Author Christine M Knight's Blog
Monday, August 17, 2015
While we may chalk up this double standard to human nature, the tragedy in this dynamic involves more than mere ignorance; it can include children too. In recent decades, feminists and others seeking to have children without traditional family structure have argued that, with sperm donors and surrogacy, men have become redundant. Similarly, there are lobby groups arguing that women are equally redundant and that all that is needed is a loving parent. Also other lobby groups are promoting the myth that having children is a right.
No one has a right to have a child, but people have a natural and understandable desire to have children. Historically, the only people who could have children were those couples who were able to procreate. I’m sure readers are aware that not all of those people capable of procreating should have had children. Since the advent of IVF and surrogacy, the number of people capable of having children has increased. People who have to go the extra hard yards involved in 'having' a child demonstrate a high level of commitment to forming a family. But is that enough?
Is this discussion – what’s sufficient to raise kids – more about the narcissism of adults/would-be parents?
No, it is not automatically about narcissism, but perhaps it is about an unchallenged view that has been handed down over the generations. Remember the saying ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ – that saying encapsulates an adult perspective only - the desire to have a child. That perspective becomes narcissism when adults talk about children as if they are coloring books or mini versions of themselves with identical needs – clones. It ignores any consideration of what a child may want in terms of parents. In the current lobbying by special interest groups, children are lost in the mix.
What is needed to raise children?
Just to be clear, when we’re talking about raising a child we are referring to the conscious decisions involved in bringing a child up rather than a child growing up without adult direction and input.
Raising a child goes beyond the provision of the basics such as love, shelter, food, clothing and education. A focus on the welfare of the child and her/his needs has always been crucial and is even more so in the 21st century given we live in an increasingly challenging world.
You know that saying ‘It takes a community to raise a child? It’s so true. Whether that community is extended family, friends, supportive neighbours or single parent groups, it doesn’t matter as long as there is tag team approach to support parents as they wrestle with the issues of life and parenting. A tag team approach is important as it provides opportunities for parents to have respite from the daily, at times grinding, stresses of parenting. Respite enables all parents to retain perspective and to recharge emotional and psychological batteries. Respite is crucial to reducing depression in adults and in contributing to healthy emotional growth in children.
It also takes a community to raise a child because adults through their actions and interactions role model the various ways a person can be a woman or a man. They also model how people respond to the stressors in their lives - successfully and unsuccessfully. Children are discerning. They will often pick the behaviour that they see works. It is really important to talk about reactions to stress and what truly works and what only appears to work at the surface level.
Depending on your parental circumstance, you need to be aware of the stressors that your child may face due to your family structure, and you need to anticipate those stresses and have strategies in place to deal with them before they arise. Forewarned is forearmed. Ideally, you need to lay down the positive ground work that can defuse the impact of such situations before they arise.
There’s extensive research now that shows the variables that impact on children increase as the parental circumstance varies away from the traditional mother and father household. Single parents are a good example of the added stresses and challenges that a child has to navigate as well as the added challenges and pressures that the parent has to face and resolve. Similarly there are lobby groups in 2015 populated by children from same sex partnerships that reveal the challenges that children (irrespective of the child's sexuality) face in such family structures. Those challenges have less to do with the child's relationships with lesbian/gay parents (often reported as harmonious, warm, and caring) and more to do with backlash that the children faced in the brutal world of the playground.
Be aware that the world in which our children live and mix - at school and socially – is not one governed by political correctness. In the playground, children reflect the unguarded voiced views that parents express in the privacy of their homes. Think back to your own childhood. So the more a family structure varies from the traditional structure, the more challenges the child faces and the greater need for thoughtful adult intervention and support. Parents need to be aware of this and not be deceived by the myth that all they need to do is provide a loving home environment. Of course that is important but in itself it’s not enough. Children are not colouring books in which you impose your own coloured values.
Whether you like it or not, children learn that it takes a woman and a man to create a child. That knowledge sets up an expectation in children that they will have a parent of each gender. There’s extensive research to show that children separated from biological parents for whatever reason often feel driven to connect to and seek them out in adult years. Readers will be aware that even adopted children with fantastic adopted parents want to know their biological parents and often seek to forge some sort of bond with them.
Children also want what they perceive others to have and that they believe they should have. They don't want to be different even when they are in a loving non traditional supportive family structure. I explore this through Dan Mills' and Zoey Blake's subplots in both LIFE SONG and SONG BIRD.
Historically and for generations, there have been plenty of non-traditional family structures for a variety of reasons. For example, children raised by loving aunts or uncles or grandparents. What’s needed to raise healthy children is AWARENESS of the child’s needs from the child’s perspective and a willingness to address them to the child’s satisfaction. Good parenting involves achieving your happiness without it being at the expense of your child's happiness and well-being.
I’ve researched this subject matter extensively before writing LIFE SONG (https://youtu.be/dEioHGbnWiA) and SONG BIRD (https://youtu.be/x-vNrsKCYUY). In a subplot in those novels, this subject is explored from the different children's perspectives and from different family structures. When you read those novels, think about Dan, Zoey, Kate, and Shaun's views on this topic. Irrespective of the family structure, diverse role models are important as children learn how to interact and function with both genders through observation and experience. Children need to know there isn’t one mold and that diversity is acceptable.
It is absurd to claim, as many lobby groups have, that either gender is redundant. Women and men play important roles in children's lives beyond the role of procreation. Children and teenagers learn about life through observing and modeling the behaviour of others. Children and teens learn how to interact in a variety of settings and how to form relationships by observing people and seeing the reaction to behaviour. They learn how to form relationships with people from both genders, preferably functional ones, from observing the adults in their world. Children identify what is acceptable or unacceptable, what creates popularity or makes them a target. Research shows that children learn a huge amount about adults in conflict but need to learn more about how to constructively function and form relationships with a diverse range of people as well as how to successfully resolve conflict.
It’s important that parents remember the perspective of a child when they are dealing with situations that stress the parents. Children absorb parental stress even if the adult thinks it is hidden. Children read you. It’s hard I know, but irrespective of whatever you’re going through, the child’s needs have to be addressed as well especially so when the stress stems from the family structure. The unknown frightens children. It destabilizes them. So too does isolation from parents. Providing comfort to a child who is in conflict with a parent is not taking sides in an argument when that comfort assists the child to reconnect to the parent and resolve conflict.
When those stresses arise from conflict with your child, it is important to remember how you felt when you were a child and in conflict with your parent. Why? It re-frames your perspective and generates compassion. You see the conflict from both perspectives. That compassion can defuse the heat in conflict and get you to healthy resolutions faster.
Parents have so many distractions and demands on them nowadays that it’s easy for them to define their children’s needs from the parent’s perspective and forget that the children’s perspective on what they need from parents and extended family may be very different.
I’m not saying children should be placed at the centre of the parental universe and that parents should be subordinate to it. Such behaviour fosters the growth of narcissism. What is important is the continual effort to find a balance between competing needs and maintaining an ongoing dialogue with children about choices that affect family members and the consequences. The act of considering consequences and dialoguing about them with your children is what matters when raising children. It develops understanding. It role models critical thinking processes. When things don’t work out, it is crucial to openly dialogue about why.
In IN AND OUT OF STEP, my debut novel which is confronting at times, I explore the way parent role models and childhood experiences shape life behaviours and goals. Both Cassie Sleight (the central character ) and Mavis Mill's lives and the choices they make are directly impacted by the role models with far reaching consequences. Consider the dance video and how this subject is embedded in the choreography https://youtu.be/5HdLfeX6d78
So irrespective of family structure, adults who come into contact with children need to be aware that through action and lifestyle we are teaching children about how to function in life. We need to demonstrate a range of positive roles – how to be assertive rather than aggressive, how to be flexible and resilient rather than defeatist or a victim and so on. Importantly, we need to consider, scrutinize, and discuss with them the values actively and passively modeled by the world at large.
Another thing for parents to consider when raising children is the inter-generational transmission of attachment styles. Within the context of this discussion, attachment refers to bonds between parents and children. Research shows that people who received sensitive and well-balanced care as children find it easier to form secure attachments in adulthood. By contrast, people who received insensitive and indifferent parenting in childhood have greater difficulty in forming positive and secure adult relationships.That is not to say the latter can't form positive and secure relationships. They can, but it requires thoughtful behaviour, introspection, and a desire to be a better version of 'self' in all arenas. It is important to avoid the mentality of it never harmed me. It is also important to avoid being a helicopter parent who denies the child opportunities to play, explore, risk take, and experience the world within safe parameters.
Importantly, parents and adults who come into contact with children and teens need to model resilience. Getting back up again after life experiences have knocked you down is as important as providing a loving home environment. Raising strong children is not about wrapping them in cotton wool and isolating them from the world. Rather it is about demonstrating resilience when hardships occur and showing children how we recover from hardship and learn from it. We need to show children that we don't have to be defined by the circumstance that we are born into or that our choices have created, but that we can rise above those circumstances and become who we were meant to be. This message is central to the plot of 'Life Song' and its sequel 'Song Bird', available through Book Depository, Amazon, Powells, Barnes and Noble, and other major sellers.
How would you categorize the socio-political biases involved in this discussion?
It’s Life viewed through a lobby group’s lens, isn’t it? It’s a very narrow view driven by lobby groups’ desires rather than anyone’s rights. It is an approach of self-interest. Self-interest can become narcissism and ultimately results in injury to others.
I have concerns about any lobby group that reduces complex and important issues to a bumper sticker approach to it. That approach denies the perspectives of the multiple interests groups affected by an issue. That denial can result in injury to those groups denied a voice or an advocate. Some elements of those socio-political groups even resort to -ism statements and other derogatory terms to shut down objective discussion.
Does this criticism extend to “modern families,” which include parents from the LGBT community?
Good parenting is not shaped by or determined by anyone’s sexuality.
I’m not passing a negative judgment on anyone which is what is implied by the word criticism. Rather, I’m initiating a discussion on issues about raising children and good parenting. My message is the same regardless of your audience’s sexuality and family structure.
Good parenting is determined by the parents’ commitment and willingness to consider the needs of children and a willingness to weigh up parental and children's needs and seek balance. As I said before, the more your family structure differs from the traditional model, the more variables are introduced and the more strategies you need when raising your children. Don't make the mistake of parenting by remote control. By that I mean unthinkingly repeating parent and adult behaviours that you observed as a child. Be discerning. Select from the battery of positive strategies and avoid repeating negative parental behaviours that you learned from your parents. When you react unthinkingly in any situation with children, discuss your reaction and the consequences with the children concerned and discuss other ways the situation could have played out.
The key to raising a healthy child is to help your child feel competent and confident as she or he navigates life, its stresses and its challenges. Teach your children resilience by focusing them on the positive things in life when they are dealing with hardship. Provide them strategies to deal with hardship and strife. Be positive that life can get better. Encourage them to be mindful of the way they live life and of the values that underpin the way we live. Foster empathy. Teach them to forgive themselves when they make significant life mistakes, to learn from those mistakes, and to move onto better days. Be involved in your children's lives; you only have them for a short time and that time passes all too quickly.
© Christine M Knight
All of Christine M Knight's novels are available on order through major book stores and online sellers. Her paperback novels RRP: A$24.99 and her eBooks RRP: A$11.99.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
The bad role models that have the greatest impact on a child, tween, or teen are those people in our immediate world – not celebrities. I’m referring to the adults who act badly and who model questionable values and injurious ways of living. For instance, you might know someone who behaves badly – drinks too much, is aggressive rather than assertive, is defensive rather than open to constructive discussion, assumes the role of victim when faced with conflict and as a result escalates the conflict and so on.
There are values embedded in everything we say and do and don’t say and don’t do. If you don’t talk to your children about the consequences of bad behaviour, you are unintentionally condoning it. This is the same as saying the value you walk past is the value you accept and reinforce. When adults do not challenge assumptions underlying questionable behaviour, there is a genuine risk that children will adopt and mirror that behaviour.
The community that you live in and the values of the people in it have an even stronger influence on your child than any one person. Nowadays, that community includes images and values sold to young people through the entertainment industry.
The difficulty is having any discussion about bad behaviour is the risk of appearing wowserish (a puritanical or censorious person). To avoid being cast as such, ask your child, tween or teen what they thought of the bad behaviour. Get them to reflect and think through to the effect on them as well as others. Ask them if they thought another type of action/reaction was possible in that situation. Develop your young person's ability to be discerning.
A proven successful strategy when attempting a discussion is for you to put the bad behavior in an event in context. If that person is also a celebrity, it’s important to also discuss the way the event is covered in the media. Bad behavior is an opportunity to explain that, yes, people mess up, but it's how we deal with the aftermath that matters. Discuss the aftermath as well as what choices the person faced before the person messed up.
Of real concern to me is the Culture of the Looking Glass perpetuated by the mass media. For commercial reasons, the mass media sell women and girls on the importance of being a particular shape, size, age, and on the need to look sexy. We are bombarded by those images on a daily basis. They have become subliminal messages that encourage inadequacy and the lowering of self-esteem in order to make money and that detract from what really matters – a person’s inner qualities.
So we need to challenge and discuss with our children the images being sold to us on a daily basis. We should speak up and protest against objectification of women and unrealistic portrayals of them and instead reinforce the value in diversity as well as women’s traits, qualities, and achievements.
I recommend http://theresilienceproject.com.au/corporate
© Christine M Knight
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Reading introduces girls and young women to worlds and the possibilities of life outside the world they actually live in. It teaches them they do not have to be defined by their circumstance but can rise above it.
Quality fiction and non-fiction about strong women show readers what women are really capable of and also portray the diversity of womankind. By strong female characters, I don’t mean physically strong but strong as in interesting and complex. Strong as in resilient and able to face adversity with courage.
Strong female characters have a depth of conviction that is never allowed to be undermined. They have the ability to act independently, to make their own choices despite the pressure put upon them to do otherwise, and to think through to consequences.
Reading about the diverse experiences portrayed in quality fiction and nonfiction also counterbalances the questionable values and images being promoted in many of today’s television shows, movies, and music videos that target teens and young adults. Those questionable values and images represent a narrow and false image of the people, cultures, and the world that we live in. Literature and quality nonfiction make it clear that it’s who you are on inside and not your shape, size or skin colour that counts.
Reading also develops skills that assist girls and women to succeed. Reading and studying both require persistence and an ability to sustain focus and read for long times.
Thursday, July 02, 2015
The right to privacy refers to a person’s right to have a private space, be it around the body (aka personal space) or associated with the home and personal property or having private matters in the person's life staying private. The right to privacy also refers to the right a person has to control the degree of access by others to a person’s private domain.
For most celebrities (not those associated with reality shows), celebrity status was a by-product of the person’s success. It was not the person’s primary goal. Instead the person was focused on achieving goals and longevity in a career and gaining recognition for a talent or achievement. Celebrity status is something that famous people are confronted with and have to learn to manage.
This topic is complex and there are three aspects to it: freedom from scrutiny versus a right to privacy, the media myth, the impact on the audience and in turn on society.
Many people confuse freedom from scrutiny with a right to privacy. We are all subject to passing scrutiny when we’re out in public whether we are conscious of it or not. We observe others and are observed ourselves in turn. Sometimes as part of that scrutiny, we make judgements about who or what we see around us. It’s part of being situationally aware which is increasingly important nowadays. Similarly, we are subject to scrutiny by speed cameras when we travel on public roads and by CTV cameras in shopping malls and other public places. That scrutiny doesn’t mean a person’s privacy has been invaded though.
If you are a celebrity, there is a high probability that a greater percentage of people will be interested in you than they are in a passer-by. It is unrealistic for any celebrity to expect not to be observed and scrutinised when the celebrity is out in public but in a private capacity.
Given the high tech features of mobile phones (I believe Americans call them cell phones) and the ease with which people upload into social media nowadays, everyone has the potential to be a roving reporter. It is natural for fans to want to snap a discrete photo of a celebrity from a distance to record the experience and to share it with friends. In such circumstances, there isn’t any invasion of the celebrity’s privacy.
The second aspect of this topic centres on the myth and argument that celebrities forfeit their privacy once they develop public persona. Whether we realise it or not, we all have a public persona – the face and identity we choose to show to people outside of our homes. Our job – be it a trash collector or an entertainment industry star – is not a valid reason for others to deny our right to privacy.
Of course, in the entertainment industry and politics, celebrities and the media need one another. Like all healthy associations, it should be a symbiotic relationship where there is a mutual benefit, not a parasitic relationship where one exploits and benefits at the expense of the other.
There isn't any valid reason for a celebrity to be treated as an expendable commodity, someone to be exploited and then discarded when exploitation is no longer possible. Certainly there isn’t valid justification for the exploitation of the dark or embarrassing moments of that person or that person’s family life.
The third aspect of this topic is the threat posed to civilised society when we accept the right of others to invade a person’s privacy. When people discuss the right to privacy, they mostly do so from the celebrity or media’s perspective. Few people stop to think about the impact on the audience. That impact is negative and supports the growth of a destructive culture.
The culture supports making money from ‘stolen’ moments in a celebrity’s private life and the writing of take-down articles. It appeals to baser human instincts within the composers as well as the audience. It is a culture that is unable to celebrate success and that lacks generosity of spirit. That culture threatens society because it shifts our reference points for what is acceptable and unacceptable. That culture endorses predatory behaviour that causes tragedy such as the death of Princess Diana.
You may say in response to this article that there are celebrities who behave badly and do so knowing they have a public audience. Surely, they have lost the right to privacy.
That does of course happen. A certain celebrity who shared compromising pictures of himself through Twitter and Instagram comes to mind. In that instant, the celebrity has surrendered the right to privacy for that act in that situation, however, the celebrity has not renounced the right to privacy for the rest of that person’s life.
The actions of the rude, crude, and uncivilised in social media are not reasons to publicise such behaviour. When the press pick up on that type of behaviour and promote it widely, they are contributing to a shift in societal values and the development of a spectator sport. That spectator sport is very similar to rubber necking and to the blood sport fascination associated with gladiatorial games in Ancient Rome. It is strongly reminiscent of the society in the capitol of Panem as portrayed in Hunger Games. If mainstream media does not pick up on social media sharing, a tweet is lost in the blink of an eye because a tsunami of information is now shared through social media.
If we want to sustain a civilised society, we have to consider the people who are impacted by widely publicised poor behaviour – the audience. Public exposure to questionable behaviour inadvertently sets a new code of behaviour because it implies it is acceptable and so establishes it as the norm.
Think for a moment about the way obscenity such as f***! has infiltrated the language in everyday situations in a diverse cross section of society. Through constant exposure to it via film, music, and television, people have unconsciously absorbed the values implied by the use of that obscenity. The impact of that exposure on an audience is similar to the impact of subliminal messages. The impact is huge. Teenagers now use the word liberally and often without realising the word is offensive to many.
Even the most unlikely people, when in similar conflict situations to those shown in the mass media, find themselves uttering the expletive. A thinking person stops, aghast that she or he has reacted in that way, and questions the response and makes a conscious decision to reject the use of such expletives in the future. The unthinking person doesn’t even blink and in doing so endorses the behaviour, establishing it as a normal response and modelling it to the immediate audience as a normal reaction in stress.
As Lieutenant General David Morrison, former Chief of the Australian Army, said in June 2013, 'The standard we walk past is the standard we accept.' I will go one step further. The behaviours we mirror and model in everyday life are the behaviours we condone in society.
The right to privacy is an important right of citizens in a democratic and free world. We have a right to have a private space where we feel safe, be it around the body (aka personal space) or associated with the home and personal property and to expect the private matters of our lives to remain private. We have a right to control the degree of access by others to anything in our private domain. The right to such privacy is very different from freedom from surveillance. Since 9/11 and the rise of terrorism, there has been a genuine need for surveillance to ensure public safety and societal security - a totally different blog and discussion.
Thursday, May 07, 2015
International readers please note that Christine uses the British spelling system.Male role models are critical in shaping what girls and women value and what they reject. Girls and young women learn how to interact in a variety of situations from the male role models in their lives just as they do their female role models. What men appear to value influences how a young woman shapes herself, her behaviour, and her aspirations. So men have an extraordinarily strong influence over what girls and young women value just as the entertainment industry does. That is why the Robin Thicke / Miley Cyrus 2013 performance brought such criticism.
A diverse range of male and female role models is important in the life of a child and teenager. Why? Male and female role models demonstrate the codes of interaction and the boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. It is a major contributing factor in learning how to form positive relationships: personal, emotional, workplace and career. It is crucial to long term well-being for a young person to learn how to belong to the world in which that person lives.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Recently, Taylor Swift said she looks to no one – at least in her own industry – as a role model. During a Time magazine interview, she wondered with open embarrassment what her grandchildren would think if she behaved public more like her peers, such as Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, exposing herself and selling her image through her body.
Taylor Swift has a point. Girls and women mirror what they admire and adopt the values of their role models. I always keep this in mind as a storyteller as I explore the many roles women play throughout their lives, their choices, and assumptions that shape how they behave.
To provide better role models for tweenies and teens, we need to think about who their role models are. We often think of role models as people with outstanding qualities or with high public profiles such as music or movie stars, sportsmen, and the like, but we all function as role models. In particular, parents and family members are powerful role models during childhood. Indeed, girls form their understanding and expectations of male and female roles and how to interact with the other gender from what they observe and learn within the family unit. In my debut novel, 'In and Out of Step', I explore the far reaching ramifications of childhood role models on Cassie Sleight and Mavis Mills.
Children, teenagers, and even adults learn through observing and modelling others. We first see this with small children at play. From their earliest years, children learn how to interact in a variety of settings and situations by observing the people around them and seeing the reaction to a variety of behaviours. It is from this observation that children identify and then learn about what is acceptable or unacceptable, what creates popularity, makes them a target and so on.
The influence of parents and family leaders as role models appears to lessen as a child nears and goes through adolescence. This change is a reflection of an adolescent’s journey to adulthood, the move toward independence, and driving need to develop her/his own identity. At this stage, tweens and teens not only have a wider situational awareness than they did as children, but they also mix with many more people of different age groups in an ever increasing range of situations and settings.
Adult readers, I’m sure, will have memories of their own journeys through adolescence, the widening circle of influences on them, the swirling emotions and the conflicts that arose as they sought to establish their own respective identities. They'll also be aware that, as part of the journey to independence, the lens through which teens and young adults view their parents and family leaders changes.In order to provide better role models, we need to realize that there are values embedded in everything we say and do and don’t say and don’t do. So it is important that we demonstrate through action and lifestyle the values that we hold dear and want our children to consider modelling. Importantly, we need to consider and scrutinize the values actively and passively modelled by the world at large. We need to initiate discussion with our children about that world to better help them understand it and develop discernment. If that dialogue is established early enough, it will continue in the difficult years of adolescence. That doesn’t mean adolescents will accept or adopt their parents’ perspective, but a childhood of conditioned response means that perspective is taken under consideration by teens even though the immediate response could appear to reject it.
Related to the journey to independence is the strong genetic drive to belong. In order to belong, tweens and teens need to be in step with the day's culture and so they look to leaders in that culture. That culture is driven by the entertainment industry, including magazines.
As adolescents grow up, they often try on different role models just as they try on different styles of clothing and experiment with fashion styles. They’ll walk a mile or two wearing that role and make decisions about its suitability for them. They look for what roles fit comfortably into their lives, what helps them fit in and be liked. All the time, adolescents observe and gauge the reactions it brings. If it brings unwanted reactions or doesn’t achieve what they seek, they change because being liked and accepted is part of belonging. Importantly, girls change role models and adapt their behaviour as they grow into womanhood and evolve. If you are a teen music, film or television star, your evolution is reported as a series of mistakes rather than role play experimentation. Those mistakes may result in notoriety and an unhealthy cycle of behaviour that interferes with real growth.
Tweens and teens are highly impressionable. They are vulnerable to the culture of the day. Those years are a time when they experience everything on a much higher emotional level – ask any mother if this is not so. As adults, we need to be situationally aware of that culture and its embedded messages.
We appear to live in an era that is intolerant of diversity among women, an era where being sexy and being a particular size and shape and having a youthful appearance is more important than anything else. An era where real women are airbrushed, photo shopped, and manufactured to represent a commercial image that denies the reality and diversity of womankind. An era where material culture is promoted and sold directly and indirectly. In the entertainment and other image preoccupied industries, it doesn’t seem to matter that cosmetic chemical and surgical intervention to halt the aging process makes people a parody of youth rather than youthful. The embedded messages to tweens and teens is one that devalues aging and reduces a person’s value to how well the person fulfills the stereotype – a narrow external image that is driven by commercial motivation and that reduces women to objects. Objectification supports a culture of misogyny, sexual harassment, bullying, and violence in the workplace and in public. Given the denial of female diversity and the rising trend to objectification, it isn't surprising depression for tweens and teens is on the rise.
In order to counter this, we need to see and hear about strong, confident and inspirational real women from all walks of life regardless of whether or not they fit the stereotype. We need to challenge and discuss with our children the images being sold to us on a daily basis. We should speak up and protest against objectification of women and unrealistic portrayals of them and instead reinforce the value of diversity as well as a person’s talents, traits, qualities, and achievements. Longevity is a gift not a curse and should be celebrated. As part of that celebration, we should talk about and celebrate the diverse roles that women have played in history including how they have contributed to shaping the world.
Images of women sold in magazines and shown on television have a huge impact on the target audience, tween and teens especially so, moreso than a pop diva or pop dio (the male equivalent of diva). While the audience and written content of magazines may differ, there is an alarming similarity in the images selected to represent women. Those images box women into a narrow category (beauty and desirability being ranked as important) with little attention to any woman's intelligence, talents, inner qualities, admirable traits, achievements, or how she positively contributes to society. The focus is on material culture instead, and women are repeatedly told that their personal fit is a simple matter of purchase.
Our bodies are merely the vehicle in which we travel though life. The body does not represent the sum total of any woman's value. It is important that women of all ages have this reinforced to them especially by magazines and shows that purport to be for women and run by women. As a society, we need to see and hear about more women who are content to be their age at every stage and valued because they are so.
Increasingly, images of women in magazines and on television represent myths and propaganda that shape our culture, influence attitudes toward women, and alter what we as a society accept and value.Television shows do the same thing. For instance, there are lots of action TV series and movies that have tiny women in high heels with martial arts skills giving as much violence as they get. Such shows mislead and potentially put young women in danger because they are misled into thinking they could defend themselves or even overpower a stronger man. The men’s world boxing championships have weight divisions for a very good reason. A champion lightweight boxer cannot overpower a heavyweight. By showing women in such violent situations, the shows are shifting our view on what is acceptable. It could be seen as a covert way of condoning violence against women. It covertly undermines the white ribbon campaign whose slogan is Say No! to violence against women.
As a society we need to challenge misrepresentations of what is heroic in women and encourage girls to look outside the box for heroines. Heroic women are strong women. I don’t mean physically strong (although some women are) but strong as in interesting and complex. Strong as in resilient and able to face adversity with courage.Strong women have a depth of conviction that is never allowed to be undermined by any romantic involvement. Love and romance in the real world is very different from the romance genre. Strong women enjoy love on their own terms and actively avoid being treated as objects and discarded due to an expiry of a use-by-date. Truly strong women have the ability to act independently, to make their own wise, well-considered choices despite the pressure put upon them to do otherwise, and to think through to consequences and make decisions with their own good and the welfare of others in mind. Such women draw affection, love, and importantly respect.
As a society we need to encourage story tellers, journalists, the media, and workplaces to value diversity, and portray and represent the beauty, strength and diversity of womankind in all of its forms. My novels do this.
Consider also reading http://www.christinemknight.com.au/poetry-2/a-model-for-the-modern-woman
The lyrics 'Take It Off' also deal with this issue. http://www.christinemknight.com.au/author-christine-m-knights-blog/take-it-off-a-song-from-song-bird
'Take It Off' features in 'Song Bird' and is sung by two fictional characters - singing sensation Nikki Mills and international rock star, Rick Brody. 'Song Bird' is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, other online sellers, and many bookstores in the USA.
If you wish to comment, please send me your comment through the contact page. I've had to close my blog for direct comments because of spam.Note to international readers. An Australian, I use the British spelling system.
Monday, April 22, 2013
In response to many requests via my website here is the long awaited discussion of The Shearing. I've included the poem first for ease of reference.
The poem shows the connections between people and the complex nature of place: physical, social, generational, and cultural. The poem portrays the ways in which individuals live and interact in a specific social context.
Old men -
open necked white shirts,
long sleeves rolled to the elbows,
black leather shoes -
On the wooden barber’s bench.
Reticent men from another world
Witness to the shearing of a new generation.
The father -
long hair an echo of his generation's rebellion,
coloured T-shirt declaring his fealty,
faded, downtrodden jeans,
shabby sneakers -
Clashes with his son -
fashion dictated jeans and footwear
Forms the centre of the debate,
The son reclaiming
The razored induction into manhood.
Old men ruminate on the ritual,
The irony of fashion,
The source of strength ….
Knowing why one battles and the conviction it is right to do so.
When I wrote The Shearing, I had Tom Roberts' painting Shearing The Rams in mind. His 1890 painting depicted Aussie men from his time: strong, rugged, bearded, iconically masculine. Roberts' painting and the men in it belonged to a time of social change. When I wrote The Shearing in 1998, I was interested in portraying Aussie men who also belonged to a time of social change albeit from a different place and time. The poem focuses on the way distinctly visual features of each generation gives insight into them.
Unlike in Roberts' painting, the 'shearer' is not in view. The' ram' is implied and has a triple metaphoric reference to the three generations of men gathered in the barber shop. The Shearing explores the ways the men belong, perceptions of strength and weakness, generational conflict as a rite of passage into manhood, and the cyclical nature of life.
The first thing to note about The Shearing is the form of the poem. The poem's narrative is set out simply on the left hand side of the page - distinctly visual. The description of each generation is set out on the right hand side and aligned. I did this to draw connections between the way dress reflects the attitudes and values of each generation. In appearance each generation differs, but the function of dress and the way it provides insight into the person as a representative of their generation remains the same. By aligning the sets of description for each generation, I wanted to focus the reader on the generational positions, identifying what was shared as well as how they differed.
Form and content are tightly meshed in The Shearing. The first and last stanzas focus on the old men, their observations, their reaction to the conflict before them, and the increasing sense of closeness and bonding between them as they observe the scene. They are united through a common experience: past and present. That bond is explicitly stated in
'Old men ...
On the wooden barber’s bench.
Reticent men from another world
Witness to the shearing of a new generation.'
The old men are aligned literally and visually as they sit in a row on the wooden bench in the barber shop (physical place). They are also aligned or allied by a common perspective within the context of the poem's narrative (social and generational place). Their perspective encompasses knowledge gained from life experiences including generational conflicts such as arguments over hair length and dress styles. They are familiar with the scene being played out before them by the father and son. They have been sons once, and perhaps fathers.
The old men are also aligned in that they belong to a distinct period in history, are a common age, and have congregated together at a specific time and place. The barber shop is part of their world; it is a masculine place. It is a place where men come together to share as well as be shaved and shorn, even when their hair is thinning.
The old men are also aligned in their dress and attitude about how a person should look when he goes into town:
open necked white shirts,
long sleeves rolled to the elbows,
black leather shoes'
The 'open necked white shirts' and 'long sleeves rolled to the elbows' suggests an informality about their attire. The 'white shirts, grey trousers,' and 'black leather shoes' suggest a sense of occasion and a sense of pride in appearance. Their clothing shows the character of the people and the culture of their generation. There is nothing shoddy or slovenly or disrespectful in the way they dress. White is often associated with the essence of being clean.
Reticent implies a reluctance to speak freely about particular matters and has connotations of being reserved and tight lipped; they are men of few words. There is a sense of unspoken communication between these old men and a quiet camaraderie. The old men are survivors of harder times. Without stating it, the historical past is implied in 'battles': wars, depression, personal crises, losses, and wins.
Through word choice and arrangement, I wanted to create a subtle rhythm and a gentle lyricism that mirrored these old men. The rhythm of the first stanza is interrupted by the description, the broken rhythm of which was meant to suggest the way the old men move - their gait is made up of steps of varied length and rate of frequency.
The old men appear to be passive observers of the argument between father and son and secondary characters. The old men are, however, central to the poem's intent - observation and comment on generational conflict and the cyclic nature of life as well as reflection on the source of strength. It is for this reason that the poem opens and ends on stanzas about the old men.
The old men see the conflict playing out before them in stanza 2 as a ritual. There is also an appreciation of the irony in this situation where father and son roles appear subverted (overturned). The father's long hair is associated with rebellion and the son's appearance is associated with a return to old values, at least in hair length. Of course, the son is rebelling against the father while the father is arguing with the son to conform to the father's standards (symbolised by hair length). The subversion of roles is also reflected in the duality of the father's roles, past and present. The father was a son once and argued for a different outcome than his son but for the same reason. Related to the overall situational irony, I wanted to convey a sense of quiet humour. It is implied that the old men appreciate both perspectives, having 'been there and done that before'.
The middle stanza deals with the narrative conflict around which the poem is built. Father and son clash literally in appearance, through implied values, and in argument. I chose 'clash' to describe the generational conflict as it suggests a close physical fight. 'Clash' also has connotations of noisy and fierce opposition as well as an intensity of action - a sense of the opposing forces throwing all their weight into the conflict - a reflection of their alienation. At the time of writing, I imagined the head-on clash of rams when they fight for dominance.
The father's appearance is 'an echo of his generation's rebellion' against the fashion of previous generations as well as their values. As such, the father is representative of his generation. There is an historical reference here to the thirty years or so after the 1960s. Visually, he sharply contrasts with the old men. His 'downtrodden jeans' and 'shabby sneakers' refer to subversion of what had been previously fashionable as well as to what was valued by the old men, an orderly well-kept appearance. The father's appearance lacks any sense of occasion.
It is ironic that the subversion of what was valued in dress trends is in itself a reflection of conformity to the fashion of that time. The father's 'T-shirt declaring his fealty' refers to his stated allegiance, an allegiance that is dictated by popular culture. 'Fealty' is strongly linked to the sworn loyalties of the feudal system in the medieval period. The linked juxtaposition of the T-shirt (modern times) and fealty (middle ages) ironically reinforce subservience rather than 'rebellion'. There is also the play of words on the father being in his middle age.
Through contrast, the shared values of the father and son are established. They are influenced by the fashion of their respective time, and they reject/rebel against what was valued by an older generation. They differ in that the son's 'logoed T-shirt' no longer signals allegiance to anything other than adherence to brand names in fashion. His jeans and footwear are 'dictated by fashion' rather than a matter of choice. The father doesn't care about fashionable appearance (his dress is outdated) whereas his son is a slave to it.
I've reversed the order of detail in the descriptions of the father and son to reinforce their differences. The reader scans the father from head to foot whereas the son is scanned in reverse ending on his face. Both descriptions, however, end simply in two words.
In word choice and arrangement in the second stanza, I wanted to achieve a less lyrical, blunt, and more abrupt sound to mirror the poem's narrative action where father and son clash and argue.
The argument centres on 'Samson’s pride' and is 'the centre of the debate'. The biblical allusion to 'Samson's pride' establishes the argument is grounded in an ancient conflict and clearly ongoing (a sense of historical place). 'Samson's pride' has a double reference. First to his hair which was identified as his source of strength. Second to his eventual weakness. In the biblical story, his physical strength meant that others could not hold him to account for his behaviours. He became very proud and with that self-centred. He disrespected authority and did not honour his parents. Samson's story, like the narrative element in The Shearing, is about contrasting definitions of strength and weakness, vulnerability to the dictates of others, and a parental desire to impose standards on the next generation.
The son reclaims the 'razored induction into manhood.' This is a reference not only to the hair length being shortened but to having a razor clean shaven neck and to the rituals associated with becoming a man. The generational argument is identified as a rite of passage with an allusion to the cutting razored inductions in other cultures. If there is pain in this induction process, it comes from the generational clash rather than suffering razor cuts to the skin. As part of that rite of passage, the old men are 'witness to the shearing of a new generation', generation of men being implied.
Stanzas 2 and 3 provide contrast in views about the source of strength as well as in rhythm patterns and lyricism. Stanzas 1 & 3 have a similar rhythm and lyricism.
For the father and son in stanza 2, strength is a matter of whose will is stronger and whose perspective will hold. For the old men in stanza 3, the source of strength is something to reflect on and discuss; there isn't an obvious or glib answer.
'Old men ruminate on the ritual.
'The irony of fashion,
The source of strength ….
Knowing why one battles and the conviction it is right to do so.'
Ruminate means to think in a contemplative manner. A slowness is associated with that process. In its literal sense, ruminate is usually associated with cows and chewing the cud (food that has been previously swallowed and regurgitated). Analogously, ruminate in this poem means that the old men turn over and reassess past perspectives about the ritual. That slow consideration is contrasted against the heated argument in stanza 2 where father and son clash.
Ritual describes an act that is part of a ceremony, the codes that govern action and interaction are formally and clearly established. Depending on its use, the word can be neutral, approving, or ambiguous in its connotations. If the behaviour is appropriate to the situation, the word is neutral. Within the context of this stanza, the ritual refers to the generational conflict played out between father and son.
Within the context of this stanza, the ruminating process about the ritual involves some sharing of the thought process through dialogue after the father and son have departed, some reflection, and subsequent insight. That insight is complex.
The old men recognise the irony implicit in fashion as well as the qualities in the son, his strength, when he asserts his independence as a rite of passage to manhood and resists his father's fashion imprint.
'Fashion' as used in the third stanza has multiple meanings and reflects contradictory states/forces. First, 'fashion' is strongly linked to clothing and behaviour patterns. As such it has connotations of conformity and fitting into a desirable and acceptable mould. Second, 'fashion' refers to the influence of mass marketing and the conditioning of a person. The word focuses the reader on the malleable nature of people and their susceptibility to herd influences such as fashion in order to belong. The person is not strong in the sense of being resistant to external forces but is malleable, able to be manipulated. Contrarily and related to this, the reader is focused on the strength of the impulse to visually fit in and belong to a generation through appearance and mirroring what is valued. Third, fashion also refers to the generic way in which young men assert their manhood and in doing so, resist or no longer conform to parental directions. The key insight of the poem centres on the source of strength and 'Knowing why one battles and the conviction it is right to do so.' Battle is used metaphorically and refers to a specific fight as part of a larger war. The old men evaluate the nature of combat and see the link to values: 'the conviction it is right to do so'.
The use of ellipse or three dots in the second last line after 'strength' indicates a pause in the discussion between the old men, a trailing off into silence and reflection before they come to an answer. I've also used the pause as a way of emphasising their conclusion:
'The source of strength ….
Knowing why one battles and the conviction it is right to do so.'
Finally, I enjoy writing poetry because it is a highly condensed form of expression where a lot can be said in a few words. I also enjoy the related challenge. I hope you enjoyed my poem and found this discussion of it to be interesting. I wrote this poem in the late 1990s when I was in Kiama, NSW.
Consider buying Belonging: A Related Text Companion to 'In and Out of Step' through this website or from Amazon.
©Christine M Knight