Thursday, June 28, 2007
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Friday, June 22, 2007
Up until then, in all ages, female fashion was about emphasizing the uniquely female shape. In some ages it was popular to look nearly pregnant (with empire waists and such), in some ages it was popular to emphasize the hips (think 1700s full skirts with hoops protruding over the hips), in some ages it was popular to emphasize the derriere, with a bustle in the back. But it wasn't until the 20s that women started trying to de-emphasize their womanly figure. Hair was chopped off, breasts were bound tightly to appear flat-chested, dresses were shapeless, and big baggy suit-type dresses became popular. Behavior also changed, woman took up publicly drinking (and more importantly getting drunk) and smoking profusely to keep up with the men, and they also started trying to keep up with them in their number of casual sexual encounters. These issues and many more were the topic of my paper, Forsaking Femininity, and it remains a great interest to me. My curiosity was piqued, then, when someone from the ex-CoC board recommended a book about the Victorians and what they had that we have lost, called Simple Social Graces.
Much of this book clarifies some myths that we have about the Victorians that arose largely because of disdain for them, and out of attempts to promote modern ideas about sexuality and more. The author, Linda S. Lichter, explains well how the Victorians were not prudes who all thought sex was dirty and at best a duty, in fact they had such a high regard for it that they kept it where it should be - between husband and wife. I often wondered, as I studied Victorian literature, just how we got the concept that these people were stiff, cold, unfeeling prudes, because the literature I read swelled with beautiful descriptions of transcendental love, and of deep, yet controlled, passion. The "subtle sensuality" is more romantic than any smut widely seen on TV soap operas today. And isn't it the Victorian elaborate cards and meaningful flowers we think of when Valentine's Day comes around? They were certainly not lacking in love just because they thought it proper to control lust.
I've always seen a deep respect and consideration in the detailed traditions of the Victorians, especially in their focus on proper etiquette and treatment of people. Those who cry that such customs are "empty" and "superficial" tend to remind me of those who say the same about Catholic practices. But having come to believe in the truth of the phrase, lex orandi, lex credendi, I tend to think a proper translation applied to the Victorians would be, how we behave is how we believe. When you learn to treat everyone with consideration and respect because of customs and etiquette, it tends to spill over into your actual thought process.
Lichter also explains how much of the etiquette protected women, and was actually very pro-woman, and allowed the woman to often be in charge of the situation. For instance, a man was expected to properly tip his hat or bow when passing a woman he knew on the street, and she was expected to show appreciation, but the man was not to "take advantage" of her polite return gesture by pushing more acquaintance, unless she invited it. It was her choice. Such universal rules helped to level the playing field, to allow everyone to be respectful and be respected.
Another topic Lichter talks about is the home, and how it has changed from the Victorian notion of the heart of the family, and a sanctuary to a mere building where people cohabitate. I couldn't help being reminded of the Catholic notion of the Domestic Church as she explained the Victorian views of home, a place where the smallest chore becomes an act of love and sacrifice for your family.
One thing I would have liked to see more of, which wasn't mentioned a whole lot was the effects of artificial birth control on our attitudes towards sex. There are some beautiful chapters about marriage and sex and how it has been cheapened by gross publicity and blatant vulgarity, which I think would have been made even better with a look at how significant a role artificial birth control played in that. She does mention in passing the Victorian view that contraceptives carried with them the danger of making women into a mere play-thing, and that men who practiced periodic abstinence for the sake of their wives' health epitomized self-sacrifice and proved their love (NFP anyone?), but that's about as far as it goes. The wisdom of the Church's teaching on contraception was a constant glaring factor for me as I read these chapters, though.
Simple Social Graces presents a stunning juxtaposition of just how far we have come in destroying respect for our fellow human beings, and especially women, even while modern feminists attempted to do the opposite. The small, simple things that were done revealed an underlying sense of self-sacrifice, and the focus was on humility rather than pride as it often is today.
There were a few things that I disagreed with in the book. I think it's possible that the often-perfect picture painted of the Victorians may be just a little too perfect. I also question the several unsubstantiated references to America being, hands down, the best and most forward-thinking country of the age. Prohibition is often mentioned in an apparently favorable light, which, in my mind, blames an object rather than calling on the necessary self-control touted throughout the rest of the book. I also think many of the character traits that were described as Victorian were not exclusively or originally Victorian, though they may have been the last group to embody them as a whole.
But on the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed Simple Social Graces. I came away with the overall sense that because people found high ideals to be hard to attain, they ended up lowering the ideals to the lowest common denominator. Lichter makes no secret about the fact that in the Victorian age (and before) women were looked to as the keepers of societal virtue, they set the standard and men were expected to meet it. When women began to lower their expectations, all of society suffered the consequences. Certainly in our age this idea sounds extremely sexist, but whether it's politically correct or not, I do believe it's true.
Monday, June 18, 2007
On the NFP board, someone posted a very interesting article about the declining birth rate worldwide, its negative effects, some possible reasons for the decline, and some ideas about what it would take to entice women to have more babies.
Here are some of the highlights:
Even as we bemoan our plummeting birth rate, and the grim economic future it may bring, everything about the way we've organized our culture is designed to force women to choose between work and kids -- and to penalize them if they choose kids. And so, these days, it's not just a matter of a woman wanting children; it's a matter of wanting them at the expense of everything else she's worked for.
The reality...is that a professional, highly educated woman...has invested years of her life in attaining a certain level of education and career success. She may or may not be married. She has established a standard of living, and is less willing to take the career and financial hit involved in having a kid. "So many women in their 30s, they like their lives," says Duxbury, who specializes in work-life balance issues and co-authored a study last year to examine the major factors that influence professional women's decision to have (or not have) children. Many don't see themselves as childless, but child-free. "They're accustomed to control and motherhood is not associated with control."
In Vienna, researchers at the International Instutite for Applied Systems Analysis have developed a disquieting hypothesis called the "low fertility trap," which suggests that the causes of low fertility are self-perpetuating. They foresee the potential for the baby bust to spiral out of control for three reasons: first, negative population growth means there will be fewer women of child-bearing age in the future to produce more children. Second, young people have been socialized to believe that the ideal family size is a small one, which means fewer couples will have more than one child. Finally, the aging population will place tremendous financial strain on younger cohorts -- who have been raised with higher material aspirations to begin with -- which will translate into fewer children, or none at all.
Amazingly, the evidence suggests that the most successful policies have one thing in common: they don't try to pay women to procreate. Rather, they facilitate the careers of working mothers. They are premised on the idea that, the more value a society places on women's work inside and outside of the home, the more likely she is to want to contribute meaningfully in both spheres.
The most promising recent case study is that of France, where the government has successfully sparked a baby boom by implementing a series of extraordinarily generous benefits and incentives for parents. There is a calibrated income-tax rate for families whereby the more children a couple has, the more money they keep in their pockets. The state offers a monthly allowance of roughly $400, which is bumped up when the child reaches the age of 11. Parents are entitled to a tax deduction for in-home child care help (which Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who stepped down this week, recently announced will be doubled). There is an extensive state-run crèche system, where parents can leave their toddlers at a moment's notice, for free. Families with three or more kids are deemed "famille nombreuses" and are eligible for zero income tax, heavily subsidized rent and transportation, and state-funded parental leaves that can extend for years. They also get free access to many public amenities, and about $325 per year toward extracurricular arts and athletics programs for the kids.
In only two years, France's fertility rate has climbed from 1.8 to 2.0, and only a quarter of its overall population growth last year was attributed to immigration.
"The European model is, 'We have to make it possible for those people who can afford to have and raise kids to have them.' Our model in North America is, 'Well, you decided to have a child. That was your personal decision, so don't expect us to help you.' "
The great hypocrisy of this model is that we extol family values and the role of the at-home mom, says Bravo, and yet we make it virtually impossible for women who aren't independently wealthy to stay home. We expect middle- and lower-class women to work and, when it comes to parental responsibilities, we expect them to figure it out on their own dime. Then we label it a choice, so we can say, 'If she had only chosen differently, she'd have more money, and more time with her kids.'
You can read the whole thing here.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
It was very cute, I thorougly enjoyed it. Of course, there are the typical jokes about French people being rude, etc, but it wasn't too bad. The plot was original and well executed, the animation of course was lovely as always, and there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. I believe children and adults alike will enjoy this charming film, I know I definitely wasn't disappointed, and I highly recommend it!
Friday, June 08, 2007
Here are the rules: "Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.”
1) Since we got our cat at Christmas, I have not once scooped or cleaned the litter box! (Isn't my husband wonderful??)
2) I play bassoon...'nuff said.
3) A lot of people already know this, but I have some weird hair pigment issues going on. I have a natural blonde streak on the left side of my hair, and my left eyelashes are blonde, while my right eyelashes are not. I also have a bit of a blonde patch in my left eyebrow which just makes it look shorter! (If you look closely at my pic, you can see the eyelashes, the blonde hair is covered though)
4) As much as I try to eat natural foods, I have a few love affairs with some processed junk that just will not die. I LOVE Planter's Cheez balls (which have been DISCONTINUED by the way!!! Click here to sign a petition to bring them back, lol!!) I also love Kraft Mac n Cheese, with ketchup. It's my shameful secret...ok it's not so secret, anyone who knows me knows that, lol.
5) I have a severe aversion to...ok, I can type this out, I know I can...*gag*....the idea of...*gag*....kleenex type tissue or thin napkins sticking to one's tongue, especially when they get moist enough to tear! BLECH!!! *shudder* It makes me feel, like, it zaps the moisture away and then you can't get it off your tongue. Same with the idea of cotton in the mouth, ICK!!!!
6) Ummm....oh! When getting out of the shower, I HAVE to dry my feet first, I hate the idea of stepping onto the ground (or mat, rug, whatever) with wet feet. It's partly an ick factor thing, and partly a paranoia about slipping and falling!
7) I just bought a petticoat/crinoline type thing to wear under some of my dresses and skirts, and I can't WAIT to get it!!!!! I strive to be June Cleaver! lol
8) I'm pretty sure I have never in my life mowed a lawn!
Ok, I'm too lazy to actually tag eight people, so instead I'll just say anyone who feels like doing this one, go for it! :-)