Maya Angelou ~ April 4, 1928, St. Louis, MO ~ May 28, 2014, Winston-Salem, NC

Maya Angelou ~ April 4, 1928, St. Louis, MO ~ May 28, 2014, Winston-Salem, NC

This week, one of my hero’s passed on.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Statement from Dr. Maya Angelou’s Family:

Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8:00 a.m. EST. Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.

Guy B. Johnson

Will you raise your son like you raise your daughters?

  I have thought a lot about what it would have been like to have had a boy. To have experienced a son with a man who desperately prayed for a boy and was not so thrilled to have a daughter. I was proud to have a healthy baby, no matter what the outcome. Now that my child and I are older, I have realized the power and significance in my life since having a daughter. I have realized the value of educating my child about gender and equal opportunity. I have also noticed the difference in how we have been treated all because I have a girl rather than a boy to raise. Here’s what I have summed it all up to.

We live in a world where (all over the planet) male children are valued more than females. Male babies are welcomed to families with more enthusiasm for the fact that they can carry the family name. A strong boy is always welcomed to be born first so they can be the oldest and the protector. In some countries, boy children are valued higher for their physical abilities to work and earn income for the family. Males are also able to carry out family traditions such as religion and possibly a family company.

In other parts of the world, female children are used as a system for bartering and gathering dowry to earn status and income. Land. Reputation. Daughters are valued as a service or deal while male children are kept as leaders of the family. Girls are sold into sex slavery and married off young in order to provide benefit in highly poor regions. Some countries find it beneficial to send the boys to school while the girls have to work in sweatshops and on farms. This is valid and recent information. So many girls all over the world are treated unfairly in comparison to males. So many girls are aborted, abandoned and devalued through trading their lives for income or status. Its nothing more than a sales transaction, while some little girl somewhere is being raped repeatedly in a brothel in order for her parents to afford their farm and boys to make a living.

This stuff is real. It happens. To this day.

I have come to appreciate all of my advantages in being a young, white and independent female in America. To be able to choose my fate, apply for assistance and live by myself at a University. To have food on my table and clothing for myself and my child. I can recognise my advantages as a teen parent, though having been abandoned by my parents. I still have options. I do not have to care for my parents financially or emotionally. I will not ever have to be responsible for their debt. Nor will I have to give up my own child for their gain. Not me. I made my choices.

And lucky for me, I survived.

  Somewhere, far away, I know girls are worse off than I was. Homeless. Starving. No education. No ability to take care of their kids. No contraception but sometimes no other means of survival but to turn to prostitution or stripping. To turn to marrying onto a loveless marriage in order to get bills paid and a loveless union for a roof over their heads.

How many men have had to face these trials?

How many young boys have been traded in order to harvest the crops and afford the family home?

How many boys have been sold into sex slavery and then forced to have abortions or operations for far worse problems from having to have sex with hundreds of men a month?

Of course, young boys and teen boys have also been sold or kidnapped in the past. Its not only a female focused crime. However, the point is to look at the value of each gender. Why should either child be more or less important?

In America, children are gendered even in this generation. The way we dress our children, the toys we select for them and the things we prioritize for them are GENDERED.

Look in target. Toysrus.

Stroll down an isle in the girls section and tell me what you see. Do you see pink, glitter and accessories? Dresses, tight materials and low cut everything? What are the toys like? Do you see any science kits or legos in the girl isle? Does dressup consist of firefighters, doctors or lawyers? Or do we see imaginary character costumes? Fantasy or domestic roles over police officers or dentists.

The funny thing is, most people are senseless and don’t even notice. Check out the toys that are eye level to children. What does the media and the toy industry want your child to aspire to? If you think it doesn’t hinder your child’s ability to develop based on gender bias then your wrong. Your dead wrong to say you would let your boys play with Barbie’s. And when my daughter wants to grab trucks or wrestlers, she’s stared at. Why is that?

Though I can go on forever listing the ways western culture gender divides children, my main point lies in the way we choose to raise our children. We choose this stuff. From the nursery until the college dorm, we hand pick and design the way our kids develop. We encourage things based on their gender as well as what is normal for our societal norms. This complicates your child’s ability to differentiate between fantasies and real goals. Our daughters find fantasy play more pleasing than hard laboring or leading their own dreams. Because we tell them its OK to be dainty and submissive. To wait for a husband to pay for their every need and build their home for them. To be the breadwinners for them and provide the stability. Leaving all the pressure on the males to complete those sometimes impossible achievements.

We also rob female children of their own achievements by making them feel as if certain goals are unattainable. As if they simply cannot and should not be able to take care of themselves. 

  I appreciate that I do not need another person to take care of me. I have had to grow up very fast due to many things in my past that didn’t allow for me to be submissive or for lack of a better term, effing stupid. I have not had the time or patience to sit around and wait for others to take care of me or save me. I have never settled for less than what my mind believes I can acquire. I believe in myself. Regardless of my gender or the oppressions I have faced, I know I can reach as high as I allow myself to.

What I will pass down to my daughter is the knowledge and abilities to take care of herself. I want her to understand the history of women all over the world and the strides many made to overcome their societal limitations. To overcome the struggles pushed onto them for simply being born a female. I never want to hear my daughter say she does not appreciate who she is or what abilities she has. We all should be thankful for what we do have because someone out there has it way worse. I want her to be compassionate and have a desire to serve others. To help make the world have equal opportunities for both genders.

I want her to know the struggles young girls face every day. Instead of being blinded to the crimes and awful treatment afflicted by strangers, families or cultures.

  I have had more than a handful of people curse me with the conclusion that because I had my daughter young, she may get pregnant young. Correction. Will get pregnant young. As of she will spitefully plan it. Or I will not reinforce the lessons I learned hard enough. Maybe they even though in some ways, my “stupidity” gene was hereditary. I have mostly been stunned enough to pause before reacting. My favorite was the time an unnamed person told me that I’m in trouble for having a daughter because she can be pregnant as a teen. To this I replied, “well I suppose it would be better than having a son who can impregnate twenty women at once if he tries hard enough.” Yup. I said it.

I have also been told that I am in trouble when my daughter becomes a teen because girls are just worse off. They are troublesome for wanting to dress a certain way. For wanting sex. To date. To be popular. To be noticed. Its been said that girls are the ones who seduce. Who beg for attention. Who ask for it. Attract rape. Attract pregnancy. Well, I would like to know what made women feel the need to compete against one another. What makes the females want to act certain ways and go through certain things that males don’t. Supposedly don’t. 

  Some day, when I have a son, I am going to treat him as equals with my daughter. I want to educate my child(ren) about sexual health, body changes and hormones. I want to provide curfews and standards for both sexes. I also want to be fair. I want my boys and girls to feel value in themselves as unique individuals with different passions and dreams. I do not want to blame their short comings on their gender. Or limit their options based on what society provides for each gender.

Wake up people!

The truth is, no child should hold more value over the other. And no child of anyone should have to feel inferior in their family. We set the standards. We have the choice to make the boundaries. But parents have to be willing to put in the work and effort.

While I raise my daughter, I show her how to respect herself and respect others. I show her how to use compassion and kindness. How to appreciate her talents and work on her weaknesses. We love animals and nature. Art and science. We do not do things based on the fact that she is a girl. However, I do not want her to be gender neutral. I won’t tell her she does not have to identify strongly with being female. That’s not what feminism is about. What I wish for my daughter is to stand up for the fact that she is a female, but to make her own definition of what is appealing to her. Not what society forces her to like.

I will not blind myself to the fact that she will soon have emotions of all kinds. She will hit puberty and go through social obstacles. Like any other child. It all comes down to how I will handle it. And how I will educate her to make her own choices.

The best gift you can give your child, boy or girl, is the whole picture. Instead of allowing a narrow view of life, give them the whole picture and allow them to make their own mind up. If you can teach your children to be independent and well rounded, your job as a parent is complete.

  So here it is. Some day I want more children. Once I am married and in a home of our own. A home built up on values and equality. A family that appreciates each others uniqueness and talents. When the days come and the obstacles hit the front, I will deal with them as fairly as possible. When I have sons, they will hear the importance of safe sex and commitment. They will all hear about curfews. About self respect and self reliance. Independence. As well as knowing when to ask/receive help. I want all of my children to understand the importance of permission. To say sorry and take responsibility when making a mistake. I want my sons to respect and care for their future partners but also accept when a partner wants to be independent. To never leave a girl if she does not want to be intimate. To earn their lovers. To earn trust.

These are the qualities all children need to be raised on.

Its what will help weaken the gender standards. So we can all start living with equal expectations and opportunities. For the better of our own and future generations.

The magical thing about freedom of choice is that we do not have to live like the past. Society has the opportunity to record history and learn from it. Change is the only way to make a difference in this world.

feministingmama

She’s a brick house!

A successful woman is one who can build a firm foundation out of the bricks others have thrown at her“~ anon.

  I have had a super rough week trying to adjust to my new schedule. With my daughter still getting over being sick and my homework quickly piling up, I have been frazzled and twitching. I did manage to get many things accomplished. However, my patience has been tested all week by people around me.

   I am not sure why people need to stare at me while I’m on campus pushing a stroller, but they do. This past week, some jerk guy decided to make fun of me for pushing a kid in a stroller on campus. He mumbled things to his friend as they hurried past me. My friend over heard it and told me parts of what he said. I was ready to pounce but I refrained.

  I had no choice but to bring Bella to my night class, sociology of reproduction. We had a lecture and a movie about childbirth. My daughter sat quietly watching Netflix on my phone and munching on a granola bar. I was totally entertained by the faces I got and the comments. Though most people find my daughter adorable, I know its not the norm. seeing a small child on a college campus. That’s cool. That’s fine. But leave it at that and don’t make me feel like a weirdo for having a child.

    What more people should be saying to themselves is “wow, look a young mom can still do normal things like attend school and hold a job”. I get increasingly frustrated by girls who become pregnant and then throw away all of their ambitions. I strive to set a good example and reach out to other young mothers. Though I do still struggle to make everything work, I am not ashamed of being a mother. I am proud that I have been able to follow my dreams. It worries me when I don’t see many moms. Not because I am expecting an epidemic of teen moms. I just know that the ones who are out there and are not married also don’t likely choose to follow through on getting an education. I never mean to put anyone down. I do not think I am better than anyone for having an education or certain privileges others might not. It just worries me how few girls are encouraged by society and the education system to get a degree and eventually a career.

   The biggest problem I have seen with the education system (mostly because of the state) is that there is very little support or encouragement for mothers to stay in school. There are not many scholarships for single or young parents and financial aid is scarce for students because of budget cuts to the state. The facilities like childcare and after hour care are dwindling because of dropping budgets or no state workers and many colleges don’t even offer it. There are very few colleges that have family housing or spouse housing. Families just don’t fit into the college equation. I suppose that these systems just haven’t changed with the changing times.

  As much as 40% of babies are born to unmarried couples over the last few years. The percentage has steadily increased over the last three decades alone. This could be due to economics, culture differences, absent parents or religious differences. Some couples are choosing to have and raise children without the institution of marriage. Yet young adults are still encouraged to earn a degree out of high school. If not, where will their income be earned from and what kind of family will they be able to support with a minimum wage job? My choice was clear. I researched colleges when I was 17 and had a newborn. I was not just determined to head off to college to prove a point to anyone. I knew if I had no parents and no father for my child, I needed to be independent and earn a steady income for my child. That way we could live comfortable when she was growing up and I could still fulfill the goals I had for myself.

   Even though I have researched and inquired to many colleges about their facilities for parenting students, I have yet to figure out a main idea on why there is so little support available. Surely this is the twenty first century and I am not the first or last teen to get pregnant. It is also not a new thing that families are being started at a younger age. Teen pregnancy rates have dropped according to recent studies since the 1990’s.  But it still exists. And its nothing like MTV’s TEEN MOM. There are real girls out there. Who are dreaming of goals beyond being a mother. Who are in relationships or not but are happy with their decision to be a mother. So why is it that so many states in America offer little assistance or aid to them?

   I am not referring to aid as in welfare. What I mean is actual support groups. Benefits through jobs. Tax credits for being single mothers in school. Schools that offer classes built around daycare hours. A real certified daycare facility on each campus with its own budget and workers. Trained staff. Did you know that new York state offers a SUNY grant to help pay for daycare?

I don’t make this stuff up people. I am tired of being “One more teen mom”.

I want to be “One less statistic”.

feministingmama

Myth busters: teen mom stigmas

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   Something that really gets me is how many people size me up when I walk into a room with my daughter. She is a different complexion than me but is obviously mine. Although she is tan, we do not speak Spanish. We do not live our lives off welfare or collect unemployment. I have no ring because I am not married. I was not divorced. I was not raped. I have my own unique story like everyone else. One that I should not have to explain. But I do. That way I can watch the judgement turn into embarrassment.

   I always can tell when I am getting the “look”. That “how the hell young are you?” look on most peoples faces. Why does it matter how old I am? Would I be a better parent if I was 40? Do you think if I had a ring and some age to me that I would be legitimate and not a slut? I hate the word slut. I loath it. I hope no one ever says it to me out loud. Or I will explode. No. I get stares and questions, sometimes by total strangers who desperately want to know how the hell I got pregnant. Well genius. The answer to the secret is “I had sex.”

   One common misconception is that I must not be in school. How could I possibly be in college if I am a single mother? And what college would allow such madness? Well assholes, I applied. I worked hard and got good grades. I was accepted into it. I have the acceptance letter to prove it. As well as the textbooks and knowledge I have. It was that easy. I just applied myself.

   The next big thing people cannot fathom is how I “do it”. I appreciate love and support. Who does not love to be encouraged? You aren’t human if you don’t. But seriously, its almost insulting to say the words do it. Not to me but to the billions of teen mothers that have ever existed. We are not any different than you. Although we are sexually active for various reasons, we have brains and emotions just like you. We have options. Unfortunately not every woman believes she has a choice. A choice to work or go to school. A choice to keep her baby or not to. Women every where make no choice or bad choices because that’s what people expect to happen. It is predetermined when we walk into the damn clinic that we are ignorant, some drug abusers, orphans or plain disobedient. Its assumed we want to abort our babies. That we will abort them and run away to have more sex with anyone we can find. Like ferocious and rabbis infected animals. If we do keep the baby, its expected we will make the worst parents possible. That those who don’t plain pity us will let us off the hook on life since we have screwed up so badly. I have met girls who aborted because they were forced by parents due to religion or force of opinion. I have been one myself.

    I do not have tattoos but I think they are beautiful. My nipples and vagina aren’t pierced. I wasn’t wild as a teenager. I did not get knocked up because of the pink streaks in my hair. I did not get knocked up because I walked the corner for sex. Or “planned” it to ruin my family– as my mother said. I am not that conniving and smart. Not like I’m given credit for.

I have a question. Its serious. Do you walk down the street and ask a thirty something old woman if she wanted her baby? Do you ask her if she meant to get pregnant? Do you tell her it will ruin her life? No you don’t. Do you ask her assumed to be husband if he is ready to be a father? Do you ask if his parents are OK with it or if they made him stick around? Do you give him the slightest bit of attention? No. 90% of you don’t. And no one did to my ex either. No one asks if he was ready. Its assumed and allowed for him to not be. He’s off the hook. He’s a free man. It was an accident. His sperm is to blame. He made a mistake. He still needs a life. Its OK.

   Why isn’t it OK for the single women in the world who are abandoned? Are they all just sluts? Is that even possible?

  I bring all these things up to show you that I am a person. I am a woman. I make choices. And I take care of my responsibilities. I pay my own bills. I work part time and take full time classes. I have my own rent. On an apartment I got myself. I take buses because I cannot pay for rent and a car. No mommy and daddy to cover my insurance. I have money because I work for it. So if I want a nice phone then I can get one.

   I do not party. Unless a party means balloons and cupcakes I designed with a million screaming kids wacking a pinyata, I do not go out. Its not because I hate alcohol or waking up next to strangers. Its not because I hate clubs and neon lights. Its not because I can’t dump my kid on anyone so I can live it up every weekend. I actually just like spending time with my daughter. I like to make crafts and have tea parties. I do have me time. But its not the kind you think. Its sober. Its fun. Its me.

   I actually did not qualify for food stamps. My part time job apparently makes me have too much income to get help. I get Medicaid because I am eligible but I have to travel myself and buy my prescriptions. So when I pull out my medicaid card at the clinic, do not stare at me.

   My child does not need to be sized up either. I raise her to enjoy things. To not look at everything gendered. We own dresses but I allow my kid to play in dirt. To splash puddles. I let her roll in grass and feel the sun on her face. We pick flowers and we touch bugs. We don’t own white ruffle socks. We wear sunblock and I like to sprits her with body spray before we go out on mommy daughter dates. If you see my child with a snot on her face or a stain on her shirt, its not because I was a teen mom. She is five. She will learn. Maybe we ran out of tissues. Maybe you caught us during one of her meltdowns. It happens to us all.

   Discipline is my last topic. I use it. I use it at home and at school. At the library or in the middle of target. I am 22 but I use it. I do not have to tell you how. I should not have to tell you when. Or if it is affective. Its my business. And my child. I am 22 but I am not an idiot. I believe that no means no. I also will do time out any where. Any time. For real. I will give a two minute time out in the middle of the frozen veggies. You all have witnessed it. It was probably me. And my kid who was upset over nothing. Or candy. Or wanting a toy. Mostly over nothing. I know how to discipline. So don’t tell me how.

  I hope that all stigmas could one day disappear. For everyone not just me. I wish i could hear more sincerity and less judgement. When you are 34 with a newborn and I am 22 with a 5 year old– I know what I mean when I talk about potty training or tantrums. I know because I went through it as a mother. So do not declare my advice as worthless because I did not have the same path to motherhood as you.

  I know that some mothers, of all ages or situations, do actually fit the stigma criteria. Using welfare or unemployment to cheat working. Using medicaid to avoid having no health care because they don’t want to pay. Some don’t want to work or go to school. Some women have tattoos and some don’t. We are all different. God will judge. Leave it to the big man. The rest of you just worry about your own lives.

   Next time you see a young mother, give her more credit. Without knowing her story, accept her as a human. Smile at her baby. Don’t ask if she is married. Do not tell her what to do. Treat her like you want to be treated. Guess what? It won’t kill you not to know her business. She might even be friendly. Imagine that.

feministingmama

22 going on 35+

  I don’t know but every time I hear Taylor Swifts song “22” on the radio or at work on Pandora, I twitch a little. For everyone who does not know, I will be 23 in less than three months. This has slowly sunken into my mind because of all the things it means to me to turn another year older. If you are rolling your eyes and wishing you are 22 like I am, please revert back to my other stories. I am not 22. I am also not a liar. I live the life of someone much older. I have ALWAYS lived a much older life. From dealing with addict parents to tending to my own needs most of my childhood, I was well groomed for parenthood. I just started it at a younger age than most do now. I have been on this earth for nearly twenty three years. But I am an old soul. I am tired and cranky not “confused and carefree”. It is not magical Taylor. Its not. The life you refer to in your silly pop song is that of the fourteen year olds with iphones and short shorts hitting up the Smith Haven mall. Those are the ones mocking exs and wearing vagina length skirts. I am a different breed.
   What gets me about the media and pop culture of the 2000’s is that nothing has to make sense as long as it is catchy. I watch my peers dance and sing to quite awful music because it is on the radio and TV. They don’t question it at all. Not even a little. Poor Taylor, you have stupid fans. I love your voice and cute curly hair. Your old CDs were great. But catchy doesn’t equal good.
   Twenty two does not mean dumb and horny. Not for many women in the world. In fact, I urge readers here to BUY and worship Eve Ensler’s novel “I am an emotional creature”. I wish Eve had catchy phrases on the radio. I picture it like this:
       “I dont know about you, but I’m feeling forty two. But I’m OK with age, wit and maturity is all the rage”.

   This is why I am not a song writer. Or rich. But seriously. Time for a thirty second( or until my fingers go numb) book review. Reading Eve’s book was like reading out of my own teenage diary. And it made me feel like I was understood. Like in the very deepest depths of the world, there were girls like me all struggling to be heard. And because of Eve I could hear them! I could wave to the girl who was hiding out from her rapist in the sex slave market, which her father sold her into. I could talk with the girl making barbie dolls in a dirty factory off in a third world country. I could make her smile and tell her my daughter and I think barbie needs a donut anyways.
What Eve did was more than catchy but magical and mystical. She made an invisible cable and cup phone between girls around the word who are not what Americans define as little or innocent. But as real women. Even at young ages, the knowledge and experience of these girls made them smarter and richer than all of the pop stars I can think of combined. Thanks Eve.
   I do not look forward to twenty three because I know I am facing another year of the awkward in between years I have been trapped in all of this decade. You see, I do not fit in with my peers. And I do not fit in with the parents who are older and married. The ones who chose their position. I am stuck in my own little box because I am also not like other teen moms. I know this. I have tried to connect with many. I am the “lone” wolf. I do not seem to jam with the “22’s” or the “32’s” and heck when I say I feel old, the “42’s” just want to punch me in the throat.
   My knees ache and I get headaches from anxiety. Not from just college life. Or work. Or parenting. From a melting pot of it all. I also have no mommy or daddy to run to. I will not be aired on MTV’s teen mom because I do not do crack and I don’t have parents to dump my kid off on. (Oh I know harsh….but so true). I want to go shopping for groceries. I love couponing. And crafting. I swear pinterest is my best friend. Taylor, are you writing all of this down? I have food stains from my child on my clothes. I have wipes and size 6x under wear in my backpack. While my peers are planning a kegger I am daydreaming of ways to get my kid to eat peas. Taylor. Where the hell is my song?

When will a song make sense to me as much as Eve Ensler does?

feministingmama