Thursday, August 28, 2014

Zoe vs. the Bechdel Test

You may have heard of the Bechdel Test. It's a pop-culture phenomenon that measures gender bias in film, TV, etc. It's named after Alison Bechdel, who in her 1985 comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For featured a character who said she'd only go to movies that had three elements: 1) at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man.
Many movies fail this test because, if I may channel my inner Nathan Detroit: Broadly speaking, there ain't enough broads.
There are movies, of course, where applying the Bechdel test would be silly, such as Saving Private Ryan. Movies featuring World War II battle scenes would obviously involve a dearth of women. Or a movie like Gravity, where there's a dearth of earth itself. (Sorry but this juxtaposition was unlikely to be available to me again.)
However, there are other movies that fail which really make you wonder, for example, Avatar or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The latter is especially disturbing since it's specifically aimed at kids. Some of whom are girls! Girls like Zoe! Who may herself be sexist! But is it nature or nurture?!

Fails Bechdel test because Tammy is instructing
Midge on how best to shoot her husband.

If a camera followed Zoe around all day at school, the film that resulted would almost certainly fail the Bechdel test. Since Zoe learned to speak, she's been telling me about the boys in her class. When I ask who her friends are, ten out of ten times she gives me a boy's name. When there's a new boy in her class, the next day he is her best friend. There are girls in her class, but I don't think Zoe interacts with them. If I ask about a girl, she'll maybe acknowledge her, but only if pressed, much like a Hollywood producer.
As for her likes and dislikes, right now her favorite cartoon is Paw Patrol. This show fails the Canine Bechdel test. Six rescue pups and only one is female. When Zoe plays pretend, she is never Skye (the female). Often she claims to be Ryder, the human male in charge of the pups.
When I first watched the show with Zoe, my main issue related to anthropomorphism. I wasn't sure if the humans were understanding the pups. Episodes underwent repeated viewings, a la Sixth Sense, to gauge whether people were responding directly to what one of the pups said. Once I was satisfied on that score (they do understand them), I moved on to the sexism.

Not quite.

There are two main human female characters---Farmer Yumi and Mayor Goodway (note the position of power, undercut by the fact she calls upon a boy and his puppies to help her in any and every emergency)---and they do interact, but I think these two could easily be male without losing anything. Then again, three-dimensional cartoon characters are sort of oxymoronic.
This past weekend when Zoe and I went swimming, we played Paw Patrol. I pretended to be caught in a whirlpool and called Paw Patrol for help. Zoe pretended she was Zuma, the male chocolate Lab. Each time I called for aid, Zoe would turn from her pretend computer display, run around the pool, and then walk carefully down the stairs in her water wings saying, "Zuma to the wrecks you [rescue]."
After a few rounds I specifically called for Skye to come with her helicopter, but Zoe insisted on being Zuma. Occasionally, maybe, Ryder. I fretted inwardly, which at least lended verisimilitude to my outward displays of distress as Zoe tugged me to safety over and over again.

A broad, abroad

Later I Googled Paw Patrol. Nick Jr.'s description of Skye didn't do much to alleviate my concerns. "Skye tries everything with a back flip, grace, and a smile." Hmmm. Not how one would describe a male hero like, say, Thor. 
Then I scrolled down to read about Zuma. That's when I learned he is specifically the "water rescue" dog. Had I been so blinded by the sociopolitical landscape of Paw Patrol that I had overlooked individual character traits?
So maybe Zoe's not sexist. She's just accurate. Thus the limits of the Bechdel test.
However, while on the Nick Jr. site I also noted that all the pups are pure breeds except for one, Rocky, the recycling dog. Allow that to marinate for a bit. Rest assured I will be writing a strongly worded letter to Nick Jr.
Zoe: 58; Universe: 0

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Zoe vs. #Sorrynotsorry

Kids today. With their emojis, text messaging, and hashtags. If I can't keep up now, how will it be when Zoe's a teenager? I was never cool and always old, which is what I believe the kids call "the whole package." Where others rub some funk on it, I rub some Julie Andrews on it. Still, I must make an effort to learn. #hero
Ready to learn along with me? Then let's floss and fly.

"Let's floss and fly this mofo."
---Tom to Maggie Tulliver in
George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss

Zoe---aka, my boo, my bae, my shawty---is already cooler than I am, as evidenced by the desperate slang-slinging of the preceding clause. And that's fine, I mean, chill, but I need her to take me somewhat seriously while she's young so I can teach her good manners. I don't want Zoe to be---in the immortal words of Rudy from Fat Albert---like school in summer, i.e., lacking in class. #KickinItOldSchool

WWJAD (What Would Julie Andrews Do?)
As always, Julie Andrews is my guide. Whether I'm channeling singing super nanny Mary Poppins or singing super governess Maria von Trapp, I strive to be a Model of Good Behavior (MGB). Only without the singing. #offkey #stopsingingmommy
We started early, presenting the holy trinity of civility---please, thank you, and sorry---before Zoe could even speak. We exposed her to sign language via the Baby Signing Time videos led by walking primary color Rachel Coleman.

A-S-L. American Sign Language to those over thirty.
Age, Sex, Location to the young and happening.

To the accompaniment of excruciatingly catchy tunes, Zoe learned that if she made a fist, and after punching Mommy with it, rubbed it in a circle over her chest to show "sorry," Mommy would stop making the angry face and perhaps give her juice. (and a #Parentfail)
When Zoe began to speak, we emphasized verbalization of the trinity. She learned to say "Sorry," but she also tacks on an, "I forgive you," conflating asking for forgiveness with dispensing of same. So her actually "meaning it" may take longer. I may not be the best MGB in this regard. Encounters with the ice cream truck reveal Mommy's insincerity. 
Either Zoe's hearing is preternatural or I'm losing my own---perhaps due to age, perhaps due to the repeated battering my eardrums endure from the screams of a certain preschooler---but she always hears the ice cream truck before I do.
BTW, you know you're old when the Mister Softee song brings sorrow instead of joy. Like Pavlov's dog, Zoe hears the music and salivates. I hear it and panic. Zoe informs me of the truck's approach and I say, "Sorry, honey, we can't have ice cream before dinner." (Or after dinner, for that matter, but let's cross one bridge built over a river of lies at a time.)
Am I insincere with my "sorry"?
Am I faking regret over refusing her sugar before bedtime?
Are haters gonna hate?
Zoe's starting to "get it." Not the feeling remorse part. But when others don't feel it. Sometimes, when she's in the bath, I sneak away to catch up on e-mail or read my book to the end of a chapter. When she calls me, I keep saying, "Be right there," until sooner or later she calls me on it and I say, "Sorry, honey." The other night she said, "You're not sorry, Mommy." I had to laugh. Mommy was pwned! I only felt slightly ashamed, and may or may not have finished my chapter.

Oh no he didn't. (He did.)

So Zoe's a keen observer of human nature. However, empathy for her subjects may take longer. For instance, at the park, where my presence is required on all the playground equipment, she'll hover behind another kid at the top of a slide, and if he's taking too long to go down, she'll turn to me, and with wide-eyed innocence, say: "Can you push him?" #DoMyDirtyWorkMinion. What's sign language for "Screw this kid, it's my turn"? Though I guess you can't really sign that if your hands are busy shoving an unsuspecting toddler.

Such delinquency may be beyond Julie Andrews. Perhaps I'll need to go oldest old school with What Would Jesus Do? Something Christian, I suspect. Apologizing and meaning it. Playing well with others. I'd stop short of turning the other cheek. Those playgrounds are rough and I want her to stay frosty. Besides, someday she may have to ride the subway like her mom, and let me tell you, turning the other cheek will burn you out pretty quick in New York.
Jesus may have been tempted for forty days and nights in the desert but he didn't have to ride the R train at rush hour. Let's imagine the son of god standing on the platform, the crowd getting antsy. Somebody says, It'd take a miracle for this train to come. And as everyone served up J.H.C. a heaping dose of stink-eye, he'd look away, whistling the theme song to Highway to Heaven (You don't have to believe in God to know Michael Landon's his favorite. #truth #drop some knowledge).

The Fonz explains the finer points of
"sitting on it" to Potsie and the gang.

This is shorthand text messaging for I Don't Know. You can also make it a hashtag. This is good since my ignorance is the only thing I have that works across all platforms. As Zoe gets older, I also imagine that this is the acronym I'll find the most handy.
In conclusion, #winning and #blessed. GTG. TTFN.
Zoe: 57; Universe: YOLO

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Zoe vs. Hooked on Phonics

Zoe's preschool class has started to learn phonics. If you went to school in the seventies or eighties like I did, you may remember learning to read with either phonics or the whole language approach. My school had phonics, aka the "sounding out" method.
"Hooked on Phonics" was after my time, though I do recall the commercials: "Hooked on Phonics worked for me!" Even though I'm a grammar snob, I have to admit I no longer know a phoneme fricative from a diphthong. (These days, I'd probably opt for diph-full-seat-coverage.) Also, just as an aside, I find the word schwa to be distasteful. It's the Samuel "Screech" Powers of vowel sounds; everyone's a bit embarrassed to be seen with it.

The less popular Crouched on Phonics.

Thankfully Zoe's not at this level yet, so the schwa remains a whisper in a future dream where letters are upside down and backwards, similar to Zoe's learning method.
"What does tree start with?" she asked me one night as I picked her up from school. It's probably clear to you what she meant since we're already talking about phonics. But at first I didn't know she was asking what letter "tree" started with.
I caught on soon enough, and every day as we headed home she asked about different words. "What does shoe start with?" she asked. "S,"  I'd reply. "What does flower start with?" "F." Passersby were charmed. Until she said, "What does killing start with?"
Part of me wanted to say, Well, dear, anything from a religious dispute to poor grammar usage. But instead, I told her, "K, the letter k."

Friends don't let friends watch
Screech's sex tape.

"Killing" is definitely my fault. I've realized over the past month or so that I express a wish to kill often and very casually. When she refuses to go to bed, or when she's pulling on my arm, bouncing up and down, I'll sometimes say, "You're killing me." I need to stop that because hearing "kill" in a young child's voice is more than a little unnerving. During her bath the other night she was playing with her wheeled turtle toy, singing a nonsense song, and suddenly she looked up at me and said, "Turtle wants to kill you." 
If everyone survives the bath, it's time to read. Three books is our nightly tradition. Zoe has started following along with her finger as if she's really reading, though she says the wrong words. For instance, she has a Curious George book called Curious George and the Birthday Surprise and as she moves her finger across the title she'll say, "Curious George is Birthday." (For a person as possessive as she is, even of items that don't strictly belong to her, she's shockingly ignorant of the possessive form.)
She's also under the impression that all books are written by Dr. Seuss, so after she "reads" the title of a book she moves her finger across the author's name and says, "By Dot Er Seuss." Close. I think this is more a misunderstanding than a mispronunciation. She's often stated quite articulately, "I don't want to go to the doctor." I think to Zoe, the writer who penned The Foot Book couldn't possibly have any connection to the vile individual who tries to look in her ears.
I have no doubt that Zoe will eventually learn to read. She definitely loves books, insisting on sleeping with her favorites. We hear her long after bedtime "reading" aloud. She works from memory, and whatever she forgets she makes up for with dramatic incidents. Someone's always needing urgent rescue or ordering others to go away, urgently. I think she has a future as a writer for a telenovela.

Ella es su hermana. Ella es su madre.
 ("Vidas Cruzadas" Univision)

After she learns to read I imagine that will bring an end to most mispronunciations, and I will miss some of them. Here are my favorites:
     Yes, he do's/doos. (Yes, he does.)
     Clofe (washcloth)
     Condisherer and mistererer (conditioner and moisturizer)
     Tomato (potato)
     Potato (tomato) I actually picked up a tomato to show her and over-enunciated the "t" and she just looked at me and said, "That's not mashed potatoes." How does one refute such a statement?
     Silly Hall (City Hall): Is this a malapropism or shrewd political commentary?
And finally, my all-time favorite:
     Your magic see (Your Majesty)

The very rare sighting of a schwa with its schwoo.

Pronunciation aside, she already has a great imagination, and I think we owe that to reading. Last night she started a new story adventure, one that she came up with all on her own, starring Superhero Little Mommy and Superhero Little Zoe.
When she said that I had to bite my hand in self-protection. Otherwise the cuteness may have terminated me with extreme prejudice.
Zoe: 56; Universe: 0

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Zoe vs. Shakespeare

Richard III, Iago, Lady Macbeth. Three well-known Shakespearean villains. Three future role models for Zoe. As soon as she gets her library card. "Hear your mother's lamentation!" (Queen Elizabeth in King Richard III). 
I've often had the impression that Zoe was smiling and smiling but still kinda sorta being a villain. Or at least disobedient.

Richard III: reputedly the Keyser Soze of the 15th century.

The highlights from this particular weekend were: 
1) Running in a circuit that involved climbing on the couch, jumping down (with maximum impact), and then hopping from couch pillow to couch pillow (which she'd conveniently placed on the floor). I kept telling her to stop (citing the unhappy downstairs neighbor), but this only meant she'd do it in slow motion for a minute or so before ramping it up again.
2) Stealing my exercise ball so she could roll on top of it. I said, Don't come crying to me when you roll into a wall and hurt yourself. As if I was a witch from Macbeth, I prophesied and it happened. She rolled herself into a wall and bumped her head. Then she came crying to me. Daddy actually diverted her so I could take my ball back and continue exercising, exhaling I-told-you-so's with each breath. Because I'm an adult.
3) After I finished exercising we took her out on our errands so she could expend at least some energy. I would take her to the park later. No sooner were we outside than she said she was tired and insisted on being carried the whole way.

If only Zoe was half as concerned
about cleanliness as Lady M.

Not to worry, she got a second wind, so after lunch I took her to the park. Where I got more exercise than she did. Combined with the morning's exercise you'd think I'd be thinner. An issue of too many sweets to the sweet, I suppose.
First of all, Zoe brought her bubbles. Usually she wanted me to blow bubbles so she could chase them. However, this time she wanted to blow the bubbles and wanted me to chase them. Bystanders were treated to the very rare juxtaposition of whimsy and sweaty exhaustion.
Next we played a game she calls Queen and the Princess, where an evil queen (Mommy) must chase the princess (Zoe). Pro: she gets tired. Con: I get really tired. Then our "rest" period consisted of me swinging her in the swing. (Higher, Mommy!)
To chillax or not to chillax.
All of this in the sun, my old nemesis. I've been in the sun so much more since Zoe was born that my dermatologist told me I have a permanent burn on my chest. I will look like I'm wearing a pink tank top for the rest of my life. "Fear no more the heat of the sun," Shakespeare said, but I think he might have been talking about death there. Sounds peaceful.
Finally I sent Zoe off on a made-up mission to the sprinklers so I could sit in the shade for a few blessed moments and nurse my blisters. As I watched her jump about, singing in her alien tongue that often frightens me, I thought of the line, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Since I couldn't remember the rest of Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18," I made up my own version.
Here it is, fourteen lines in iambic pentameter, forged in fire and bought with blood:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
I get hot just looking at you running.
Rough hands do shake my neck during our "play,"
Your expression? Disturbingly cunning.
Oft too tired you maketh me with your whines
Blows to my head cause my vision to dim.
Throughout the day my fortitude declines.
Anon, you monologue on jungle gym.
Thus employed, you miss my slip into shade.
Whilst thou cavort, I can sit, perchance, dream.
Yet thine energy never seems to fade.
Especially if you eat some ice cream.
      So long as I can sit and eyes can see,
      So long can you play, cause you're only three.

Zoe: 55; Universe: 0