Do It In A Dress : More Than Educating Girls

School Children When I walked into my gym I got a pleasant shock.

The receptionist was wearing a school uniform.

I started laughing. I knew why. Last time I saw someone in a school uniform, it was for the same  cause: Do it in a Dress.

Do It In A Dress is a fund raising campaign for the One Girl charity  to ensure that girls are educated in Africa.

So why is a man writing about educating girls?

Because it’s personal.

I’ve seen first hand the power of educating girls. If only from a first world point of view.

Sixty years ago, my maternal grandfather died too early. He left a large family. Consequently,he left his wife (my maternal grandmother) some major challenges.

Not the least of which was financial.

Which created an educational problemEducation. Should she encourage all the family members to get the best education? Just the boys? Or the girls as well?

The choice she made has reverberated and resonated down three generations (and counting).

She encouraged both her sons and daughters to get the best education. And against all odds, all the children did way better than their circumstances would ever let them.

One of those daughters became a teacher and mother to me.

Whether she was teaching or not, in school or out of school, my mother lived the importance of having a great education. She knew that an education gives you choices.

Which is why I’m choose to be educated. And still am being educated.

Hopefully I’ve encouraged my children in the same way. They’re educating themselves too. And realising the wider choices they have.

Now taking this story back into the third world, educating girls obviously creates an immensity of choices for girls.

And all of their children and their children’s children.

 

The Parent Trap (Who Are The Best Parents?)

It was a great party. I’m mingling with strangers asking them how they knew the guest of honour. It was easy. All I had to do was be quiet and let them talk.

Businesswoman Blowing Out the Candles on Her Birthday Cake

I was having a very enjoyable time until…

The conversation turned to parenting. Initially it was easy to listen. I’m a parent and the speaker just happened to be the second best looking  person in the room.

But then this one person put it to me that only natural parents are the best parents.

I was taken aback.  I didn’t really respond. I side stepped and said that all parenting is challenging. Then I side stepped again and changed  the subject. Then ended the conversation and spoke to someone else. Thinking back it really wasn’t much of a response at all.

Since then however that idea that only natural parents are the best has recurred. The last time it recurred it was refuted by my children (see Mothers Day is for Everyone). Not by me. Otherwise I’ve tried to ignore it. Until the latest recurrence. Then I got what being a parent really is.

We’re sitting at a table and my friend looks out the window. She sees a child crying and instantly is involved. I look and see that he has just fallen over. His mother quickly picks him up.  I look again and his mother has enfolded him in her arms. I said he’ll be comforted in a minute. And he was. Travelers with Baby in Stroller

And then a family walks in. Two adults and a small child. They’re meeting friends. The child jumps up and laughs as each adult leans down and gives him a high-five. Again my friend is enjoying herself. As am I. Until…

The conversation turns to parenting.

But it’s different this time.  My friend reveals that she had been a step mother. Listening to her story, I sense here is someone who became a parent through circumstance and thoroughly embraced and enjoyed it. Listening to what my friend says encapsulates exactly what I did and how I felt and acted as a parent. Listening to what she says completely challenges the view of the woman I met at the party. I hope they never meet. On second thought they should meet. It would be an interesting conversation.

But the question remains unanswered. Is physically having a child the only prerequisite to being a good parent?

In no way am I denigrating the physical bond between mother and child. I have friends and relatives who have lost children through miscarriage and early death. The pain is absolutely indescribable and always unforgettable. Even as a parent I can offer no empathy just mere sympathy.

But if the woman at the party is right, then there are quite a few groups of people who would be excluded from being a good parent.

The first and most extensive would be men. The ineligibility of men as parents is happily embraced by mainstream advertising : dumb inept father and smart adept mother.  That ineptitude is being refuted by the all too rare stories of men who are successful sole parents or stay at home parents. Obviously they neither identify with nor are discouraged by that stereotype.

Then there are foster parents. Whilst working as a trainer for a government department I remember reading a newsletter praising a pair of long-time foster parents. These people had looked after children in all kinds of hardship for over thirty years.  Not only were they ineligible but they didn’t retain the children. Yet they were certainly parents and recognised as such.

Next are adoptive parents. I can recall conversing with a woman who was adopting her second children from overseas. To adopt even in this country is a difficult process yet to adopt again from overseas was well-nigh impossible. Even after the first child she still did not know what to expect. But she was going to be a parent though ineligible.

Dad with little son outdoors at ocean

And finally step parents. Much like my friend and my ex-partner and even me, the strong natural bond just doesn’t  exist. Consequently, there’s that initial sense of I’m not really a parent. In that place it’s easy to walk away or not get  involved. Yet there is a child that needs love and help and that supersedes anything else. And you either embrace it  or you don’t.

 The next time I see my friend, the conversation again turns to parenting. I tell her the Mothers Day is for  Everyone story. She gets it.

And in telling the story I finally get it. The best parents are those who choose freely to be a parent and embrace it  wholeheartedly.

Sex and Vacuuming : A Game of Mutual Selfishness

Kathy Lette’s If Your Wife Doesn’t Want Sex Then Try Doing the Vacuumming article echoes the Annabel Crabb‘s The Wife Drought re having it all and needing a wife.

Like the old expression, “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage“, there isn’t much of that anymore.

Yes, unfortunately, I’ve heard this all before.

In the throes of a disintegrating marriage, I turned to reading books many of which made the same recommendations.

The prescribed panacea was that if a man did more housework or spent less time with his mates, marital bliss awaits.

In truth I did step up and I fervently believe that men should (see Having It All). But there’s no guarantee of reciprocation. Not that reciprocation was my motivation.

Unfortunately, the opposite argument is of course is that the woman should do more. As set out by Laura Doyle in her book the Surrendered Wife where women need to step up so the man can step down. Again there’s the implicit guarantee of reciprocation.

These viewpoints seem to treat marriage as some sort of reality show (Wife Swap perhaps?). Marriage is seen as a game where you amass points for doing the right thing, are penalised for doing the wrong thing and receive or forgo prizes. Marriage in this light seen as territorial and transactional with winners and losers.

My real problem with all of this is that both viewpoints are both motivated by the guarantee or expectation of reciprocation. If I do this, I get that and if you do this, you get that.

What that creates is a relationship based on mutual selfishness. Both partners keep score and amass points and expect to be rewarded. The problems occur over keeping track of the points, rewards, penalties and prizes. From my personal experience after arguing over that there’s little energy left for vacuuming or sex.

Nor does it foster much love. Nor create an environment that fosters compassion and generosity.

So what’s left from this? My dull insight is this. Perhaps we could try an unselfish love for oneself and for others for a change? Perhaps we could create an environment of compassion and generosity?

 

 

Having It All?

Imagine that you’re being interviewed for an executive high-level management role.
And you’re asked the question, “How do you manage being an executive and running a family?”
And you reply, “I’ve shown its possible to have it all.”
And the interviewer asks you to expand on that.
So you say,
“I hold down a busy job I schedule meetings and work around my family.
I attend my children’s school plays and other events.
I come home and cook and clean and kiss the children good night.”
Now if you’re a man you probably won’t get asked that question.
If you’re a woman, then as Annabel Crabb notes you probably need a wife! Or perhaps work for Apple or Facebook where as a work perk women have the option to freeze their eggs.
If you’re a man, perhaps you need to be a billionaire to have this choice!
As for the rest of us, having it all is a struggle for women overtly and men not so overtly.
Perhaps the wrong question is being asked here. How do we change the workplace so we can be more flexible?
Perhaps this question should be asked: How do we change the way we work?

 

Sexism and Feminism

I mean all I did was just repeat to the missus what was said on the radio.

Yep one of those shock jocks was sayin’ that women is destroying the joint.

Too right I thought!

Got home and the missus wasn’t going to be much fun I think. So I had a go at her. Just told her she was destroying the joint.

She said, “Don’t be bloody stupid. I look after the kids, keep down a job and make sure the bills are paid.”

“And what do you do?”

“I’m a feminist,” I said.

Just Stick to the Stereotype And Everything Will Be Fine (Sorry Heidi Victoria)

Recently here was a twitstorm over Heidi Victoria (the Victorian Minister for Women’s Affairs (Yes that is her real name!)) who made some comments  assuming that only women were nurturers.

As a man I took some offence and added my two cent’s worth to the discussion with the following:

Capture

Now it looks like I‘m a feminist. Or a nurturer. Or that I’m not sexist or racist, etc.

Nope! Not even close! That doesn’t even begin to describe my problem.

I just don’t fit the stereotype. Any stereotype! And stereotypes don’t work for me. At all. Never have. Here’s why!

I studied a subject that dealt with diversity in training. One of the topics was the characteristics of different nationalities and cultures.

My research led me to the Globe Project and the work of Hofstede  which categorised certain cultures as having certain characteristics. An example is that in general Australians are mostly individualistic.

I didn’t like that too much. It seemed to categorise people into little matchboxes…

 

Stereotype of a Stereotype

Stereotype of a Stereotype (Photo credit: El Negro Magnifico)

And then something happened that challenged what I had learned.

At that time I was working with a woman from China who was studying to be a counsellor. 

She knew I had some public speaking experience and asked for help with a presentation. And by the way, she didn’t need much help! And her presentation rocked!

But while helping her, I told her what I  was studying.

Then she let slip what she loved most about Australia. She could speak up and ask questions and express opinions!

Which completely went against the expected cultural stereotype!. But she then told me she was brought up to be compliant (much like the stereotype).

But I looked at myself. I was brought up to be compliant (in the Australian individualistic culture!).

I now had a paradox.

I turned to a book called Cultural Intelligence and I got it! Check out the culture and then listen to the individual. Or as the book stated as a philosophy: Be mindful around people of other cultures!

Or in other words stereotypes don’t really work. At best they’re a guide. 

So now I can relax!

And finally, it means that men can be nurturers too! Sorry Heidi!

Men Shopping with Women : The Unwritten Taboo

And I had my successes and mainly failures. But I learnt lots.
Especially about shoes. I now know good quality from bad. I know what does and doesn’t work fashion wise. And still stumble and fall.
But unwittingly I stumbled on a taboo subject.
Men don’t talk about this. They do talk about shopping with their partner.
And complain. But my response to that was too different.
“I help my partner choose shoes and dresses”.
For some reason, the three men I’m talking to step back slowly, carefully as if I’ve turned radioactive.
Next subject.

Whatever You Do: Don’t Sit Down!

San Francisco: Fashion shop on Mission

San Francisco: Fashion shop on Mission (Photo credit: Franco Folini)

I don’t stand outside the dress or shoe shop when my partner enters. I follow her in. It is the option of least boredom. I feel quite silly hanging out like I’m loitering with intent or stalking or something.

But it has some advantages. One or two occasions I chose a dress or coat which was gleefully accepted and then bought by my partner. This for someone with little taste is a bonus.
But it can lead to trouble. This occasion none of the clothes in the shop fitted. Apparently my partner was inbetween sizes. Which I’ve never heard of nor had happen to me.
But something happened to me. After waiting at the back of this empty shop, I was becoming impatient. Then the other shop assistant, the most attractive one, decided to have a word to me. “You’ve been very patient”. And decided to sit down next to me. And start talking to me. After half an hour I didn’t mind at all.
But I then noticed new customers were entering the shop. And my new found friend didn’t really want to leave me. Which meant it was time for me to check in on my partner and see how she was going. Which I did. Next time I made sure I didn’t sit down.