Thursday, 25 October 2012

Only For Boys

Both Maggie and Alice love the Dear Zoo book. As did all of my kids. You probably know it but if not: it’s a lift-the-flap book that features a different animal on every page. It’s very simple and very charming.

Yesterday I was in Sainsbury’s and was impressed by their range of rather wonderful Dear Zoo kids’ clothes. But when I picked up one of the tops I saw a large label that boldly declared it was for boys. All of the other clothes had the same label.

According to Sainsbury’s then, Dear Zoo is no longer something for all children, something gender neutral – but something that’s only for boys. Zoo animals are now only a boy thing.

This annoyed me not because it was so singularly outrageous but because it was so depressingly familiar. Everywhere you turn these days girls are encouraged to like things that are... well, utterly soppy and dippy. Things like fairies, princesses, cupcakes, celebrities, flowers, pink dresses and babies. Of course, this kind of gender division has always been with us but over the past few years it’s become much worse. It’s almost as if they – marketing twats, toy manufacturers, clothes makers – are determined to turn girls into fucking idiots.

Boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to like cool things: robots, monsters, music, space stuff, cars, planes and sport (even though sport, of course, isn’t cool). Not only that, they also get to enjoy things that should be, by any definition, gender neutral. Buses, for instance. Or tractors.

Take a look at the photographs at the bottom. The Next train cushion and the bus light shade are marketed specifically to boys. Why?

I tweeted someone at Sainsbury’s today and asked why they were marketing those Dear Zoo clothes exclusively to boys. Here’s his response:

“The Dear Zoo range was originally introduced for both boys and girls back in 2011 but the girls’ range unfortunately experienced a distinct lack of demand, hence this year’s collection being focused on boys. It doesn’t mean that girls can’t wear Dear Zoo stuff. I hope your little one isn’t put off.”

How did they know that girls weren’t buying the clothes? Because, of course, they had some specifically for boys and some specifically for girls. Why they didn’t just sell them as children’s clothes is beyond me.

Actually, it isn’t beyond me. It’s because marketing twats love to know who/what their demographic is. They love to know this so they can target stuff better. As they see it, they’re not in the business of worrying about what’s culturally or morally suspect – they’re in the business of making money. Which is normally ok, when it comes to adults – because we can, and should, trust them to be a bit more savvy. With kids you have to be more careful.

My response to the Sainsbury bloke’s hope that my “little one isn’t put off” was: “She’s three-years-old. Just starting to read. She sees ‘BOYS’ on a label, she’s put off.”

The thing is, at that age kids are starting to learn about rules and regulations and boundaries. And every parent who doesn’t want a horrible little bastard running around tries hard to get them to understand them. So it’s hardly surprising that when girls see BOYS written on things they regard it as somewhat instructional, somewhat authoritative. And when they constantly see TV ads and programmes that feature little girls dressing up as princesses and swooning over celebrities, they regard that as just the way of the world.

(That makes sense, right? I was going to do a lot more research into this whole issue but a) I just don’t have the time and b) who needs research? I know I’m right.)

The bottom line is: I hate, with a passion, those aspects of our society that demean, belittle and devalue girls. That says that only certain things are for them: that only soppy, stupid things are for them. Worse: that some things definitely aren’t for them. And we wonder why girls aren’t doing science at school.

Without turning into one of those nauseating “Oh, women are so much better than men” men, I’d say this is all the more tragic and depressing because girls, in general, are brighter than boys. (If this were a proper essay or something I’d link to some kind of citation - but as it’s just my blog I’ll go with anecdotal/personal evidence.) Girls, in general, are brighter than boys. It evens out as they get older but when they’re very young, girls make boys seem like halfwits. And what do we do with this? We encourage them to be idiots. Maybe it’s some big patriarchal conspiracy to stop them getting ahead...

(Actually, I have a little theory about why this has got worse in recent years: the increased role of fathers. Or, rather, those fathers who are obsessed with having daughters. It’s like they want to live up to that “dads and their little girls” cliché. You know what I mean. The kind of bloke who treats his daughter like a little princess, who constantly tells her she’s his little princess, who treats her completely differently to the way he would his son. I’m not saying this is the only reason, obviously. Just partly. Maybe. I don’t know. If you're reading this and you're one of those fathers - I don't mean you, obviously.)

I’m not suggesting that there’s no place for fairies and princesses and all that nonsense. Just that it doesn’t have to be all about that. Don’t we have a collective responsibility to say to girls that anything and everything is for them too? Don’t we have a responsibility not to force them into stereotypes? And particularly not to force them into stuff that’s only... well, utterly soppy and dippy? Don’t we want our girls to grow up thinking that they can be anything they want to be, that they’re just as good as boys? That they can be smart and clever and interesting?

Of course we do. We’re not the fucking Taliban.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Maggie and Us

Last week Shannon took Maggie to the hospital for a physical assessment. During the course of this she was informed that Maggie doesn’t have spastic cerebral palsy. She has athetoid cerebral palsy.

Here’s the definition.

The thing is, we always knew she had athetoid cerebral palsy. It’s just that we didn’t realise it existed. Maybe because no-one told us. Not even Maggie’s consultant who, you might think, would know about these things.

As you’ll see from the definition, Maggie will always struggle to eat. In fact, she may never eat. And she’ll never likely talk. Or walk. Or sit unaided.

What can I say about that except that it’s something we always knew and/or suspected? And that it’s fucking horrible.

The other side to this is that, according to the specialist Shannon saw, people with athetoid cerebral palsy are less likely to be mentally damaged. The other side to that is that, as well as the brain damage that caused her cerebral palsy, Maggie also suffered secondary brain damage that is likely to affect her mentally. So she loses on all counts.

However. From that brief assessment – and from what we know about Maggie – they could see that she’s bright and alert and very intelligent. So it’s possible that she’s mentally very slow. Or maybe not so badly damaged. Which is potentially good news.

However. The big problem with that is that she’ll grow ever more frustrated from basically being an intelligent person trapped inside a useless body. She’ll be well aware of her condition and have to deal with the anger, sadness and bitterness that comes with that.

The specialist at the hospital also suggested that Maggie could eventually go into mainstream education, with one-to-one care and support. This pleases us because it fits with everything that Maggie is. We took her to a special school the other week and could tell that she wouldn’t fit in there. She didn’t seem anywhere near as mentally damaged as some of the kids (who were also a lot older). The woman showing us round told us much the same thing, after just casually observing her for a few minutes.

And that’s the thing with Maggie. She likes people and noise and toys and books and lights and activity. Just like any other kid. She responds to all those things just like any other kid. But just a lot slower. Mentally I mean.

She’s currently having speech and language therapy sessions every week and progress has been good. Not with her speech or reaching out and grasping but with her communication and understanding. It’s clear that she doesn’t miss much. And as it’s likely that she’ll never be able to speak or reach, she’ll have to communicate some other way: with her eyes. So that’s what we’re working on. Her therapist tells us they’re making good progress with eye recognition technology and that it’s not beyond possibility that Maggie would be able to use this in the future to help her communicate.

More generally, she’s been quite sick these past few days. Throwing up a lot and being miserable. It could just be a bug that’ll pass soon. Or maybe it’s something else. The upshot is that she’s still not putting on weight and still not sleeping well. Previous to this she was sort of sleeping through the night. I say sleeping through but she woke at around 4am every morning. And that was it. We had to get up with her. At 4am. Every morning.

Alice has had a very bad cough these past few weeks and has also been up all night, howling away. It’s been great fun. However, she’s now on antibiotics so hopefully she’ll be ok soon.

In all, I’d say that life’s not too great at the moment. Me and Shannon have our problems that we – I – need to sort out. The fact that we get no breaks, that we have constant demands on our time and attention, that we get no sleep, that we’re always sad and angry doesn’t help. Plus the fact that there hasn’t been much work on recently and that we’re both here in the house, not getting stuff done, never having the time to get stuff done. That we’re worried and lonely and isolated and falling apart and heading towards poverty – just as all the research shows that happens to families with disabled children. We’re a fucking cliché.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Happy 3rd Birthday Maggie and Alice!

Three-years-old today. The same day John Lennon would have turned 72. They've already had their party which was great. We even managed to salvage the rubbish cake.

Maggie's at nursery* this morning - which she loves - so we'll be opening presents later this afternoon. We bought Alice a bike which we fully expect to be something of a challenge due to her contrary nature and her reluctance to do anything that has the slightest hint of risk or injury. I might just strap her to it and push it down the hill. Maggie has got a load of stuff for her dolls. I don't normally approve of dolls for girls but they seem to bring out the best in her: she really engages with them.

Happy Birthday you wonderful, lovely girls!

* Update: Maggie won't be at nursery this morning because she's ill. And tired, after being up all night. Sigh.

Click the pictures to see them big: