You're talking to me?

For this week's writer's workshop over at Mama Kat's Losing it, I picked prompt #1, mainly because it's a list. Also, Sandrine asked me to write a list on Facebook and I tend to do as she says, otherwise I'll be in trouble. I know, she lives in Ankara, I in Paris, but still, she can be pretty convincing.

So here's 10 things I'd like to say to strangers who share unsolicited advice about my parenting skills (some of which I've actually said).

1- Thank you so much. Now please get out of my way before I ask my devilish child to bite you.

2- Wow. You seem to know a lot about parenting. You must be so proud. You're very ugly, though, can't be easy.

3- Interesting. Let me think about it and I'll get back to you. Not.

4- Yes, please DO call the police. My kids love uniforms, it might calm them down.

5- Yes, I would very much like them to stop, too. Now if there's nothing smart you can say, please move over. At least you can walk away. I sort of have to stay with them.

6- Do you have children? No? You have no right to give your opinion, then.

7- I'm sorry, I can't hear you, my son is screaming too loud.

8- Even though I appreciate your comment, I am against violence towards children. However, I'm more than open to it towards adults. Wanna check?

9- Yeah, you're right, they're horrible. Maybe I should just return them to the store. Oh no, wait, can't do that, they're CHILDREN.

10- What? Who? I'm sorry, they're not mine. I just borrowed them for the day and trust me, I am taking them back to their parents right now.

Just remember it's ALWAYS easier when the kids are not yours. And if you're not a parent yourself or have grown-up children, you are not allowed to give your opinion. There.

Oh, one last thing. If you liked this post, would you mind terribly clicking on the RSS feed, here, or the Google connect buttons (top left), or by email at the bottom of this page? And if you didn't like it, you might still want to look around. There's three of us, you know, so you're (almost) bound to find something you like. And then, if you've still got time, you could share this post or stumble it, or both and get in touch with your local tv station to sing our praises. We'll love you forever.

The beginning of summer

We've not been blessed with sunny days these last few months. Instead of the usual Anatolian five minutes spring, followed by dry, hot days, we've had what I can only describe as English weather crossed with a monsoon. It rained every day for all of May and every other day for most of June. Especially in the evenings.

So yesterday, as we were setting off to a picnic party to celebrate the Solstice, I had my doubts. The picnic was set in the hills behind some out of the way university accommodation, and our hosts had gone to a great deal of trouble transporting blankets, torches, plate and cutlery and a three course meal! Had it rained on all that there would have been a bit of a scramble getting it back under cover... But the weather was beautiful, and the event truly marked the beginning of summer.

                                  And then we went home.

My son, the artist.

Last summer, I decided to join the Sketchbook project. It's a travelling exhibition organised by the Brooklyn Art Library. You send for a sketchbook, fill it in, send it back. They put it in a van and it travels. You get notified whenever somebody looks at it. Sarah in San Francisco picked up ours, last week.

I thought it would be a cool thing for Max to do, a way of marking the fact that at this time in his life, he draws all the time. Every week I throw out large quantities of paper (trees, I know) covered in little pictures of us, the teletubbies, boats, buses, planes, story boards for what he's done, what he's dreamt of, what he's going to do. The pictures are getting more and more sophisticated - he's getting good at colour.

In October we received a purple Moleskine notebook with a theme: A day in the life. I kept it on my desk, by my bed. When Max came to us at way too early o'clock, I whipped it out and told him to draw, knock himself out. By December he'd filled every page. We sent it back. It arrived in Brooklyn, and joined thousands of others in a van which went travelling. Five people have viewed it so far.

I paid a little extra to have it digitalised. Here it is. You can click on the thumb nail to see inside.

I think I might order another one this year. If you're interested, you can order one here.


A medieval philosopher goes on a slut walk

If you're at all like me, you'll be irritated to hell by the nasty little comments people have been making about the slut walks. So let's get a few things straight.

Women, on the whole, do not dress up in short dresses because they want strangers to pay them for sex.

Those who do, actually want to enter into some sort of contract with their potential customers, that is, they must agree to serve them and settle on a price for their service. They are not free for all.

No woman, sex worker or otherwise, wants to be raped. This means, amongst other things, that choice of clothing never indicates the desire to be sexually assaulted, by strangers or otherwise. And that still obtains even with very short skirts and very low cut tops.

To think otherwise is utterly unreasonable. Men who work in construction often go topless, sometime showing off the proverbial builder's crack. Do we think that they are thereby inviting somebody bigger and stronger than them to take them by force, maybe with the use of the instruments of their trade? No. No one, to my knowledge, has even so much as suggested it. They undress because they're too hot, and because they can.

So granted, women don't always wear skimpy clothes because of the weather. But they do wear them because of fashion. And fashion, whatever one says, is important. A teenage girls who has nothing to do with it will find it harder to make friends - not to find a boyfriend, mind you: teenage boys don't care so much about fashion - they'll find it hard to fit in. Of course that can be character building. But let's face it, we're not all cut out for isolation, and it's actually not bad for us to learn how to fit in with a community of peers.

And then there's work. Who - outside of academia - is going to give a job to a 'frumpy' looking woman? Some jobs actually require you to dress nicely, that is, to wear skirts, and heels. Maybe not short skirts, but once we become used to a certain dress style, we're going to work with it as we can. I think it's outrageous that employers should demand that women dress in a 'feminine' manner, and that the fashion industry should so relentlessly target young women. But they do. So let's not pretend that we, women come up with the idea of wearing skirts all by ourselves.

And we shouldn't get raped for it. Or be blamed when we are.

I was mulling over all this, when I came across very similar arguments in a book I am reading for next semester's teaching. It's by a medieval French philosopher, Christine de Pizan:
I am troubled and grieved when men argue that many women want to be raped and that it does not bother them at all to be raped by men even when they verbally protest. It would be hard to believe that such villainy is actually pleasant for them. (The Book of the City of Ladies II.44)

She goes on to discuss a whole bunch of famous women, from Lucretia onwards, who clearly didn't like being raped.  Then she asks whether women who like to look nice, who are coquettish are doing it to seduce. Nonsense, she says. It's perfectly natural, for men and women, to enjoy pretty things and looking good. It's done, unless one is actually required to dress a certain way, first and foremost for one's enjoyment.
No one should judge someone else's conscience from dress (II.62).

I like to think that if she could time travel, Christine would have put her ink and parchment down, last Saturday, and flown to London to join in the slut walk there. And with her medieval dresses, she would have fitted right in with the colourful and sometimes outlandish outfits that women wore on the march.


Spiders and other scary things

I've never been scared of snakes in the way that I am of spiders. I remember a brother and sister whose parents kept an anaconda in a vivarium in their bedroom. I think the father was a zoologist. The parents were away often, and we would take over the house, often camping upstairs, by the snake tank, sometimes downstairs in the cellar, where other, smaller snakes were kept, as well as a variety of rodents to feed them. Sometimes we would take the snake out of its prison, allowing it to roam the room, slide over our lap, never thinking the poor thing might be indisposed by the smoke of the cigarettes we constantly lit. Once my friends' parents had found the snake in their bed, so we had to be careful always to put it back when we left the room. It took three or four of us to carry him on our shoulders - teenagers between 13 and 15. I wasn't often enough at the house to witness its meal times, but the son and daughter recounted with glee and horror how it would swallow a whole live baby goat.

I have other memories of this house. I remember playing manhunt, escaping with a friend out of the tiny bathroom window to climb onto the roof, then having to jump down from an uncomfortable height because I couldn't get back to the window and didn't want grown ups to find me up there. I remember another frequent guest, a slightly older boy who would boast of his frequent sexual conquests, and talk of the praise he got from women for his 'fairy fingers'. We called him a 'mythomane' - a pathological liar. In retrospect he was probably just struggling with his sexual identity. French teenagers of the eighties were not the most accepting of sexual difference (or anything else, for that matter).

This morning, on my way to work, I had an unwelcome flashback of the biggest spider I ever saw. It had been in the sink in my mother's kitchen one night, and just outside in the grass the next. I can't remember if I ever saw it, or if I was just around when others did. But my senses didn't seem to care. Within seconds I was walking faster, arching my back in case someone had put the spider there as a joke. Some joke.


Real women don't have caesareans

At least, that's what old Mr Leboyer told Jane Garvey on last weekend's Woman's Hour. Supposedly the grandfather of natural birth, Leboyer told Ms Garvey that her two elective caesareans were a mistake. Her babies were breach, he said? So what: it's natural. She should not have been a coward and should have delivered 'naturally', i.e. through her vagina, and without any painkillers or assistance.

Ms Garvey admirably kept her cool when she asked Leboyer whether he himself had ever given birth, naturally or otherwise. 'Everything I know, I learned from Woman', the old man replied. For years Leboyer was an obstetrician and, in his own words, he supposed that giving birth must be so painful he would inevitably give his patients chloroform. Which does really make one wonder how any of them would have been in a position to comment on the experience.

Never mind, because Leboyer tells us that nothing in the birth giving process can be put into words. In fact, none of the important things in life can be put into words. The birth giving experience is a secret that women discuss with no one, especially not men. Again, Jane Garvey is forced to remind the old man whose memory is clearly no longer at its best, that he is not a woman. But, sharper than I had given him credit for, Leboyer has an answer for this too: the secret cannot be told, but it can be guessed, by wise men. Here one can only assume that Leboyer himself is such a man. Jane Garvey, obviously, is not.

A wise man, of course, can put into words what women cannot. So he goes on to explain what the birthing process really is: it's libidinal - he checks with Garvey that she knows what this means - it is the ultimate goal of the sexual experience.

Jane Garvey takes her job very seriously: instead of killing the old man on the spot, she probes him about other aspects of his theory: are there no circumstances where the medicalisation of childbirth is at all useful? What about the fact that so many women die of childbirth in the developing world?

'A lie!' insists Leboyer. A myth made up to stop you feeling guilty when you have caesareans! Giving birth dangerously is an essential part of the experience of being a woman, he says. When a woman gives birth, there comes a point when she thinks she is going to die. Then she is no longer afraid of death. This is what makes her a real woman.

Now I'm all sympathies with the view that child birth is over-medicalised. There are way too many places where women are advised to have caesareans when they don't need them, and without them being properly informed about the adjoining risks. I also don't like that in hospitals, we are trussed up like animals, lying on our backs with our feet up in stirrups, when it's really the worst possible position in terms of ease and comfort. I also feel that more women should have the option of being attended by midwives or doulas during the birth process, rather than - often male - doctors. Incidentally, what is Leboyer's view on the place of the midwife? In the kitchen, making coffee!

Whatever next, we think? Should the husband be waiting outside, ready to light his cigar? Mais oui! Leboyer tells us that birthgiving is a private experience between the mother and the child. On no account should the husband be part of it as he would break the woman's concentration.

At the very least, one hopes at this point that what he says is meant to be empowering for women - in his own twisted way. Wrong again: women, he says, do nothing during the birth process. It is the babies that do all the work.

At this point, all we can do is thank Mr Leboyer for his wonderfully encouraging words and thank the universe that because he's ninety he won't be with us much longer to say those words. Oh yes, and tell every one you know not to buy his book. Much cheaper to buy toilet rolls at the super market.
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