Today, one of the last days before our kittens start going to their forever homes, I offer a seven-week retrospective.
If you would like to meet Sweet Pea, Robbie, Freckle, and Dodger in person, they will be present tomorrow at the La Brea Tar Pits for the NKLA Adoption Weekend. Look for the Kitten Rescue area!
Lawn forking is one of those pranks that children always talk about but rarely actually attempt. The idea is to stick a bunch of forks into someone’s lawn and then break them off, leaving the tines stuck in the ground. Like all good pranks, the principle is that it’s relatively quick to carry out but very difficult and time-consuming to undo. That’s what I’m reminded of as I laboriously, bit by bit, remove our lawn.
As Europeans colonized America and other parts of the world, they brought with them many unexamined conventions. These included ideas about what gardens and woodlands ought to look like. Thus, for instance, the deliberate release of first house sparrows and then European starlings in New York City in the 19th century, both for frivolous reasons. Both are now invasive pests that threaten to displace many native species of birds. (My bird book could find nothing kinder to say about starlings than that they provide a steady food source for hawks.)
So too with lawns. Year-round, everyone must have a lawn of plain green trimmed grass. Even in places where lawn grass grows, this is wildly unnatural. In real meadows, grass grows long; it goes to seed at certain times and dies back at other times and it’s mixed with wildflowers and other plants. Hence mowing, weeding, and watering, a battle to keep the grass from returning to its natural state.
Here in southern California, matters are even worse. It takes constant effort to make lawn grass grow at all. Most people install expensive automatic sprinkler systems to ensure that their lawns get the constant supply of water required. These sprinkler systems often turn into geysers when lawn mowers accidentally run over sprinkler heads. Growing grass from seed is especially difficult, so people pay hundreds of dollars for sod held together with plastic netting. The one part of the process that no one can be bothered to do is preparing the soil. Instead, they roll the sod out over roots, rocks, trash, and hard-packed clay, compensating later with more water and fertilizer. And all because a lawn just doesn’t look right unless it has grass.
I’m reminded of lawn forking as I rip out all that netting, laid down in a few hours and now requiring weeks to remove. I’ve found other bits of netting from the previous lawn, too. There are two partial sprinkler systems, one laid right on top of the previous one without removing it. Sprinkler pipes run under the concrete path where they can’t be removed without breaking up the concrete. I know that, with all the care I’m putting into it, I still won’t be able to undo all the damage that was done. I wonder if anyone involved with the process at any stage thought about this.
Some people put in the effort to keep their lawns looking socially acceptable; others can’t be bothered and let them turn into half-dead, half-overgrown weed piles. But, despite the enticements of never having to water, mow, or fertilize, hardly anyone is willing to plant natives instead. Why? The initial effort needed is no doubt part of it (especially for anyone who’s been watching me), but, in my experience, the biggest factor is simply that everyone thinks that a lawn should look one way, and they think that our native plants (aside from oak trees and the beloved California poppy) are unsightly. I remember my college’s brief attempt at xeriscaping* ending in failure; the popular opinion was that it was ugly.
But is it really?
The chaparral is tough and hardy and, like any wilderness, can look wild and untidy when it grows uncultivated. But as I wander around the Theodore Payne nursery, choosing plants to replace my lawn, I don’t find myself chagrined by a small selection of dull plants. Instead, I’m almost overwhelmed with options. There are grasses and shrubs and herbs, delicious berries, flowers of every color and season. Many of the plants are evergreen. The lawn replacements are far prettier than the spiky grass that most people grow down here.
When they’re put in pots with price tags and little notes describing their size and flowers and water requirements, the native plants of the California chaparral look like wonderful choices for any garden. Maybe all it takes to make something valuable is to assign it a value. Or maybe they have always been beautiful plants and it’s only our bias in favor of grass lawns and plants from wet continental climates that make us overlook them.
*Xeriscaping, which focuses on reduction of water usage, differs from natural landscaping because it allows the use of nonnative plants such as cacti.
One of the not-so-hidden joys of not being a parent is never being dragged into those awful parent arguments–paper vs. cloth, bottle vs. breast, anything involving TV–that are so pointless and yet manage to get so heated. For the most part, these are mercifully uninteresting to non-parents, but I am interested in the topic of spanking. It ties into many other important topics: Philosophy of punishment, bodily autonomy, the rights of minors, corporal punishment, and so on.
I have come to the conclusion that it’s better not to spank one’s children. I’m not dogmatic about this–I was spanked as a child and that falls very low on my list of things my parents did wrong–and I’m not interested in coming down hard on parents who do spank. I’ve simply been presented with a couple of arguments that I found very persuasive and I’d like to share them with you.
The Example Argument: Spanking demonstrates to your children that violence is an acceptable way to get what you want.
Every parent knows how much kids learn from watching you and how well they internalize what they see. When you hit a child to make zir do (or stop doing) something, zie is learning that hitting someone can help you get your way. Of course there are many differences between spanking a child for disobeying and punching a classmate to get zir toy, but a child, especially a young one, isn’t going to grasp those nuances. It’s a bad idea to make “don’t hit people” into a case of “do as I say, not as I do;” we all know how well that argument works.
The Bodily Autonomy Argument: Spanking forces children to allow adults to touch them in ways they don’t like.
Protecting children from abuse is incredibly important, but it can also be incredibly difficult. Most abuse comes from relatives or authority figures. Children rarely report abuse and often blame themselves for it. To mitigate these problems, social-justice circles promote the concept of bodily autonomy: Children should be taught that no one is allowed to do something to their bodies that they don’t want. So, for instance, an aunt or grandparent shouldn’t kiss an unwilling child, even if it’s meant affectionately, lest they demonstrate that the child has to accept unwanted gestures of affection. But spanking teaches a child the opposite of bodily autonomy: It teaches that authority figures have the right to inflict pain on zir and, indeed, that doing so demonstrates that the adult loves them.
I find the latter argument a little less convincing than the former, since there will always be one case where children don’t have control over what’s done to their bodies: Going to the doctor and getting shots. Still, it’s probably easier to explain why you have to get shots even if you don’t want to than to explain the difference between being spanked and being physically abused.
Notice I haven’t mentioned the efficacy of spanking. That’s because it doesn’t matter whether or not it makes the child do what you want. There are many effective ways to get someone to do what you want that are nevertheless terrible ideas. I think how a lesson is taught is just as important as what the lesson is, and that’s why I do not support spanking.
Busy busy busy! The vaccinated kittens are now allowed out of the kitten rooms and have had their first chance to meet another cat. This went predictably.
What a busy week, and almost all of it undocumented! On Thursday, everyone got their FLV-FIV tests, which all came back negative. (For those who don’t know, feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus are two contagious, untreatable, deadly diseases. It’s essential to verify that the kittens don’t have them before adopting them out.)
On Friday, we noticed that Violet, who had lost a great deal of weight, was sick and dehydrated. She was also refusing to eat solid food (though she was still nursing). We had to administer fluids to her over the weekend. Happily, she perked back up and we eventually coaxed her back onto food. She has now gained back the weight she lost. But let’s turn to happier subjects, such as sunbeams…
And pretty collars.
The kittens and their mother will be available for adoption in one week, so enjoy them while they’re here!
People who want to deny that misogyny exists (and, most often, men who want to claim that they are oppressed) often take the tack seen in the graphic below: Claiming that women and female traits aren’t devalued, in and of themselves, but rather that both men and women are discouraged from expressing gender-nonconforming traits, and therefore the system, though unfair, is not biased against one gender.
As disingenuous arguments go, this is a well-constructed one, because it’s based on true premises. Gender conformity is enforced in both directions, and both men and women do face pushback for female- or male-coded behaviors. However, the conclusion is false due to a failure to understand intersectionality, or more colloquially, an inability (or refusal) to grasp that more than one factor may be at work at the same time. The existence of gender policing doesn’t preclude the existence of misogyny.
The argument falls apart when examined in detail. There are many differences between the responses to male and female nonconformity that gender policing alone can’t explain. In the first place, there’s the sheer number of male-coded behaviors, as opposed to female-coded ones. STEM, sports and sports reporting, TV (especially comedy), the military, emergency response, construction, and, despite all progress, politics: The list of fields where women are regularly excluded and underrepresented goes on and on. In contrast, the list of traditionally female-dominated fields–nurse, secretary, nanny, and of course homemaker–is not only short, but much less diverse. In fact, the more you look at the lists, the more obvious it becomes that there aren’t a set of male roles and a set of female roles at all: There’s one female role (from which a few careers have branched out) to which women are expected to conform and which men are expected to avoid, and all other roles are for men*.
And the roles, in and of themselves, are not considered equally important; even among gender-conforming people, masculinity is valued over femininity. The list of male-coded jobs is not only longer, but better paid, more prestigious, and with more opportunities for advancement. In many cases, the male-coded job has a female-coded analogue that’s less prestigious (doctor vs. nurse) or not a career at all (men are chefs; women make dinner). Since leadership is a male-coded trait, it’s virtually always allowable for men to be in charge of female-coded fields. Women are considered more emotional while men are considered more rational, but being rational is a virtue, whereas being emotional (flighty, sensitive, irrational) is a liability. It’s so easy to come up with an arbitrarily-long list of devalued female-coded behaviors that it’s difficult to imagine someone denying them out of honest ignorance.
Consequently, gender policing is expressed differently to men and women. Men shouldn’t take on female roles because they can do better; women shouldn’t take on male roles because they can’t do them well enough. Men who choose female-coded roles, especially stay-at-home dads, are often criticized for being lazy, unambitious, and worthless, while women who choose male-coded roles are often considered not good enough (not strong enough to be in the army, not smart enough to be in tech, etc) and face accusations of being hired to fill a quota, of just being a pretty face, or of sleeping their way to the top**. The perennial outrage against “fake geek girls” is a good example: It’s immediately suspect if women claim to like sci-fi or be good at games, whereas there’s no converse assumption that men might only be pretending to like things.
The greater value placed on male traits and roles is also demonstrated by the relative strength of the policing: When women do male things, they’re transgressing, but at least the things they’re doing are valued and/or considered normal (curiously allowing society to simultaneously discourage women from entering male-dominated fields and praise the “extraordinary” women who do), whereas when men do female things, they’re not only breaking the rules, but breaking the rules in order to do something already considered worthless. Hence why women can wear most male clothes without it being a big deal, but a man who wears female clothes will face severe pushback. Gay men are paid less than straight men, while lesbians and straight women are paid about the same; trans women’s earnings fall drastically after they transition, whereas trans men’s earnings actually rise. As far as wages go, being a woman is a bigger disadvantage than even the most radical gender nonconformity.
Accusations of gender nonconformity are used as insults against men (sissy, pussy, “you run like a girl”), whereas there aren’t any slang insults for women that mean “masculine.” Conversely, masculine terms are used as compliments (manly, ballsy, “man up”) and women are sometimes complimented for being like men or better than men (eg, David Ben-Gurion calling Golda Meir “the best man in the government”), whereas a man, even in a female-dominated field, would never be complimented for being “as good as a woman” because men are always expected to be as good as, or better than, women. Male friends have told me that women shouldn’t be the sole leaders of a program because then younger men and boys would have no one to look up to; while their view was particularly drastic, they were only expressing the common perception that women can look up to men, but a man could never look up to a woman***.
Gender policing does exist, and it does harm both men and women (indeed, in some ways it harms men more). But only women face the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation where, if they act in a female manner, they’ll be treated as silly and frivolous, and if they act in a male manner, they’ll be treated as shrill ball-busters. Issues of gender and gender presentation are complex and anyone who tries to claim that one form of oppression being real means another is fake has no business talking about the topic at all.
*This is tied to the perception of men as the default and women as a niche; see products for people and women.
**There’s an obvious analogue with race relations and minorities being considered “uppity” or “stealing jobs.”
***The media often uses the same justification to reject female protagonists: Boys won’t read or watch stories about girls, while nobody finds it odd for girls to read books about boys.