raising a cautious child

My child does not climb trees. She watches others, peers at the tree, looks around. She may try a little – if you tell her she can’t she will believe you and she will walk away – and she will climb back down the first moment her feet leave the earth.

We will do it all again the next day.

Part way up she will stop, suddenly aware of her feet touching bark, not earth, and cling to the branch. She will ask for help to get back down (“it’s okay sweetie, just put your foot down and slide back to where you started”). Her face will tense and her arms will lock.

And she is barely knee-height off the ground.

Child's foot in school shoes with grey socks, perched in a tree close to the ground

Yet, when she has scoped a situation and believes herself competent? She will make her own lunch, smearing sour cream and sprinkling cheese atop a wrap. She will peel a carrot and chop up mushrooms and tomatoes and celery for dinner. She will steadily, face serious and focussed, bring the match to the kindling and light the winter fire with her grandmother. She will pelt up the stairs with her eyes closed, or balancing on one foot on each step, poised to fly.

Sometimes she falls. When she decided she could swim and tried to follow me to the deep end and paddled madly, sinking, until the adults in the pool turned and saved her. When she burnt her arm, trying to flip pancakes while we cooked breakfast. When she sprained her ankle badly, leaping about on slippery tiles. Then we are back at the foot of a tree, making tiny gains.

Child's hand touching a tree

It’s hard, sometimes, watching three year olds climb past her as she labours up a slide. I remember she used to do that all the time, but fell once, so now is filled with doubt.

It’s harder, watching her replicate this in social situations. I used to say she held a grudge – I stopped, because that isn’t fair, isn’t the whole truth. She was two, or three, or four, is five now, and she had learnt a lesson. Maybe too well, but she had learnt and that’s what she is meant to do as she moves through the world. She had learnt that her cousin will happily hit her in the face if they didn’t like the way the game was played, and ignore her as she cried. She had learnt that while her classmate never hurt her, she would instead hit her friend. She had learnt that her cousins’ first allegiance was to each other. So it is harder, then, to say “sweetie, it’s okay, just try again”.

I am happy to expose her to risk, climbing the tree the school keeps making noises about being out of bounds but has never made a ruling. To climb up the slide. To handle a cleaver and a frypan, scissors and matches, sewing needles and driving down the long rural driveway to grandma’s house. To throw herself into the water and trust it to buoy her upwards, to trust in still, small movements. I am happy to stand with my arms outstretched so she will feel safe enough to try, to show her over and over how to hold the knife and the scissors and the needle, to say “one more try, then we’ll find something else to do”.

I can’t bring myself to expose her to the kind of risk that says “take the hits, they’re you’re friends and your family and they love you and they don’t mean it, just turn the other cheek and go back in there”. To say “we don’t hurt people we love in our family, except for the people that do, and you cannot hit them back or hurt them”. To say “we value kindness” and walk her back into the lion’s den with that wrapped around her like armour made of glass. Beautiful, fragile, and liable to hurt her as much as them.

I am never sure what the solution truly is, but I know I am unwilling to sacrifice her caution, her kindness, for it.


Continuum 9: Contraindicators

This weekend I was at Continuum 9 and it was awesome, to be brief. To be far less brief though…

I had the wonderful opportunity to be on a bunch of panels about some of my favourite things, including Genderbending (obviously!) but also fandom/fanfic, reboots and retcons, female action heroes (Fighting Like a Girl) and craft + SF + gender. I had a ball – I love Melbourne anyway, it includes some of my very favourite people, but the con itself was lovely too.

I mostly wanted to collect together some of my thoughts about the experience. Things like: prep is very important before a panel and that means together, not just on your own!, and water is even more important than that. But also my observations on the talky bits.

  • I love how aware most fan were about gender and social justice. I enjoyed the panel on social justice (feat. Liz, Steph and NK Jemisin) but even on my genderbending panel, and a lot of others, the question-commentary from the audience was really really aware of gender issues and had some very interesting questions and observations.
  • I think it’s a really conflict-heavy idea so I know it doesn’t always have its place at something like Continuum, but there tended to be a whole lot of Geek Social Fallacy, No True Scotsman and red rose glasses in some of the discussions. For me it came up particularly in the fanfic panel – 50 Shades of Reinterpretation – in that there was this sense that geekdom and fandom are super welcoming. Unless you’re a female gamer, or you’re involved in shipwars, or like certain characters/writers/actors. Or you won’t shut up about gender, or race, or class (particularly since Jemisin had been very thorough in her explanation of how writers of colour are/were discouraged from SFF). I understand why it happens, that we want to downplay/ignore those aspects in order to be positive and welcoming, but I think it’s dangerous because it does reinforce the barriers and boundaries by pretending they aren’t there. It’s an irritating line to walk so I’m not entirely sold on how I feel about it all, but there are enormous barriers to participation in fandom and some of them are about fandom itself.
  • Nora Jemisin’s speech was fucking amazeballs. Really really brilliant. Just read it.
  • The Fighting Like a Girl panel rocked as a panellist and I hope it rocked for those people in the audience too. I’m kicking myself because I forgot to mention Pratchett and The Witches (hat tip there to the woman I spoke to after the panel who reminded me, and put me on to Ursula Vernon’s Digger). There was so much to keep saying in that panel about women, about women and violence, and about what we consider action. I felt kind of unsettled by my segue into rape in the armed forces but I do think it’s again a bit of bland positivity to not address it at all. So I’m sorry for that dip into darkness but we recovered with our discussions about children’s action heroes (Susan/Ginormica FTW! – I think ‘kids SF’ is an excellent panel for 2014). For me personally though, it’s somewhat of a revelation to realise that Kerrigan, Cordelia Naismith and Granny Weatherwax are some of my all time favourite female action heroes and none of them have a classic arc and none are a classic action heroine (Kerrigan is probably closest but her arc ends up neither sacrificing herself as the tainted mother figure ala Ripley, nor returned to human – she is part alien, she is the Heart of the Swarm and that is what she will be, fuck your categories). I particularly like competent ruthlessness tempered with strong sense of place/family/duty, I think.

    Kerrigan from the Starcraft wikia

  • Genderbending was excellent and I loved getting the chance to talk to people (and if you want to talk to me I’m not technically doing interviews/research yet since ethics and approvals but I certainly love to talk gender and presentation in media and would love to interview anyone who has anything they want to say on the subject once I’m at that stage) but again, I bloody well forgot Pratchett AND I didn’t even touch on Mrs Hudson in Elementary. It’s become increasingly clear to me that I need to include trans*genderbends (…I know) and I didn’t even mention it! Rachel’s cosplay was amazing – both that day and the night before (T9 on the panel). And obviously Hespa’s the night before as well. I think it’s such an interesting subject, even with the fraught bits (“I’m not slut-shaming the short skirts, I’m grandma-level worried about grazing during a fight and that you’ll get cold” led to my casting as the grandma of a superhero group in Liz’s comic-yet-to-be-made). I think my general thesis on a lot of the visual genderbending is that when practicality/adherence to canon is compromised in order to perform femininity, it starts becoming problematic. Like Liz said, genderbent!Tony is going to be flirtatious and is going to perform femininity the same was Tony performs masculinity and that will be apparent when she is being Tony Stark – but not in the workshop, and not as Iron Man) (ponytail out the top of the helmet!). And her comment on Rachel’s positively AMAZING genderbent!Kaylee find rang true too – a female character as earthy as Kaylee is portrayed, and as practical, is probably going to have an enormous beard, as both ease of grooming and as a secondary sexual characteristic (note: I am adamantly pro-beard and as such am biased).

via Fashionably Geek and I would dearly love to know who the cosplayer is.

  • I thought it was interesting that the three of us often came across the same cosplayers/cosplays as interesting – Slave Leo was one where both Liz and I, possibly revealing something about ourselves, thought that Leo was not nearly as sexualised as Leia, and needed a shorter kilt, to have it lower slung (we had words about hotpants – again, I’m pro, but apparently…) – it is an incredibly well thought out cosplay, and his meta-analysis is great, but there are gender performance notions at play that are difficult to genderbend. For example, genderbent!Tifa is going to be buff, but why are his shorts past his knees while hers are tiny? Why is there either an ignorance of sexualised costume choices (shorts are shorts are shorts even though there is a very clear difference between cargo shorts to the knee and the shorter shorts that are available to women) or a misunderstanding of female sexual desire and it’s interaction with performance of masculinity. My point with Slave Leo was also that since the majority of actors shave/wax their chest for roles (even ones you assume would be hairy) that are sexualised/shirtless – and that women deforest a much larger estate than that – the Slave Leo with a hairy chest is out of place (regardless of my own preferences in the area!) as a sexualised character. The interrelation between sexualisation of the male form with the impracticality inherent in sexualising women often intersects with sexuality – hotpants are read as ‘gay’ rather than sexually desireable to women and the aversion is about fear of homosexuality not just sexualisation. Like I said, SO many thinky crunchy thoughts being shared around the room.
  • The Lurker panel was also amazing. I slightly identify as a lurker, in that any fanworks I produce are mostly hidden under several layers of pseudonyms and I don’t participate a hell of a lot in person. This was my first con! But it was very interesting contrasting the experiences of the panellists with the idea that fandom is welcoming because almost all of them said they refuse to participate in fandom in certain ways because of the acts/ideals of fandom. So it’s clearly not that welcoming. But there were also lots of other lovely crunchy discussions about mental health and fandom, and also the idea of outing oneself as fannish – I obviously have because it’s impossible to do a PhD and never tell anyone what you’re doing it on – but also about where the lines are between fans and fandom. There’s enormous amounts written on that idea but the thing that became most clear to me after this panel was that the nascent idea of both my supervisors, D and M, that lurkers be included in any research I do, is correct. Lurkers contribute socially to fandom as a hobby but also as an emotional base (OMG FEELS). They often buy things (secret cosplay! Miss Piggy badges!) but their participation is in the emotional and the social sphere and difficult to quantify.
  • I am never ever going to forgive Liz for The Vid Show because this should have been in my life forever and also blue.
  • I met some really fantastic and amazing people while I was there and it was a really great experience, and something I recommend strongly to fans but absolutely to academics because there’s nothing like a panel to get you really thinking about your research, and nothing like the experience to make you think about your process. It’s been very valuable in that respect because I am thinking around the edges of my process, of my research, and just how I approach the sociological aspect of my research.
  • I’m so annoyed that I missed the evolving sex/gender panel, that sounded like it was going to be incredible.

Other notes:

  • The kinda-genderbent very early ‘lady detective’ story I mentioned to a few people was The Diary of Ann Rodway by Wilkie Collins (1856) – I highly recommend it and many thanks to my supervisor D for mentioning it. Solving crime using specifically designated ‘women’s knowledge’!
  • Liz is the best.
  • The excellent musical reboots I mentioned were part of Metafilter’s OK Computer challenge and can be found here.
  • Murderhobos is a most excellent RPG term, not my own term! Also I sang no folk songs. If you want a crash course in RPG stuff hit up rpg.net
  • This was the inspiration for my costume at the Maskobalo – alas, no photos apart from a selfie that didn’t catch the costume, just the makeup.