So sweet… Olympic mothers

This is Teresa Perales just after  winning 100 free style gold medal at the paralympic games in London 2012 .  This is her 22nd  medal ( same number as   Michael Phels) .

I like how she kisses him, talks to him and shares with him how happy she is of getting  the gold medal. Another way of looking at  motherhood and sport competitions.

Olympic mothers

Natalia

Why am I crap at Maths? Well, because I am a woman

Some writing about coaching women that I submitted for my certificate in coaching. I thought I would like to publish it in our blog.

Just a warning: A bit long!

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 Since Baron-Cohen’s book The Essential Difference[1] was published in 2003 there has been passionate debate on whether neuroscience can explain differences between genders; that is, whether men and women are different because they have different types of brain. In 2010, Cordelia Fine published her book Delusions of Gender,[2] which attacks Baron-Cohen and others’ main assumptions and labels them ‘neurosexism’.

The study of brain differences between genders started with several researchers, including Baron-Cohen, Becker[3] and Goldstein,[4] developing their theories in the field of disease pathology. These authors emphasize in their studies that sex differences exist in various chronic diseases such as schizophrenia, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s, among others.

However, the field moved quickly into another arena; that is, one of measuring different gender behaviour and innate skills associated with the female and the male brain. Some of the adamant supporters of these theories include Anne Moir, who proposes treating boys and girls differently in school based on their different skills and learning capacities.  According to this author, boys’ and girls’ brains mature at different stages to reveal different skills at different times.[5] Her theories have already had a certain impact on the British educational system with at least one school, Blackawton Primary School in Devon, adopting them.[6]

The question addressed by these researchers is whether male’s and female’s brains are really so different that they condition their behaviour and innate skills. If they are, what are these differences, and can they be proven scientifically?  According to Baron-Cohen they can.

Addressing the question of gender brain differences, Baron-Cohen says: ‘The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems’.[7] Reading this statement may lead one to think that Baron-Cohen follows a strict gender biological determinism in which there is no room for social or cultural constructions of gender, something that he absolutely denies:

‘Biological determinists don’t dismiss the importance of culture. They simply don’t deny the role of biology. It is a moderate position, recognising the interaction of social and biological factors. Nor, in my opinion, is biological determinism necessarily sexist. It can be sexist, if it is used to claim that all women do X and all men do Y (since sex differences don’t apply to all individuals of one sex) or if it is used to perpetuate social inequalities. Such sexist applications of biological determinist theories are abhorrent’.[8]

In his mild approach to biological determinism, not all men have a systematizing brain and not all women are endowed with an empathizing one. These are just tendencies. In fact: ‘A brain type that leans towards strong ‘systemising’, for example, is more common in males, but there are plenty of men who don’t have this profile, and quite a lot of females who do’.[9]

Not surprisingly, this statement can make one wonder about the truth of a scientific’ theory that tries to explain `differences between genders as valid in some cases but not in others. This field is full of controversy, as different researchers report different results in their studies.

For example, a study conducted among children at school shows that they are very sensitive to gender language and division, with children exposed to gender divisions more likely to present gender stereotypes, such as that only girls should play with baby dolls.[10] Other studies show that believing in stereotypes undermines girls’ performance in maths.[11]  Interestingly enough, it seems that not all verbal abilities in toddlers are gender-determined. A study conducted among 80 families in two small cities in Kansas revealed no gender differences in verbal interactions among toddlers.[12] And finally, a study conducted in the US between more than 450 children of different backgrounds, socio-economic status, gender and race found that young children think that certain attitudes or inclinations such as playing football or playing with dolls are innate to boys or girls.[13] 

These are just a couple of examples to illustrate how understanding of male and female brain differences is still very controversial and far from conclusive. As Barnett and Rivers put it ‘Baron-Cohen’s work on empathy is a distressing example of sweeping generalization based on almost no credible data. He doesn’t bother to ask whether women’s empathy is a product of their brain structures or (more likely) of the fact that society assigns them the job of caring for others’.[14]

 Supporting the lack of scientific conclusive evidence on brain gender difference theories, Deena Skolnik Weisberg affirms: ‘Remember that neuroscience, as a method for studying the mind, is still in its infancy […] we should remember that it has this promise, and give it the time it needs to achieve its potential – without making too much of it in the meantime’.[15]

Accordingly, Fine tries to alert us to the danger of elevating speculation to the status of fact: ‘Once in the public domain these supposed facts about male and female brains become part of the culture […] they reinforce and legitimate the gender stereotypes that interact with our minds, helping to create the very gender inequalities that the neuroscientific claims seek to explain’.[16]

Taking this warning seriously into account requires analysis of how literature on social science has been exposed to and influenced by popular science, taking for granted certain assumptions that are still debatable in the scientific community.

 Natalia


[1] Baron-Cohen, S. (2003) The essential difference: Men, women and the extreme male brain, Allen Lane, London.

[2] Fine, Cordelia (2010) Delusions of gender: The real science behind sex differences, Icon Books, London.

[3] Becker, Jill B.; Berkley, Karen J.; Geary, Nori; Hampson, Elizabeth; Herman, James P.; Young, Elizabeth (eds) (2008) Sex differences in the brain: From genes to behaviour, Oxford University Press, New York.

[4] Goldstein JM. (2006) ‘Sex, hormones and affective arousal circuitry dysfunction in schizophrenia’ Hormones and Behaviour, Vol. 50, Issue 4, pp. 612-22.

[5] For more information see Dr. Anne Moir’s webpage at http://www.brainsexmatters.com/learn.php [accessed 2nd January 2012].

[6] See ‘Should boys be treated differently at school?’ (2011) at http://www.educationmatters.ie/2011/01/28/

should-boys-be-treated-differently-in-school/ [accessed 2nd January 2012].

[7] Baron- Cohen, S., Op. Cit., p. 1.

[8] Baron-Cohen, S. (2010), ‘It’s not sexist to accept that biology affects behaviour’ The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/03/biology-sexist-gender-stereotypes [accessed 2nd January 2012].

[9] Ibid.

[10] Hilliard, Lacey J.; Liben, Lynn S. (2010) ‘Differing Levels of Gender Salience in Preschool Classrooms: Effects on Children’s Gender Attitudes and Intergroup Bias’, Child Development, Vol. 81, No 6, pp. 178-1798.

[11] Beilock, Silan L.; Gunderson, Elizabeth A.; Ramirez, Gerardo; Levine, Susan C. (2010) ‘Female teachers’ Math Anxiety Affects Girls’ Math Achievements’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, Vol. 107, No 5, pp. 1860-1863.

[12] Lindsey, Eric W.; Cremeens, Penny R.;  Caldera, Yvonne M. (2010)Gender Differences in Mother-toddler and Father-toddler Verbal Initiations and Responses during a Caregiving and Play Context’, Sex Roles, Vol. 63, No 5, pp. 399-411.

[13] Taylor, Marianne G.; Rhodes, Marjorie; Gelman, Susan A. (2009) ‘Boys Will Be Boys; Cows Will Be Cows: Children’s Essentialist Reasoning about Gender Categories and Animal Species’, Child Development, Vol. 80, No 2, pp. 461-481.

[14] Barnett, Rosalind C.; Rivers, Caryl (2005) ‘Biology, Destiny, and Bad Science’ Dissent, Vol. 52, No 3, p. 70.

[15] Weisberg, D. S. (2008) ‘Caveat Lector. The Presentation of Neuroscience Information in the Popular Media’, Science Review of Mental Health Practice, Vol. 6, No 1 , p. 56, quoted in Fine, Cordelia (2010) Delusions Of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, Icon Books, London, p.  154.

[16]  Fine, Cordelia Op. Cit. p. 186. See also, Barnett, Rosalind; Rivers, Caryl (2011) The Truth about Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes about our Children, Columbia University Press, New York.

Still around

Yes, still around and trying to find some time to get back to blogging . In the meantime, these are the things I would like to write about:

-Why me? Different levels of tiredness when baby and toddler refuse to sleep and you need to find the courage to keep on going the whole day.

-An article from Anne-Marie Slaughter on why women still can’t have it all

Many women of my generation have found themselves, in the prime of their careers, saying no to opportunities they once would have jumped at and hoping those chances come around again later. Many others who have decided to step back for a while, taking on consultant positions or part-time work that lets them spend more time with their children (or aging parents), are worrying about how long they can “stay out” before they lose the competitive edge they worked so hard to acquire.

Given the way our work culture is oriented today, I recommend establishing yourself in your career first but still trying to have kids before you are 35—or else freeze your eggs, whether you are married or not. You may well be a more mature and less frustrated parent in your 30s or 40s; you are also more likely to have found a lasting life partner. But the truth is, neither sequence is optimal, and both involve trade-offs that men do not have to make.

You should be able to have a family if you want one—however and whenever your life circumstances allow—and still have the career you desire. If more women could strike this balance, more women would reach leadership positions. And if more women were in leadership positions, they could make it easier for more women to stay in the workforce. The rest of this essay details how.

- Commenting on two fantastic blogs I´ve found: Mama Nervosa  and First the egg

- I like Mothering as meditation practice from First the Egg and also this  from Zanna Yardas

I was a serious meditation practitioner before kids and I wasn’t going to let the having of kids get in the way of this precious link to self awareness and sanity. But how? Where? When? Like most mothers, it was quite natural for me to just sit with my baby while we gazed into each other’s eyes.  But I yearned for more connection and less mentation. Then I remembered the famous Zen saying: before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.   So nursing could be become a time, a place and a way to meditate. Infusing this natural expression of mother-infant bonding with the practice of watching the breath, would ultimately serve to heighten my awareness and tune me into to my baby rather than to zone off or complete a bunch of mental lists that could wait.

As you can guess, I spend a lot of time thinking on how to find the time to meditate instead of just being present in the moment.

Currently in Bilbao, enjoying the sun,the company of my family, and adapting to the fact that people don’t respect a queue, don’t drink coffee while walking and never arrive on time.

 

Natalia

 

Naming things: Keep It Simple when it comes to toddlers

E. was hungry. He had a whole plate of broccoli and still wanted to eat more, so I asked him kindly -What do you want: yogurt or fruit?. I suppose to do this because emotional responsible parents that care about their toddlers’ needs ALWAYS  allow them to choose ( if it’s  possible)

And my emotional responsible son says: I want fruit. Here we go! I’m allowing him to choose, how smart and loving parent I am!

Me: Ok maitia (basque word for dear) do you want banana or apple?

E.: No, I want fruit.

Me: Maitia, banana and apple are fruits. Which one do you want?

E.:I want fruit- now he sounds angry and puzzled.

Me:  But banana and apple are fruits, like strawberries or oranges.

E.: Nooooooo, I want fruit!!!! fruit!!!!!FRUIT!!! -screaming the house down in a tantrum 9 on Richter scale.

Me: Sh*t !

Natalia

Lactancia prolongada y guerra de mamas

Hace ya unos días que The Time sacó en su portada la foto de una madre amamantando a un niño de 3 años.

Time cover controversy

La cuestión en principio no debería ser algo que causara tanto revuelo, pero no ha sido así. Podemos decir que todavía hay mucha gente que se escandaliza ante la lactancia prolongada, que la considera una locura e insana para el niño, pero la verdad es que la portada de esta revista nos hace un flaco favor a las que sí hemos amamantado hasta pasados el año.

Cuando la vi me sentí ofendida, y no sólo porque la chica es guapísima, delgadísima y no tiene ojeras ( y yo estoy hecha un asco) sino porque  la foto y el título estaban diseñados para polemizar entre mamas.

Amamantar es una decisión privada y personal y no se es más o menos madre en función de los años o meses en los que has dado pecho. A veces quieres y no puedes, y otras puedes, pero no quieres, y aunque estoy en favor de la lactancia y de que no se nos vendan historias que no son ( tipo la leche materna es más ligera y menos nutritiva y a partir del tercer mes hay que dar biberón complementario), lo cierto es que no me gusta que a las mujeres se nos quiera enfrentar en estas cuestiones. ¿Quién soy yo para decidir y ponerme en la piel de la madre que no quiere amamantar?  ¿Qué razones, qué sentimientos, qué vida es la que tengo juzgar? ¿La de la madre o la de la madre de la madre que nunca amamantó, o la del pediatra que le dice que no tiene suficiente leche, o la de las revistas que nos empujan a recuperar nuestro peso y figura a los tres meses de dar a luz?

Además, la imagen esta sexualizada a límites insospechados. El niño subido en una silla, como si quisiera ser mayor, mirando a la cámara y ella en actitud ligeramente sexy. En fin, yo en mi vida he dado teta a mi hijo así. Siempre le he tomado en brazos o a lo mejor tumbada en la cama, pero la imagen no refleja lo que es amamantar a un niño pasado el año. Así que de nuevo, la representación del cuerpo de las mujeres es utilizado para provocar debate y enfrentamientos, no para un mayor conocimiento del tema.

Al sexualizar la imagen se permite que la gente opine desde el lugar de lo indecente que es dar de mamar a un niño que parece mayor. Provoca reacción adversa en los varones que ven a una mujer atractiva que deja acaparar su sexualidad por un niño pequeño y les quita a ellos el lugar. A las mamas que decidieron no amamantar les da argumentos para convencerlas de que es una cosa de hippies y a las que hemos amamantado largo tiempo nos pone de los nervios un retrato de este tipo que sirve para polemizar.

Si es mi teta, y es mi hijo, ¿A quién le importa cuánto tiempo de mamar? Es una cuestión privada que la decide la madre y en la que se busca en consenso con la pareja.

¿Qué opináis?

Natalia

New arrivals at maternalselves

Long time since we wrote the last post here.We want to share with you that Lucila’s son and my daughter were born in January  with just one day of difference! Pretty easy but intense labours ( Lucila’s at home, mine at hospital)

Our lives are a bit hectic at this moment. We would like to share a lot of things with you but we need to wait a bit until we all settle down in this new and exciting life.

Lucila and Natalia

things I have been reading online…

I am trying to write a short review on new materialistic approaches in Geography and the politics of feeding, and as such, have been reading a few articles on this, which as it happens, seems to be a hot debate at the moment…

- blue milk, on the ways the message of breastfeeding is conveyed. I love that it particularly pins down the difficulties I find in the notion of ‘choice’, individualism and patricarchy…

- A guest post in PhD in parenting on the debate generated recently on breastfeeding in public.  

And then, something that relates to one of my daily struggles at the moment: to-do list vs being present with your child. Since I am mostly a full-time mom, I have to do things with r. around. I have always cooked and done some cleaning and ordering with her, but now it is also phonecall, fixing stuff in the house, clothes shopping (mainly for her!) and so on. We have recently moved houses and the house needs work, and I am in full nesting mode, so I want to do loads of things before the baby comes. So I find that I am itching to do things, to feel I have done ‘productive things’, and sometimes this means I see parenting as a chore more than something enjoyable, and on times like that, there is inevitably trouble, fights, and bad feelings. This post by Sew liberated on chucking the to-do list, really hit the spot for me.

Hope you enjoy these!

Lucila