Thursday, October 21, 2010

Better sight, and clearer vision

First, the topic of "better sight".  We always knew that this day would come...

... but I'm satisfied that it has come later than it might otherwise have, and like a lamb rather than the lion that tore into my young life:  my eyes were three times as myopic by the time I was three years younger than she is now. 

Paternal genetics may account for part of her offset (although my perfect-eyed biofather's genes did not help me in the slightest), but some of it is hopefully being reaped from years of conscious management.  It has long been known that indoor activities (with particular speculation on "near-work", which includes reading, texting, TV, computers, etc) can profoundly exacerbate myopia in those of us who are predisposed to it.  Time spent outdoors (as opposed to indoors where, by definition, all work is "near-work") appears to greatly affect the way the eyes grow and function. 

This causality has been historically downplayed in our society.  Governments worried that, if people found out about the damage they were doing to themselves, they'd read less, study less, work less, and the U.S. would fall even farther behind educationally and competitively as the world globalizes.

Well, what's good for the country is not necessarily good for the individual, especially when the individuals have as strong a genetic disposition as we do.  In an effort to stave off both the duration and intensity of myopia, Cayley has always been encouraged to spend as much time as possible outdoors, and she was never allowed to read as much as I did when I was a child.

WHAT?!  Yes, you heard me correctly: in this super-competitive, academically-cutthroat historical period in which we now find ourselves, I did not let her read much beyond the minimum required for school.  Those much-ballyhooed programs like Reading Rumble and whatever its precursor was called?  Not allowed.

Instead, I did the reading for her.  In the past five or six years, I have read aloud more than two hundred novels to her.  That way, she got the intellectual benefits while hopefully minimizing the corresponding physical damage (and it was a lot of fun, by the way!!).
This is just a subset of the total. 
And they're stacked two-deep.
This leads me into the "clearer vision" section of this post.  My refusal to adhere to conforming social norms in this regard (by rejecting the Gospel of Public School and substituting an individually-developed solution) did what it usually does - it aroused controversy.  One of the kinder responses I received was as follows: 

"I suppose that selfless mommyhood compels you to blind yourself on her behalf."  

This comment was rendered in a vein of wry humor, but all humor is firmly rooted in truth, and I do understand whence it derives. Eyesight Management Plan v. 1.0 gives the appearance of me having one-upped the collective footrace to the top of Mount Supermom (which is much higher than Everest, by the way), because what kind of professional working mother has the time, energy, and foresight (pun intended) to read TWO HUNDRED NOVELS, many of them lengthy classics (and with a preference for Newbery medalists), to her tweenager?!?!  And for most of that time, a mother who was heading a one-parent household to boot?!

Answer: the kind who is more interested in putting braces on teeth than on engaging in Supermom showmanship.  That's what this has been: the eyeball-equivalent of putting braces on teeth.  It looks like an acute attack of Supermomitis only superficially.  This is not some new proxy variant of my-kid-out-performs-your-kid.  Fact is, I have a bona fide medical disability.  I am miserable on an hourly basis because of my eyesight, which is beyond technology's ability to correct and which is still continuing to degrade.  I will go to considerable lengths to spare my daughter this fate.

But I understand fully how one might get a bit confused and react the way my commenter did, with an acid undertone suggesting that my reading efforts exceed what any responsible mother should be setting as a social precedent.  I didn't take any offense to that response because I understand fully the tendency to backlash against what appears to be Stepford-like conformance to increasingly-unrealistic Supermom ideals.  Believe me, I understand, because I'm a card-carrying, Superblog-contributing backlasher myself.

Now that I've broached the topic of Stepfordism, let me clarify it, because it relates to what I'm saying here.  Coincidentally, I was presented with great teaching opportunities on this subject immediately before Cayley received her glasses, so this discussion is timely.  Good eyesight is essential, but if you don't have clear vision to go with it, you haven't got much going for you. 

I tend to use the term "neo-Stepfordism" because, in its initial incarnation almost forty years ago, Stepfordism described the suppression of women by men, most notably their husbands (and yes, it was satirical, but remember - all humor is rooted in truth, and there was certainly truth in that).  But our social models and circumstances have changed dramatically in the intervening time, with women making significant gains in education and salary, and simultaneously there has been greater social awareness of gender inequality, so this male-driven tendency has abated significantly (TIME Magazine aptly notes that "the battle of the sexes [has become] a costume drama"). 

However, what I find has intensified in its place is the suppression of women by other women!  For sure, women in our society have always been guilty of playing games of one-upmanship: keeping up with the "Janeses".  But neo-Stepfordism way surpasses the age-old scourges of passive aggression, peacocking, and vindictive clothesline gossiping.  Perhaps it's precisely because women started climbing professional ladders in such numbers that they began to exhibit corresponding domination tendencies that were historically restricted to men?  I don't know - all I know is that I have witnessed a reversal within my lifetime:  I now encounter more women who try to keep me in my place than men.

I will exemplify this by relating a blog exchange I had recently.  Unfortunately, I can neither link to it nor replicate it exactly because, to my exasperation, the blogger deleted both the key comment and my appropriate response to it.  But the exchange went very much like this: 

Blogger"I think [that this is true]."

Alison: "[I disagree with that assessment.  I see it the opposite way.]"

Poster: "I've seen Alison post here before, and she must be a very bitter person.  She's always mean, never complimentary."

Bingo!  The operative word is complimentary, because that's what it's really all about!  It's not about the sharing of ideas, the expression of genuine opinions, the following of individual paths, or the initiation of lively debate.  For the neo-Stepfords, it's simply about applause
Ladies and gentlemen, this is what they think social interaction is all about!  And this is THE ONLY thing that they want YOU to do!
If you don't have any applause  to offer (i.e., always complimentary, never complementary!), you offend those whose value systems are underpinned by the domination goals that manifest in the expectation of applause.  Females of this ilk interpret free-range individualism as simple mean-ness, and they assume that all nonconformists have superiority complexes.  It is not within their mental scope to evaluate the objective validity of any other woman's individual motivations for not following The Herd (and there are cases where nonconformism provides objective, noncompetitive benefits, such as my reading aloud to Cayley, and my previous long-term breastfeeding of her, a topic too lengthy to discuss here). 

One of my favorite Herd pics, from
I like it because they're showing us their asses.  I also used this pic in Long Journey Chapter 2.  
In other words, this is Stepfordism with a decidedly-female twist: they've identified a compliant collective social ideal that works for THEM, and they want YOU to be that, regardless of how you may feel about it. 

Scene from The Stepford Wives (2004): they look pretty and perfect as they applaud, but what they are REALLY doing is showing us their asses in a different way.
Duh... is this ringing a bell for anyone?!?  Any pattern recognition happening??! Is anyone out there besides me old enough to remember the days when a woman was considered to be at her most virtuous when she pushed her own needs and viewpoints aside and simply cheered... not for her girlfriend, co-worker, or female relative, but for her MAN??!?!

If you're having a "holy shit" moment right about now, you're not alone. 

The blog exchange I described above was a superb example of that particular social phenomenon, and it's been relatively easy for me to get Cayley to focus her attention on the discourse I developed here based on that incident and based on other similar social media interactions into which I've blundered of late.  Cayley recently learned about the gender pay gap that penalizes American women, and was quite bothered by it, so the door was cracked open for me to broach the subject of some other ways in which women can get the short shrift in our society if they are not careful.

My message to her, and to the rest of you: the discrimination against women does not end with salary, and it's certainly not solely the dominion of men.  Beware of women whose goal it is to pressure you into either silence or the mindless groupthink of mutual applause and other forms of social subservience.  Be vigilant and recognize neo-Stepfordism when you see it.  Know that neo-Stepfordism can look pretty darned convincing from a distance, and that it was specifically engineered to masquerade as forms of "goodgirlness" or "sweetness".  You're going to encounter people (including women) in your life who will try, one way or another, to tell you that you are not allowed to develop and express your own opinions.  And those people are just plain wrong! 

All of the worst arguments that Cayley and I have had in the past year have centered on issues of conformism.  She grew up without siblings, so her social defense mechanisms are not well-honed.  She's in middle school, where peer pressure is at its absolute maximum.  I have watched other females attempt to dominate her, and I have not done a good job at handling my own reaction to that: I just get uncontrollably furious when I see it happen.  And Cayley has had many moments when she has been absolutely, tearfully flummoxed by it: she's shrewd enough not to applaud on command, but then she's stymied by the resulting condemnation (which, predictably, has mostly consisted of widespread proclamations that "Cayley is mean!" just as Alison was called "mean" in the example above).  I tell her that she has to jettison her suppressors, but she's afraid of losing her "real" friends in the process if she revolts.  Through gritted teeth, I then I tell her that no real friend will condemn her individuality, so she's not at risk of that.  Intellectually she knows this, but it's a scary thing to handle emotionally.  I struggle mightily to find the patience and wisdom to be of some use to her as she works her way through this crap

After discussing these things with her, I queued up "The Stepford Wives" so we could watch it together for context, but the 2004 re-make is not a great film, despite great acting from its all-star cast. 

I wish that the producers had deepened the story line a bit, but they sure as hell did a spectacular job of the applause part of it.
Furthermore, Cay is still so young that she tends to interpret certain depictions more literally than philosophically, and so she focused on the procedural details of reprogramming inconvenient women, as opposed to the broad (pun intended) issue that it parodies: systematic suppression of individualism and the imposition of robotic social expectations in its place.  If anyone knows of a movie in the same vein in which the women are the ones suppressing each other, please let me know.  I'd like to explore it with her for emphasis (actually, in the 2004 version of The Stepford Wives, it turns out that it was a woman who was engineering the suppression, but I'd still like more examples). 

Incidentally, of those two hundred novels that I have read to Cayley thus far, her hands-down favorite was To Kill A Mockingbird, the quintessential literary proving ground for all things anti-Stepford (in the most general sense of the term) and counter to mindless conformism.
Atticus couldn't get HIS glasses to work properly for him, either!  I know how he felt!!!
This one is for you, sweetie. 

"There's so much detail in everything!" she exclaimed, upon recapturing visual acuity.
I'll read it aloud to you, but I also give you permission to read it for yourself (as long as you wear your glasses).


P.S., As for the rest of you, if anyone decides to applaud this post in the Comments section (or via email as you more typically do), I reserve the right to puke in response.

Seriously, just as I don't want your mindless condemnation, I also don't want your mindless applause.  Both are a waste of your breath and my time.  But I'm always interested in hearing your mindful ideas. 


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