Who needs diversity..?

The answer would be “Me, I need diversity and variation and differences”

So this is a vent post, be warned.

Yesterday, we went to a popular farm restaurant in our area. Families love it, as it has a huge lawn and play area and the food is good without being over-priced. First thing upon asking for a table for four adults and one almost toddler, was being asked if my son would be sitting on my lap. I have a daughter, she was wearing red and grey. I’m used to this by now, since we chose to raise her gender-neutral (not as an it, just without stereotypes).

But then I look over my mother in-law’s shoulder at the baby behind her. The girl in so many frills and bows she’d never safely fit in a car seat. The one who looks like she’s just been fished out of a cotton candy machine. The one with the massive headband with the massive bow who is struggling to keep her head up under the weight of it. And I wonder if that’s what it takes to clearly be female.

But, you know, whatevs.

While we were waiting for our food, we decided to walk around the play area. Our daughter is very petite (still wearing 3-6 at 2 weeks short of her first birthday) and started walking about a month ago, so she seems to appeal to people. As such, we soon had a flock of women and girls around us. 

And there I stood, surrounded by a sea of PINK.

I capatalise that, because it really hit home at that moment and as I looked around, that not a single female under 13, except our daughter, was wearing a different colour. Every single one of them was in some shade of Pink! 

Now, for the usual disclaimers. No, we do not have an issue with pink. No, we do not have an issue with femininity. We DO take issue with stereotyping and forcing people into boxes they may not fit.

So I get you might love pink and think it’s the cutest thing. I also know you might hate it, but think it’s the done thing. I also know the struggle of finding anything else for little girls.

My concern is, our concern, is that when we are already stereotyping our children straight out the womb as princess for girls and anything for boys, what are we doing to their futures?

I heard mothers reprimand their daughters for wanting to play a little rougher, but encourage their much younger sons to do much more. What message are we sending?

There has been some research into why their are so few women in the STEM careers and a lot of evidence points to the way we raise and speak to our daughters. Less independence, less curiosity, less exploration, more care with your dress.

We want our daughter to be who she is, whether that is a princess or an astronaut or anything else or all of it. She was born curious and I hope like hell she’ll stay that way. So yes, she owns one or two pink items and she has a doll and teddies. But frankly, most pinks don’t suit her skin tone, she actively prefers bright and dark colours and frills really are not practical at this life stage. And yes, even at this age, we let her choose.

And we crave the type of diversity, starting with clothing, but on all levels, that allows a child to become who they are without stereotyping them into perfect little boxes.

PS. All girls do not like pink. There are only 2 females in my entire family who do and of those, one only started in early adulthood.

Ok, rant over.

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The Unassuming Warrior

Many moons ago, I decided to write a series about admirable women. I found 6 as a start and sent out my questions to them. Two came back with their responses so quickly, I was quite amazed. I’m still waiting for some responses, these women are super busy, and I’ve told myself that is why I haven’t gotten started, but the truth is, I haven’t had the guts to write about other people. Today, I feel that it is time I gave it a shot, though.

I would humbly like to introduce you to Jonelle du Pont from Tyranny of Pink. I first became aware of Jonelle during my pregnancy, on a motherhood group on Facebook and I eagerly followed her story as our pregnancies progressed. I was most fortunate to be put in touch with her by Mandy-Lee Miller from Pregnant in Cape Town.

So, here goes…

Jonelle is originally from Swaziland and moved down to Cape Town in 2003 to pursue her studies. She is passionate about Community Development and worked in the non-profit sector up to 2014, when she decided to pursue writing and started her blog (which you should read, if you don’t already). Recently she also launched Jonelledupont.com, her website aimed at inspiring women to achieve their own goals and follow their dreams.(Update: Jonelledupont.com has evolved to encompass all levels of community development )

Jonelle and her hubby have been married since 2012 and in 2015, they added the gorgeous Oden to their family. Being able to be home to watch him grow, has made her “professional sacrifices” (by societal standards) absolutely worth it.

Challenges

Jonelle describes her life as blessed. She comes from a close-knit family that has always offered a lot of love and support.

At 23, she unexpectedly lost her father in a car crash. An event that has shaped her views on car safety and played a part in her joining the #carseatfullstop campaign earlier this year.

More recently, Jonelle’s world was rocked by complications during her son’s birth. In her own words:

A more recent challenge which I’m still trying to come up for air from was nearly dying in September. I had a really straightforward pregnancy and everything was going along just fine until I went into labour. It was such a mess. The nurses thought I had a placental abruption (separation of the placenta from the wall of the womb) and I was rushed in for an emergency C-Section. They told me if they don’t act fast that my son will die. It wasn’t actually the case. After lying in the maternity ward for 4 days after my son was born, and constantly complaining of pain, I was finally diagnosed with an almost unheard of appendicitis. It’s really not something that happens during pregnancy very often. By the time they realised my body was already in a really bad state and I landed up in ICU.
Two days later I had to be opened up again for a planned general rinse of my body cavity. However when they went in, I had developed septicemia. What no one had realised was that I also had undiagnosed endometriosis and my uterus had fused to my colon. During the delivery of my son, my uterus had been pulled away from my colon, which ruptured and had been leaking into my body. The surgeons were not very optimistic about my case. I was in hospital for a full month and had to have physio to regain strength and use my muscles and body. Even though I woke from that surgery with a colostomy I hadn’t been warned about, I was alive. It was major. My newborn son was still lying in the maternity ward while I struggled not to die.

 

Coming out the other side

Jonelle is an incredibly positive person and has taken strength from her experiences. From her father’s death, she took the ability to be strong and independent. From her birth experience she took a great appreciation for life.

It’s not always smiles and sunshine, though. Jonelle also lost both her grandparents during the first 5 months of motherhood and had to return to hospital for numerous surgeries and treatments. It can take its toll on even the toughest of people. I look at my son and I burst into tears at the life that I nearly missed with him. I’ve had to spend the first part of his life fighting to get well again and just when things start getting back to normal I develop an infection and end up back in hospital. I’ve spent a total of around two months in hospital over the last while., she says.

Other than an appreciation for life, Jonelle was also reminded to live fully – life is just too short for all the bullshit that we put up with. Now, I’m dedicated to living a life that I love. If I don’t want to do something, I don’t do it. I want my life to be one that I value, not just a passing of days. What was major for me was realising that I didn’t need to change anything about my life. I was already living a life that I love. I just suddenly felt so much more appreciative of it and the people in it. These moments show you what matters and the people in it that mean the most. I discovered that I was really loved and I really loved my life.

Jonelle draws strength from her son, who is clearly the light of her life, and her family, who have been with her and supported her every step of the way. She is also inspired by People who live life by their own rules. I’m inspired by people who embrace difference and aren’t afraid to try things their own way. It’s so hard to stand up to what other people expect of you and say no, that’s not what I’m about.

At the time of answering my questions, Jonelle was focusing on getting better every day and on her writing, with the specific aim of empowering other people. She is a passionate person and empowerment on all levels, is right up there on her list of passions. She is excited about life and through a very tough time, has managed to hold on to her sense of self and sense of humour.

To those of us struggling to get through a day, Jonelle has the following words: I wish people would just look at their own lives and decide if they’re happy living the life they have. It’s not always possible to change your circumstances but if it is, and you’re not happy with the cards you’ve been dealt then change them. Pursue the dreams you’ve always had. Embrace the life you’ve always dreamed of. Life is just so fragile and it can end just like that. I was lucky to have a second chance but I was also lucky in that it made me realise that there is nothing missing from my life. I was already living the life of my dreams but I can tell you one thing that I know for sure it, I won’t be taking anything for granted anymore. Every single day matters. You don’t have to go out and do huge things, just sitting at home with my family is special to me. I don’t need to be climbing mountains to know that my life is amazing.

Even when it seems like all you can do it give up, don’t. Fight. Fight harder than you’ve ever fought and know that life is worth it. Bad things happen to good people and not always for a reason that makes sense. I’ve had so much heartbreak and pain both physically and emotionally but I’m still here and I’m not ready to give up. Have faith that in the hard times, there will be good times ahead but the power really is in your hands. You can sit back and feel sorry for yourself and wonder why me or you can embrace that bad things happen for no good reason but that’s not enough of a reason to give up. Don’t ever underestimate your own strength. You have the ability to change the outcome.

To catch up on all that has happened in Jonelle’s life in the 7 months since she shared her story with me, please head over to Tyranny of Pink and show some love.

Opting In… Or Not

A while ago, there was a bit of a bruhaha that every contract you sign automatically opted you in to have your details sold and you had to search for a way to opt out. This has now changed, because it was obviously not ideal.

Ok, that was a bit of an obscure lead in to my point.

We have a social media ban on our daughter. No images, no mention of her name. We did this to protect her privacy, for starters. We also have various security reasons that I won’t get into right now. When she is of an age where she can make her own decisions about her privacy and security, what the world sees of her, will be upto her.

Further to this, it is illegal to publish an image of an underage person without the consent of their legal guardian. In social media, nobody ever truly considers this, but there it is.

Recently, we celebrated a big family birthday, an 80th. It was an enjoyable affair with family and friends we didn’t even know existed. Photos were taken, as they are. We ate, we toasted, we listened to speeches and smiled at cooing grandmothers who wanted a piece of our little person. I tolerated some unsolicited advice and a lot of knowing disapproval. We went home.

It never occurred to either of us to tell a bunch of octogenarian not to plaster our child’s likeness all over Facebook. And then my father in-law got a happy birthday call (he happened to share a birthday with the gent who turned 80) from his brother. The first thing uncle says after happy birthday, is “your granddaughter is very cute”

From the lounge, I hear Dad ask when he saw photos and my heart sinks. In the three hours since we had left the party, about a dozen photos of our child had been uploaded to FB without our consent. I know, so what, right? Wrong. For people as privacy and security crazy as us, this is a huge invasion. 

My father in-law is shocked. The very people who uploaded the photos, have grandchildren with social media bans in place (European police forces have started advising parents not to post images of their children). What follows is an awkward phone call, requesting the removal of all images and a very quiet family evening while 4 adults ponder who else took photos and posted them.

I realise we can’t protect our children from the world. I realise we can’t control everything. I just wish in this age where people share everything from their breakfast to their menstrual cramps on social media, that one would first be given the option of opting in.

Think carefully next time you post an image of someone else’s child. Do you actually have that parent’s consent, or have you just assumed consent, as they didn’t throw themselves in front of the camera, screaming No!?