I’m sorry you had a bad experience of Brownies growing up. I was much the same in my (non-segregated group).
I don’t however think it’s right to say that when young girls are alone it is always heading for Mean Girls territory. For one thing I find the stereotype troubling, for another it’s not been my experience.
Now you have to keep in mind that I’m looking at this as a leader and not as a girl but in my experience the leadership team is always looking at how situations are developing and trying to defuse them.
A good leader should be keeping their eyes open to make sure the group mixes (especially hard when you mix ages!) to make sure everyone can work together and to make sure nobody gets left out. And we’re offered quite a bit of guidance (now at least) from our higher ups on how to deal with these problems. I’m starting to lead a Brownie unit after Christmas so please wish me luck with that!
The girls and leaders are supposed to pick which ones to do together. I used to work in a unit who where dead keen on cooking and crafts and we’d let them do that side of it but then push them to try new things every once in a while. Where as the group I’m with now would jump out of an aeroplane if insurance allowed it and we let them be adventurous and show them different things when they let us. Ideally there is something for everyone.
I’m not sure what the Scouts are up to now, we’re different organisations. But I hope they cook and clean. Especially on camp.
I’m sorry if I’ve gone on a lot, nobody has ever accused me of being concise. And I’m sorry if you had a bad time at Brownies. Guiding is a movement though. Hopefully we’ve moved forward and we’ll keep moving forward. I’ll certainly remember what you have said next time I see my Brownies.
That’s such a brilliant analysis and not one I had thought of myself, but completely true. Why do we know so little of Rebecca? Why is Max so dominant over the women in his life? This is what I find with DuMaurier, her novels are always surprising and reveal these subtleties. Your daughter sounds like an amazing girl to have such a mature and open view of the world and her responses to books, and it is such a lovely idea to use books and novels like Rebecca and Jane Eyre that have such strong women based narratives to explore these difficult and painful issues.
I hope she keeps reading and discovers more literature!
I thought this criticism was fair enough and so changed the headline of the review. Of course paintings are accurately described as being “hung”, in a non-violent sense, and as Susan points out the decision to rehang the gallery is interesting and ground-breaking, but if there’s potential for confusion it’s not worth it, hence the edit.
Victoria Dutchman-Smith, author of the article, replies
Many thanks for your thought-provoking response to my article. I’d just like to pick up on a couple of points.
First, I’m glad your perceptions of motherhood are positive. However, I think it all depends on different contexts and environments, and it really isn’t the case that all people share your views. Within pregnancy magazines, baby groups and the media in general, there really is a tendency not only to denigrate mothers, but for mothers to immerse themselves within this self-denigration, as though it’s a necessary part of being a good parent. You could look up “porridge brain” on Google for some good examples of this (e.g. “Since I got pregnant I’ve gone from being “slightly ditsy” to “full-on thicko””). I hope if and when you do become a mother you feel able to challenge these perceptions where you find them!
Second, I do think there is a problem in presenting leaving paid work for motherhood as “more rewarding”. This frequently becomes an excuse to ignore the problems and limitations stay-at-home mothers face, or to question the choices of those mothers of small children who do return to work (and some of them, myself included, do so full-time!). “Rewarding” is a very vague term – apart from anything else, those mothers who earn the “envy” of their ex colleagues certainly aren’t having a financially more rewarding time, and this truly matters in terms of independance and choices for the rest of their lives. In a more general sense, I think how rewarding you find the actual experience of caring for a child in relation to how rewarding the rest of your life is incredibly variable, for men as well as women. There’s a risk of diluting the aptitudes, passions and potential of all mothers into one indistingiushable mass if you suggest that all can find the greatest rewards through the same route. The real issue here for feminists is, I think, the same as it has been for decades – finding a way to enable parents and children to make choices based on the people they are and the relationships they have, not on sweeping assumptions relating to gender and to what mummies and daddies should or shouldn’t do.
Finally, I do agree with you that motherhood doesn’t define women and that you remain the same person. It’s interesting to read this, as today I was volunteering at a mothers’ support group and decided to borrow a copy of Gabrielle Palmer’s “The Politics of Breastfeeding”. Another volunteer commented to me that it was really hard going and “a bit feminist”, so maybe I’d be better off with Steve Biddulph’s “Raising Boys”, what with me having two sons. I said something about not liking agressively gendered advice on childrearing, to which the response was “but it’s a really easy read”. Okay, so I didn’t mention that I have a PhD in literature and don’t find reading popular feminist texts particularly difficult, but what shocked me was the simple assumption that I would, and it isn’t the first time I’ve heard these kind of views expressed at this particular group. In no other environment have I encountered people who know nothing about me instantly deciding certain things might be tough going for my little brain. But somehow it’s the nature of the “mummy culture” to assume that we’re all anti-intellectual, anti-feminist porridge brains, as though this is the only way we can bond. And it’s a real tragedy, since so many mothers grouping together could have so much power to change things if we were to look beyond the myths that belittle as much as they validate.
Sorry, this has turned into a longer response than I intended! Anyhow, thanks for your comments and I hope motherhood will be as much of a pleasure for you as it is for me (not a double-edged comment – it really is amazing, just not in the way the Daily Mail suggests it is!).
I’m rather surprised that 20 years of supporting feminism could be undermined by reading one opinion piece which is critical of elements of masculinity and draws connections between masculinity in our culture and violence against women. Interpreting a critique of male violence as somehow an attack on men comes across as defensive and reactionary. I suggest a dose of Feminism 101: “if you aren’t acting out misogyny, then it’s not about you”.