What Women Really Think
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 5:13 PM
A woman participates in a 2012 march for the decriminalization of abortion in San Salvador
Photo by Jose CABEZAS/AFP/GettyImages
Proponents of legal abortion could not make up a more heartbreaking scenario to prove their point. Beatriz (not her real name) is 22 years old with a one-year-old son. She has both lupus and kidney failure.
She is also 23 weeks pregnant with a non-viable fetus. The fetus is anencephalic, which means that if the pregnancy comes to term, the baby will be born with half a brain.
Beatriz’s doctors have advised her to get an abortion because the pregnancy is interfering with her chances of treatment and, ultimately, survival. Problem is, Beatriz lives in El Salvador, where abortion has been illegal since 1998. If she goes ahead with an abortion, both she and her provider will be subject to criminal sanctions, which may include prison terms of up to 10 years. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 46 Salvadoran women have already been charged with illegal abortions; of those convicted, three are serving prison sentences.
As moving as this predicament is, it has not swayed the Catholic Church. José Luis Escobar, Archbishop of San Salvador said, referring to Beatriz potentially getting an abortion, “it’s incredible, it’s inhuman, it’s against nature.” He added, “Sure, she [Beatriz] has health problems, but she’s not in grave danger of death. Since we need to consider both lives we need to ask, whose life is in greater danger. We think that the fetus is in greater danger.” It should be noted that most anencephalic fetuses die in utero before coming to term. If an anencephalic fetus does make it to term, it is not likely to survive the first few days after birth.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both weighed in on the case, demanding that the Salvadoran government exempt Beatriz from the abortion prohibition. So has the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the U.N. body overseeing human rights violations in Latin America.
Beatriz first requested an abortion in March. In April, her lawyers appealed to the country’s highest court asking that Beatriz receive a therapeutic abortion. (A therapeutic abortion exception has never been approved since the ban was put in place.) The Supreme Court accepted the case and convened to hear it this week. But yesterday, instead of resolving the issue, the Salvadoran high court kicked the can down the road. They said they needed an additional 15 days to review the suit.
Beatriz will enter the third trimester of her pregnancy in two weeks. Even if the Court issues a positive decision, they are putting her health and life in greater danger: the more advanced a pregnancy, the riskier the abortion procedure. With each day that goes by, Beatriz’s pregnancy is progressing and the case for legal abortion is strengthening. It remains to be seen if the Supreme Court of El Salvador is listening.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 4:35 PM
Homecomings can be an emotional experience for everyone involved
Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Last night at the Tampa Bay Rays stadium, 9 year-old Alayna Adams, whose father has been deployed in Afghanistan for the past year, threw out the first pitch only to discover the man in the catcher’s mask was actually her father, Lt. Col. Will Adams. I’m still wiping my eyes at the sight of this long-legged sprite rushing in joy and shock to his arms. But I wish I’d never seen the video, and that the people in the stadium had not been allowed to be voyeurs. Though I know these reunions are staged for the best motives, a parent’s return should not come as a shock to the kids.
The children of our military personnel bear a heavy burden. They deal with the long absences of a beloved parent. They endure the gnawing fear that one day there will be a surprise—a stranger in uniform walking up the front steps to deliver awful news. A parent serving in the military is not the same as a parent on an extended business trip. Even the expected return of a military parent who may have been gone for a year can be overwhelming. It seems unwise to surprise these children as if springing a trip to Disneyland on them. This post explains that an unexpected return can have all sorts of negative ripple effects, from encouraging a child’s belief in the power of his or her own magical thinking, to causing pain for kids whose parents are not scheduled to come home (or who may never return), to undermining the sense that school is a stable, reliable place.
The surprise return has become such a staple that it’s even spawned two reality show series, Lifetime’s Coming Home and TLC’s Surprise Homecoming. As a Washington Post story critical of these reunions points out, both shows were done in cooperation with the military. ABC’s Good Morning America shows reunion clips (some from homecomings they've helped arrange) to give viewers a quick fix of warmed hearts and jerked tears. A site devoted to surprise returns offers a “best of” reel, presumably using a Richter scale-type measurement of amazement and weeping. The surprises can be elaborate—Mom emerging from a giant gift box at a school assembly, Dad whipping off his Darth Vader costume. But military homecomings are complicated emotional events, especially for children, and turning them into public spectacles in front of classmates or strangers can add to the stress.
I’ve only been able to watch a few of these videos. I’ve found myself turning away from the rawness of the emotion. I feel like an intruder seeing the children’s overwhelming relief, their uncontrollable sobbing. Our Commander in Chief has done such a good job as a father keeping his children out of the public eye and giving them the privacy they need. I wish this administration would encourage the military commanders to put out word that the children of returning service members deserve to reconnect in a safe, private space.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 4:03 PM
Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images
Yesterday, Lenore Skenazy wrote this article about why it's important to take young children outside and then leave them unsupervised.
The idea is that at around 10 a.m. parents take their kids to ... their local park. And then they leave them there ...
If they're at least seven or eight years old, why NOT leave them there with the other kids gathering? It could be their first chance to finally do that thing we did as kids without thinking twice: Play.
As the author of a new book about my experience as a dad, I'd like to counter Skenazy's argument by saying to you other parents there: Please, don't leave your stupid kid alone at the park.
First of all, what kind of park are we talking about? There are different kinds of parks, you know. If you live in a gated community in Idaho and there's a small playground at the end of your cul-de-sac, that's a wee bit different than dropping off your kid at an Upper West Side kiddie war zone. There are THOUSANDS of children at those parks, all jostling for sandbox time and plugging up the swirly slide. No responsible human being just leaves a first grader at this kind of park for hours at a time. That's lunacy.
More important, leaving your stupid kid at the park means I'm the one who ends up having to deal with him when he decides to put someone else's dog in the baby swing. Where are you, Miss Enlightened? Who's gonna make this little idiot come correct? If you want a nanny, pay me. There are kids of all ages at these parks. Those of us with younger kids HAVE to watch over them. And when your stupid kid steps on their head to commandeer the monkey bars, what then? Two seven-year-olds should be able to resolve their own conflicts on a playground. But an unsupervised tussle between your seven-year-old and a two-year-old ends up with my kid being thrown over a railing. You, Miss Hippy Dippy, should at least be NEARBY, so that I can grab you and tell you that your child won't stop piledriving babies into the mulch. You can't just go have lunch at Panera and expect anyone to congratulate you for it.
I agree with Skenazy that kids that age should be left alone to play and build their imaginary princess forts and all that. But her solution to just abandon a seven-year-old for a day isn't the right one. Many Americans live in neighborhoods where the infrastructure inherently presents more hazards for a child playing alone. Maybe I want my kid to bike to the park, only there are no sidewalks to get there. Maybe they have to traverse a four-lane highway and cross a Wal Mart parking lot to get there. The reason too many kids stay indoors these days is because many exurban areas are set up in a way that actively encourages it. If you live on a farm, you can let your kids out the door in the morning and then go ring the dinner bell for them to come in at 5pm. We do not all live on farms.
A seven-year-old isn't old enough to bike down to some park alone. A ten-year-old? Fine. I get that. Ten-year-olds are big and strong and annoying. But a younger child should have unsupervised play in a less crowded, less hazardous area: a backyard, a basement, a school recess. You have to have some measure of common sense about what kind of environment you're leaving your kid in. And you have to be a good judge of what the right age is for fully unsupervised play in the environment you're dealing with. When I was twelve, I used to bike down a railroad track to town to go rent video games and steal Playboys. Twelve is a good age for that sort of thing. I would not suggest an eight-year-old do that. He wouldn't appreciate the Playboy as much anyway.
There is definitely an obesity crisis in America right now, and shutting in your kids doesn't help matters much. But Skenazy's "just leave them!" proposal is an airy fairy idea that doesn't take into account where you live and how your community is set up. Many of us CAN'T leave kids to play on their own, and there are legitimate reasons why. Those are the deeper issues that need fixing. Kids need better places to play than what they have now. You are not kickstarting a revolution by adding the extra twist of you being twenty miles away.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 3:32 PM
Whenever a new acquaintance learns that I report on porn sets, I end up fielding a similar line of questioning about What It’s Like. Are the performers trapped? Are they hurt? Coerced? On drugs? Do they have no other options? Are they dumb?
Most of those questions have easy answers—it's usually “no”—but it’s difficult to communicate the full lives and experiences of a diverse group of people working in an industry steeped in public fascination and shame. Now, I can tell them to buy a ticket to I Love Your Work, a new online documentary that follows the lives of nine women over ten days of shooting a lesbian porn film in New York City in 2010. Jonathan Harris, 33, followed these women from wake to sleep, capturing ten-second video clips every five minutes of whatever they happened to be doing—taking the subway, sharing their wedding photos, putting on their shoes, discussing their tattoos, debating feminism, talking about frogs, walking in the park, undressing for the camera. Then, he compiled the footage into a six-hour interactive experience, and offered it up to viewers for $10 for a 24 window of access. (You can watch the trailer here). I talked to Harris, 33, about his experience making the documentary.
Slate: You followed nine women working on the set of a lesbian porn film. Why did you choose to focus on this particular set of people?
Jonathan Harris: I think porn plays a complicated role in many of our lives. Most men (and many women) watch porn, but very few admit it. It is simultaneously ubiquitous and hidden. For most of us, porn is a series of fantasies, engineered to make us feel aroused, always slightly out of reach, and usually experienced in private. I wanted to understand the realities of the people who produce those fantasies. I wondered what their fantasies would be like. I wondered what it was like for them to be objects of anonymous desire, and, in turn, what they desired.
Slate: The porn industry is subject to endless public debate, but we rarely get a look at the full lives of the people who make it. Did the project change any of your own preconceptions about porn?
Harris: Definitely. When I see porn now, I see real people performing. I think about their lives, what they had for breakfast, what their apartment might look like, where they get their groceries. The power of pornographic fantasies is diminished for me now, because I understand the role of makeup and lighting and camera angles to convey a certain image that usually has very little to do with reality. And I think this is ultimately a really humanizing thing to realize. It makes me feel better about my own body, and about the bodies of other people in my life. I can still appreciate the fantasies, but they have less control over me now.
Slate: You filmed these women for ten seconds every five minutes. Did anything happen in all of those 4 minutes and 50 second gaps you wished you'd been able to catch on tape?
Harris: I filmed at least 10 seconds of video every five minutes, and sometimes more. In the editing process, I selected the best—the most interesting, sensible, continuous, or beautiful—10 seconds of contiguous video from that five minutes of real-world time, and that's what's in the final piece. The whole idea of the project was not to show too much—to keep the tantalizing feeling of porn that is constantly just out of reach. It's like a strip tease, or a peep show, or a teaser, but in this case, the teaser is for everyday life.
Slate: The interactivity of your project reflects how we consume porn on the internet—jumping from clip to clip, catching glimpses of video in between mundane email replies and, sometimes, visits to performers' own blogs. How has the internet changed the way that we consume porn, and view it on a cultural level?
Harris: The Internet's clearly made porn more accessible, so a much higher percentage of the population experiences it now than in, say, the 1990s, when you had to pirate some sketchy VHS video tape, or walk into a seedy magazine shop and hand over your money to get a pornographic magazine. The stakes are much lower now. Porn is something you can watch instantly, anonymously, secretly, and without spending money. It's bright and easy. And because of this, I think it's starting to make sex in general more normalized. I see the American Puritan ethic as beginning to recede a little, and people are opening up to each other about their sexual desires. You see this pretty clearly in something like the 50 Shades of Gray phenomenon, which probably wouldn't have happened if porn hadn't already set the stage. The very fluidity of how we consume porn now— like you say, between checking emails— has made sexuality a more integral part of life. It's no longer something that has to be buried away and done in the dark. People can claim what they like and talk about it openly. I think the prevalence of porn has a lot to do with this shift, although of course not everyone's there yet.
Slate: Nobody pays for porn anymore. Why pay for a $10 for a ticket to I Love Your Work?
Harris: I Love Your Work is not really porn. … it's a project about how people live their everyday lives. It's just as much about youth, fame, gender, fear, vulnerability, honesty, and privacy as it is about porn and sex. Most of all, it's a rare chance to experience a day in the life of nine different human beings, moment to moment, unfiltered and unedited. It's not like reality TV, where there's some editor with an agenda, manipulating the footage for a certain effect. In I Love Your Work, the editing is totally neutral—entirely determined by the time constraints—and this neutrality gives a feeling of raw honesty and truthfulness.
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 12:53 PM
Boys building the competitive spirit
Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images
When I was doing research for a piece about the uber-successful Emanuel Brothers and what their parents did to encourage them to be so competitive, I ended up talking to Ashley Merryman, the co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing. According to Merryman and her co-author Po Bronson, part of what might have made the Emanuel brothers so ambitious from childhood is that they were all boys, and that there were three of them. Girls tend to play in pairs, while boys arrange themselves in groups, and group play breeds the competitive spirit. So what’s behind this, and why does playing in groups make boys more aggressive?
Harvard evolutionary biologist Joyce Benenson speculates that the instinct for men to align themselves in groups goes way back in human history. Men hunted in groups, and so they had to learn to get along quickly in a bunch, and this quality was supposedly bred into men through natural selection (maybe you got picked off by a lion if you didn’t bond with the group). Whether or not you buy this, Merryman and Bronson cite a 2004 study from Benenson that shows male infants as young as six months prefer photographs of groups to photographs of pairs or individuals. Girl babies show no preference.
In Benenson’s studies of older children, the differences are starker, Merryman explained to me over the phone. “In observed lab studies of six- to eight-year-old boys, they spent 70 to 80 percent of their time playing in groups,” while girls spend less than 20 percent of their time in groups. Boys are so desperate to arrange themselves in groups that “when [researchers] put a pair of boys in a room and forced them to talk to each other, they ended up talking about what it would be like to have a group of boys there.” By contrast, “Girls in a group will look at each other and try to find a single friend.” This behavior extends all the way up to the boardroom.
So why does it matter? Because men’s experience in groups may be why they not only compete more as adults, but why they’re also less concerned about the outcome of the competition, Merryman and Bronson argue in Top Dog:
“Groups are rarely a collection of true equals. It’s expected that, within a group, people will have different experiences, abilities, resources. That’s often the group’s greatest strength. Therefore, as long as everyone has signed on to the group’s larger purpose, its members don’t need to conform in other ways...Occasional challenges to group hierarchy can be welcomed, because they force everyone to improve over time.”
Furthermore, the natural communication style of groups is assertiveness—you need to pipe up to be heard over the din of several. Not so with dyads. The natural communication style of pairs is “a mutual exchange of feelings,” Merryman and Bronson say. “In a conversation between two people, even a mild difference of opinion can be perceived as a threat.” Because women are socialized to have this self-deprecating style of exchange from their first interactions, it’s no wonder they have trouble making themselves heard in the office.
Essentialist takes on how children behave are tricky, and it’s possible that kids follow a more fluid set of rules than the researchers suggest. Still, after reading Top Dog, I want to stick my daughter in soccer as soon as she can stand upright, so that she’ll get used to speaking up in a group. If she’s not athletically inclined, it will be debate team all the way.
Posted Thursday, May 16, 2013, at 5:39 PM
Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Of all the changes J.J. Abrams made to the Star Trek universe when he re-launched it in 2009, one of the sharpest was the decision to make half-human, half-Vulcan Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) not just colleagues, but a couple with great sexual chemistry and some crackling dialogue.
They bickered over Uhura's first assignment after her graduation from Starfleet Academy. Spock, Uhura’s teacher as well as her boyfriend, had sent her to the U.S.S. Farragut "to avoid the appearance of favoritism," and Uhura protested in a scene that let her be both sexy and professionally ambitious. "Did I not, on multiple occasions, demonstrate an exceptional aural sensitivity, and I quote, 'an unparalleled ability to identify sonic anomalies in subspace transmissions tests?'" Uhura snapped (and punned) at Spock. And the tenderness of their relationship brought out the human side in Spock, particularly after he saw his home planet of Vulcan destroyed by a terrorist. "What do you need?" Uhura asked Spock, kissing him tenderly after the attack. "I need everyone to continue performing admirably," Spock told her, broken up. They were a partnership of equals.
But in Star Trek Into Darkness, this refreshingly grown-up relationship (at least by the standards of blockbusters) has taken a back seat to the bromance between Spock and James T. Kirk (Chris Pine). Kirk jumps between the two on every occasion. "Are you two fighting? Oh my God, what is that even like?" he asks eagerly. And when they finally bring their grievances into the open air, Kirk's right there in a shuttle with them, like a roommate who just can't help butting in.
Even when Uhura gets to do actual work in Star Trek Into Darkness, the movie manages to bollix up her role. When the crew gets stuck on the Klingon homeworld of Kronos, Uhura reminds Kirk, "You brought me here because I speak Klingon. Then let me speak Klingon." But instead of allowing her to achieve victory through diplomacy, the movie first lets a long shot linger on her posterior while she talks to a group of Klingon warriors, then turns her into a damsel in distress who needs to be rescued by her male crewmates. At the movie's climax, Uhura fires a bunch of shots at the movie's primary villain, but it's her boyfriend who ultimately puts the bad guy down, fueled by his anger at—you guessed it—the man's treatment of Kirk.
There's nothing wrong with treating friendship like it's an important stake in an action movie, and the relationship between Kirk and Spock has always been critical to Star Trek. But it would be nice if Into Darkness acknowledged, as Iron Man 3 did this spring, that a man's girlfriend can be as good a colleague and partner in combat as his bros.
Posted Thursday, May 16, 2013, at 4:40 PM
Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images
The season finale of FOX’s The Mindy Project aired on Tuesday, and it was a deeply emotional episode for me. The primary emotion I am feeling is relief. After following Mindy Kaling's impressive writing and acting at NBC's The Office, I’ve spent the 2012-2013 television season desperately trying to like The Mindy Project. I have failed. How did one of the most subversive figures on network television end up making such a bad show?
In a TV landscape dominated by white men, Kaling is the rare woman of color to create, write, and star (as New York obgyn Dr. Mindy Lahiri) in her own network sitcom. White men fill a unique role on Kaling’s show, too—they appear in the form of Mindy’s constantly refreshing stream of man candy, who Mindy beds (and usually, discards) at breakneck speed. This week, Rachel Sklar called the show “subversive and sexy” for its depiction of a single woman who “unapologetically hooks up with a parade of adorable guys” with none of the sexual shaming or cloying melodrama that accompanies most depictions of single ladies on television. And as Nisha Chittal recently told Jezebel, “it's really interesting that Mindy Lahiri dates white men,” which she sees as a “conscious decision to refute the stereotype that South Asians only date other South Asians.”
Theoretically, The Mindy Project’s take on hooking up does sound radical. If only it weren’t so boring in practice. On the Mindy Project, men come and men go, but they never go anywhere interesting. Take the guest appearances of the Meyers brothers: In the show’s second episode, Mindy meets-cute with a charming architect played by Seth Meyers. The pair plan a date, but we don’t see it; in fact, we never see Seth, or hear about him, ever again. Later in the season, Mindy flirts at a bar with another charming guy played by Seth’s brother, Josh Meyers, who turns out to be a prostitute. He, too, gets one episode, then disappears. With the right comedic tone, Mindy’s quick turnover of love interests could play out like a fun–or even dark—inversion of rom-com tropes: No, Mindy doesn’t end up marrying the handsome architect after a series of clutzy romantic blunders; she unwittingly falls into a Pretty Woman situation with a guy who looks eerily similar, and that doesn’t work out like the movies, either. But ironies like those aren’t given any space for exploration on the show. Every time Mindy presses the reset button on a new dude, her thin character development resets, too.
It’s potentially subversive that Mindy doesn’t get too emotionally invested in her sex partners. The problem is that we don’t get invested in Mindy herself, either. Occasionally, The Mindy Project will make a bid to insert some emotional heft into Mindy’s romantic life, but these moments also feel like stunts as opposed to stories. For instance, the show clumsily hints at a brewing attraction between Mindy and her coworker, Dr. Danny Castellano, by arranging for them to inadvertently touch hands on a bumpy plane ride.
Maybe the problem is Mindy’s inability to dig deeper inside herself. When one of Mindy’s past partners unexpectedly resurfaces on her birthday with a thoughtful gift, Mindy tells him that after their hook-up failed to materialize into a relationship, she “cried every night.” But we never actually saw Mindy cry. Is she even capable of it? The attempt to bolster Mindy’s unapologetic hook-ups with these melodramatic touches doesn’t feel sexy and transgressive—it feels disjointed, even oddly sociopathic. Even Mindy’s friends and coworkers feel similarly disposable and largely stereotypical. When Mindy’s initial married-with-kids BFF proved boring, writers threw in a new, single (also boring) BFF to pick up confidante duties. The show’s first season also traded in a woman in a wheelchair whose main shtick is acting inappropriately sexual, and a black nurse who communicates largely through singing.
This isn’t Louie, where Louis CK’s constant romantic interactions form the absurd set pieces for his existential anxiety. It’s not 30 Rock, where stereotypes are pushed to absurd limits for comedic effect. The Mindy Project is a potentially subversive take on modern love, shoehorned into the outdated trappings of a run-of-the-mill wacky workplace comedy. It is bad. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. At the end of the season finale, Mindy articulates her character’s main romantic tension: “No guy has ever wanted to commit to me before, because I work too much, I’m kind of selfish, I’ve never voted, and usually a guy figures that out, and then they leave,” she says. Then, she rushes to the hospital, unzips her party dress, wipes off her lipstick, pulls on her scrubs, and delivers triplets. That was the sexiest moment on the show this season, and it had nothing to do with any random guy.
Posted Thursday, May 16, 2013, at 1:07 PM
Photo by MICHAEL MATHES/AFP/Getty Images
Rep. Michele Bachmann is always happy to spread whatever garbled rightwing conspiracy theory is trending. Her ravings are often a wall of meaningless paranoid noise, better ignored than engaged with. Still, her latest rant, reported by Atlantic Wire, deserves a little attention, because she's inadvertently hurting conservatives in her stampede to paint all Democrats as genocidal hell beasts.
Here's her theory, with each high-level-conspiracy bolded. The House Oversight Committee's hearings on Benghazi spooked the White House so much that they decided to take advantage of "a Friday dump day" (Bachmann's words) to "confess to such a flagrant misuse of politics and power" (World Net Daily's) as the IRS investigation of Tea Party groups. But what really worries Bachmann is that the IRS, which is largely responsible for administration of Obamacare, will use its new-found partisanship to "deny or delay access to health care" for conservatives.
According to WND, Bachmann said, "It now is an entirely reasonable question for the American people to ask: Will Obamacare be so politicized and misused?" In other words, she's running around scaring conservatives by telling them that the IRS will be targeting conservatives and denying them their health care benefits. How they will do this is not explained, but I'm guessing she's implying that the IRS will be monitoring insurance claims now. (They will not. The IRS's only role in Obamacare is to levy a tax on those who don't have health insurance.) Those of us in the reality-based community who have friends and family that have been sucked into the Fox News/Drudge vortex know what this means: More panic-based communications where our loved ones insist they're about to lose their health care coverage and we have to explain patiently that they are going to be just fine. We will try to be patient and not angrily insist that it's ludicrous to claim that legislation that's supposed to get Americans into health insurance plans is actually a secret plot to take away health insurance, but it won't be easy.
I beg of you, right wing pundits and politicians, cut it out. You may not believe your own nonsense, but sadly, your audience does. When you tell them the evil black President is going to take away their health care, they don't just chuckle knowingly and pass along the rumor. No, they often freak out, understandably. Not having health insurance is scary. That's why it was so critical to pass legislation to make sure people have it.
We all know how the game is played at this point: Conservatives invent half-baked conspiracy theories and faux scandals to get all bent out of shape about, in order to rustle up votes they couldn't get with a sober-minded examination of policy differences between the parties. Birds got to fly, fish got to swim, etc. But for the love of Reagan, could you do that without causing your own people to fear for their very lives? These folks give you their time, their money and their votes. The least you can do for them is not cause them to stress out for no good reason.
Posted Thursday, May 16, 2013, at 10:41 AM
"Bye, mom! See you in an hour!"
Photo by YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
This Saturday is the fourth annual "Take Our Children to the Park...and Leave Them There Day."
The idea is that at around 10 a.m. parents take their kids to—as you might expect from the name of this holiday—their local park. And then they leave them there.
Not if the kids are babies, of course. Not even if they're toddlers. But if they're at least seven or eight years old, why NOT leave them there with the other kids gathering? It could be their first chance to finally do that thing we did as kids without thinking twice: Play.
And by "play" I mean: Stand around, get bored, wonder what to do, wish there was an Xbox around, feel hungry, feel a little too hot or cold, feel mad at mom for not organizing something "really" fun, like a trip to Chuck E. Cheese, feel bad all around, realize the other kids are feeling bad too, and then—in desperation—do something.
Start a game of tag. Or basketball. Or fairies versus witches. And suddenly, those bored kids who were desperate to go home don't want to go home at all. They want to KEEP playing— with any luck, for the rest of their childhoods.
Playing is that powerful. It's addictive. It's what children have done since the beginning of time...till about a generation ago, when we decided, as a country, that letting kids go outside on their own is just "too dangerous."
Do you know how many kids play outside on their own these days? One study I read said that in a typical week, the number is down to six percent. That's kids ages nine to 13—the sweet spot for goofing around and, incidentally, becoming independent. But instead of exercising their bodies and minds and ability to organize ANYTHING on their own, including a couple hours of free time, most kids are either supervised in leagues or stuck inside, usually with a screen.
One reason for this lockdown is that parents today are so scared of predators. They believe—or so I've been screamed at—that if Saturday is "announced" as kids-outside day, predators will celebrate by circling the parks in white, windowless vans.
The fact that we are enjoying the lowest crime rate in decades has not gotten through. A Pew Study on gun violence released just the other day said: “Firearm homicide rates in the late 2000s were equal to those not seen since the early 1960s.” That’s right—gun crime is down to the level it was BEFORE COLOR TV.
The Pew study added that most Americans (especially women) believe crime keeps going up, even though the crime rate is now LOWER than when most of today's parents were kids.
What's higher is the number of times you will see the Cleveland kidnapping victims on TV. Desperate for ratings, the media bombard us with the most searing images it can find. And no matter how rare these heart-sickening stories are—the Newtown tragedy, the Marathon bombing—if you see them for weeks and weeks on end every time you look at a screen, it starts feeling as if they're happening all the time. On TV, they are.
But it is actually safer for kids to play than not to play. Play is good for the brain—it makes kids into problem solvers. Play is good for the body—it makes kids less obese. Exposure to dirt builds the immune system. And don't obsess about accidents: More kids go to the hospital from falling out of bed than trees.
So this Saturday, take your kids to the park...and leave them there.
Sunday, they can bike there on their own.
Posted Wednesday, May 15, 2013, at 2:42 PM
Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images
Game of Thrones is one of the most outrageously enjoyable shows on television right now, not least because of its incredible roster of female characters, from medieval Girl Scout Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) to court manipulator Lady Olenna Redwyne (Diana Rigg). But what's incredibly not-fun is how much stupid writing the show has inspired about female television watchers, and what we like or don't like.
The latest attempt to explain Game of Thrones in relation to All Ladies comes courtesy of Thrillist's Renata Sellitti in a piece entitled "Why Girls Hate Game Of Thrones: The reasons she throws shade on your medieval man show." Her arguments include such gems as "We hate gross things. Know what's gross? Screwing your sibling," in reference to the relationship between twins Cersei and Jaime Lannister, girl-trolling like "It’s hard to follow," or nerd-baiting, including "It reminds us of the kids that used to play magic cards in the cafeteria. And people who go to Renaissance festivals." At least Sellitti has the originality to attribute new obnoxious ideas to all women who watch television, though she doesn't reach the heights of originality scaled by the New York Times' Ginia Bellafante, who suggested when the show premiered in 2011 of the incest and prostitution plotlines "that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise."
This kind of treatment of women as if they're narrow, fantasy-averse, or pervy, makes me want to slowly and carefully lower my forehead to my desk repeatedly in imitation of Mad Men's Peggy Olson (to use a Sunday night prestige show reference Bellafante might appreciate). Bellafante may not have ever met "a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed toThe Hobbit first," and Sellitti may believe that "Eating a giant drumstick and drinking out of a goblet is cool, just not every Sunday night for three months straight." But there's something bizarre about the inability to imagine that some women dig stories about swords and sorcery, even to the extent that we'll strap on custom costumes ourselves, not just gather in front of the television on Sunday nights to watch other people wear them.
Did it occur to Sellitti that some of us tune into Game of Thrones precisely because it is like a soap opera, except with a wider range of roles available to women? Or that, for the straight ladies, the show offers up an unusual amount of man candy, particularly in its third season? Maybe we're actually interested in what will happen when Danaerys Targaryen starts liberating slaves and conquering cities. Maybe want to know if Tyrion Lannister can find a way to pay off the Iron Bank of Braavos, or whether Arya Stark will actually get revenge on the people who murdered her friend, killed her father, and brainwashed her sister? Perhaps we're curious about things other than traditional lady business—what Sellitti calls "the romantic crap" in her advice to men to get the women in their lives on board
I'm fine leaving them with their Lorrie Moore volumes and their Mad Men episodes—in point of fact, liking The Hobbit and Game of Thrones doesn't preclude me from reading fiction by women or crushing on Ted Chaough. I just wish they wouldn't get so perturbed by those of their fellow women who like to spend a little time in Westeros.