us or keep us hovering around the poverty line – and stressed out.

And, isn’t it funny?

– That women are still the primary caregivers for children and the elderly – when are men going to fully engage in this? Until they do, I don’t see employers adapting policies to help with either –

– We still have such gender-segmented workforce populations? Will that ever shift? Will the guys down in IT ever get more than one geeky girl? Will the construction crew ever feature a host of buff women? Our stereotypes are so intimately tied to the jobs we do – still…

The Naked Woman Who Didn’t Brush Her Teeth

August 15, 2008

My friend K in Austin, TX has a friend who is a Naked Woman Who Doesn’t Brush Her Teeth.


“So… how does that happen?” I asked K, on the phone. “Does she march in your apartment and strip? Does she always walk around sans clothing? Does her breath stink?”

I was horrified. Fascinated. Troubled. Disgusted. Intrigued.

Apparently, this woman felt like clothing and tooth-brushing were both… well, bunk… social ideas that she could live without materializing in her daily life.

This woman had eggs. Ovaries. Guts. Balls. Hutspah. Cahones. Nerve.

A lot of confidence and not a lot of modesty…

At the base of my sputter-sputter laugh-laugh reaction to K’s description was a small seed of jealousy. There are many times I wish I had the gall to state definitively that I oppose Conventional Wisdom, even Science, Propriety, and What They Say, to just strip, stink, and stew in my own juices.

My own rebellions are small.

I hate bras, for instance. Truly truly. I am aware that for some people, the lack of a bra denotes a foundational neglect of one’s personal respect, hygiene, style, adherence to custom, logic (your boobs will sag like the women in National Geographic!).

I, however, have seen my grandmother’s boobs; and, despite 80 years of stringent stringing up of the old things, they sag. I don’t even think she breastfed. Put in her in a hulu skirt and my granny is a native.

And what is the custom about, anyway? Don’t let anyone see them bounce, swing, move? Don’t let your nips show?

That reminds me of preparing for my first ballet recital as a young girl, our teacher telling us we needed to stick bandaids over our “headlights” to keep them from protruding to the audience under the hot stagelights… ballet is, of course, all about strapping and stringing up your body parts to make them aesthetically pleasing, whatever the blood from your feet speaks…

I also remember my mom’s story about when she first went to college, back in the 50s, when the school officials would watch female students to make sure they were wearing bras and girdles… not wiggling and waddling their flesh too much, you know…


But real life? I feel like if the boys can’t take Real Live Women, unrestrained, then the boys need to go back to training pants. What’s so scary about nipples?

I’m not only sick of this anti-breastfeeding crap in our culture, I’m sick of this “I have raging hormones and I can’t control myself because I’m a guy” schtick from the males. Learning control, and accepting the functions and shapes of the human body, these are marks of maturity, for men and women alike; grow up.

If you think my anti-bra stance is irrational, please do me a favor and go read Egalia’s Daughters, a novel that flips our gendered society on its head. Instead of women wearing bras, men have to wear ‘pehoes’ to hold in their male members; they even have a pehoe-burning in their masculinist revolt. The book is a lot of fun, but it also really makes you think again about what you believe to be true and factual with regard to gender and sex in our society.

But back to the naked woman with the dirty teeth – can you imagine?!!

What crazy anti-social thing would you do, if you felt you could get away with it?

Women’s Work Revisited

June 30, 2008

A friend of mine wrote:

“It’s so incredible what women do.  I find it metaphorically resonant that a pregnant woman looks like she’s just sitting on the couch, but she’s actually exhausting herself constructing a human being.  The laborious process of growing a human is analogous to how women’s work is seen”  (Ani Difranco from May/June Mothering mag).

Add to this idea:  A woman who looks like she is just taking the kids for a walk, just nursing the baby, just giving her child a snack – is exhausting herself creating and nurturing human beings.  How important!

And also, I don’t think of myself as a poor-me feminist, but I do agree that women’s work (in all spheres/settings: factories, fields, offices, homes) is a giant engine that is quietly turning the world, just like a pregnant mama is quietly churning a babe. Isn’t this interesting?  Why are women so humble about their achievements?

So often I find myself talking down my mother-work, speaking about my being with my children – feeding, instructing, playing with, etc. – either by

a) Not even mentioning these things in conversation, because it would seem akin to brushing my teeth – as in, “What did you do today?” “Oh, I brushed my teeth.”

b) Prefacing with “I was only” as if these things aren’t enough – though nursing a baby, for instance, is exhausting and time-consuming and requires attention – I may multitask – but that’s me being crazy – if I didn’t walk the dog/clean/type/read/read aloud while nursing, I wouldn’t be lazy

Why Single Parents Will Change the World

June 18, 2008

It’s because men I know raised by single or mostly single parents end up being Awesome Husbands.

Why? Because

a) they have to learn to do things around the house/pick up the slack, cooking, cleaning, taking care of themselves/siblings instead of having a parent (mother) doing it for them

b) they don’t get exposed to screwed up male-female patterns of privilege that exist in most marriages

My ex’s mother, for instance, walked out on her family when he was around 11. It was sad and tragic. The young boy suddenly was cooking dinner for his father and sibling, had to make money for his own clothes, do his own laundry, clean the house, watch his sister – basically, his dad forced him to take the place of the missing mother.

But I benefited because in a relationship where domestic chores don’t have a gender attached to them, when it’s just What You Do to keep the house clean and organized, to make food and do laundry, to look after other people, to be considerate and caring, when that is second nature because you had to do it growing up – well, lord, it is a breath of fresh air to any woman.

But it’s that kind of equality in the domestic sphere that needs to happen. It’s not enough that women are rocking it in the workplace sphere – the balance has to occur in the home as well. And this means that something has to change for men – for the way we raise our sons – single parents or not.

I look at my little boy. He is my mission.

Single parents have to do it by default. But more than that, single parents themselves break down gender barriers – mothers work, fathers clean – there’s no division of labor, they have to do everything (my mom was a single parent for a while; she was amazing). Boys, like girls, take their cues from what their parents do. If their mother does all the cleaning and their dad doesn’t, that will seep in, no matter how much the mom (!) tries to get them to clean up. Why should the son clean up if dad doesn’t?

If we can, let the rest of us do it by choice. Nothing so harsh as making our boys serve us pot roast the way my poor ex had to – but by expecting, requiring, everyone in the home to pick up after themselves equally.

And that includes the husbands.