Sorting the numbers (and raising feminists)

More on the big question – should we let our Miss Ten get a cell/mobile/hand-u pone (thanks, stef!) phone? There’s a couple of points that are turning into deal-makers for me. The first is to do with being social pariahs, and the second is the money question.

Mr Strange Land and I are not social pariahs, we think (‘though other people might have other opinions about that, and if so, I don’t really want to hear them), but we do tend to go our own way a little, together, that is. We don’t get into the school community scene, although we will happily contribute where needed (both cash and time). We have just one TV in the house, and it doesn’t get tuned to the commercial channels all that often; we don’t listen to commercial radio; if we buy magazines, then they will be New Scientist or occasionally a history magazine, or perhaps a foodie one; we loathe big “community” events; parties are okay in moderation, but a lot of the time we would prefer to stay home; we don’t follow sports much (he does a bit, I don’t at all). In short, we’re not mainstream types. If everyone else is doing something, then that’s fine, but we don’t see it as a reason to do it ourselves.

That’s fine for grown-ups. We’ve gotten over the need to fit in, and we don’t think too much about it. But it’s a different matter for children, who don’t have the same emotional and mental resources as middle-aged adults. The strangelings have all had instances of not knowing about the TV programs that everyone else is talking about, or that are being used as examples in class, nad they’ve found that a bit difficult. (They still don’t get to watch things like “Home and Away.”) I’m reluctant to impose my own individualism on my daughters. I will do my best to help them learn to choose their own paths, but I feel that has to come from the inside, from acquiring a sense of themselves and who they are. That means who they are, not who their parents are. It could be that our children turn out to be more comfortable in a crowd. And if so, that’s fine by us. However, I think that they will find their own way much better if it is done at their own pace, rather than being forced to it by the sticks and stones and slights of their classmates.

I can see good reason not to be the only holdout parents in a class. However, I’m taking a huge grain of salt with Miss Ten’s assertion that every other child in her class has a mobile phone, and her claim that she is the only poor, neglected, child without one. I’m sure there will be others there without. Nevertheless, sooner or later, I think it will be good for her to have one, so that she can participate in the social world of her peers.

But then there’s money. That’s a somewhat tricky question, because Miss Ten has a bit of money saved up, and she says she will use her own money to buy and run a phone (more on that later).

Miss Ten has previously saved up her own money to achieve a particular goal. I’ve mentioned the story in passing before, here and here, but I think it’s worth repeating.

Many years ago, when she was Miss Four, Miss Ten decided she wanted some pet fish. Her father agreed, but he asked her to save up for them. So she saved and saved, and eventually she had about $25 to her name (not bad when pocket money in our house is set at $x/week, where x is half your age). At that stage, she changed her mind. I had banned Barbie dolls in our house, for the obvious reasons, and I had told her that I would not buy her one. But one day, she sat at the lunch table and told us that she had decided she was not going to get fish, she was going to spend her money on something else, and it would be something we didn’t like.

“Bloody hell,” I thought. “That child is going to get herself a Barbie.”

I could have said no, that she was not to spend her money on a Barbie. But it was her money. Children have very little power, and and very little space in which they can make decisions for themselves. I thought that it was better for her to be able to have some area of her life that she could control, so I nodded my head, and agreed that she could get herself a Barbie doll, even though I did not like it.

I see the decision about spending her money on a mobile phone as being a little like the Barbie decision. It is her money, and it does seem reasonable for her to have some control over how it is spent. Of course, Mr Strange Land and I are the parents, and we need to make decisions on behalf of our daughters, and to guide them in their decision making. Nevertheless, we also have to let them learn to make decisions for themselves.

So there are two good reasons for allowing Miss Ten to get herself a mobile phone, both based in our approach to parenting.


As many of you suggested, money, and the complexities of mobile phone plans, are issues. So we have asked her to compile a table showing which companies offer which plans, including the cost of phones, on-going connection, txting, and calling. (Frankly, I will be very grateful if she could sort that out for me too!) She also needs to sort out whether her pocket money will cover it, and if it doesn’t, what she could do to earn more money to cover the cost.

I have also suggested to her that perhaps she needs to get a bit more organised about her life in general before she gets a mobile phone. Little things like keeping her room tidy and remembering to do her homework and piano practice, and helping with the household chores. In other words, start to be a little more responsible, and then we could be sure that she is ready for the responsibility of a mobile phone.

I’m hoping that by thinking about money, and getting organised and being responsible, she will acquire an even greater sense of control over her own life, and a greater sense of being someone who has power. And that in turn will help with finding her way into being her own person, able to make decisions for herself, and to hell with what the crowd is doing. If she wants to go with the crowd, then that’s fine by me. But I would like it to be her decision.

As for raising feminists – she already says she wants to be a feminist when she grows up. I’ve pointed out that she can be one now. But all the feminists I know are people with a strong sense of themselves, a sense that they can, and will, change the world, even if it is one teaspoon at a time. I can think of no better way to raise feminists than by helping them to have power and the ability to do things, right from the start.


15 responses to “Sorting the numbers (and raising feminists)

  1. Good plan.

    If you bring up your children to be independent you have to accept they’ll make decisions which are different from the ones you would make.

    The alternative is failing to empower them which makes them very vulnerable because if they can’t think and act for themselves they’ll let others do it for them.

    It’s by making relatively small decisions and facing the consequences of them that people learn to handle bigger ones.

  2. This is not a comment about the phone but a sideline comment about the Barbie. Barbie is nearly as old as I am, and for me and for every other kid I knew who had one, she was about clothes. The fake body and hair fooled none of us, and we didn’t pay that much attention; she was a great deal less pinkified than she is now, too. As kids we collectively worked out a clothes sense — of what was possible, and ‘what went with what’ — from the Barbie outfits we bought and, in some cases including mine, made. And that included various ‘career clothes’– they may have been pretty girlie careers, but at least they got us thinking about women having a professional identity.

    I don’t remember thinking of Barbie as any kind of model or as physically anything I aspired to be at any point. But I do credit her with major contributions to my clothes sense and sewing skills. While the motives of Mattel (or whoever makes her these days) are no doubt as black as we think they are, I honestly think Barbie’s actual effect was more positive, at least on my generation, than otherwise. If I had a daughter now, I’d far rather she had a Barbie than be reading about the 500 daily sit-ups and yummy lettuce diets of skeletal celebs on their websites.

  3. You are awesome. I learned a few things about parenting from your post which is great as I have 3 girls too.

    We succumbed to Barbie but have a very firm “No Bratz” rule

  4. 1. I love love love that Miss 10 wants to be a feminist when she grows up, and even more that you’re encouraging her to figure out that she can be one now.

    2. Pavlov’s Cat: I also sewed my own Barbie clothes, and because I was so obsessed with American history (see: my love of Sunfire romance novels) she had Revolutionary War outfits, Civil War hoop skirts, prairie pioneer bonnets and many other periods as well. So I think I’m okay with barbies for girls (and boys too) if they can be used to encourage any kind of off-the-rack thinking.

  5. Oh yes, there are many uses for Barbies. Got invited to a bird sanctuary bbq (barbie) a while ago, and the way was signposted with Barbies caught in rat traps .. New Zealand humour.

  6. I know I”m hardly a poster-girl for the feminist cause – but ‘Barbies’ (I didn’t actually have Barbies, I had Daisy Dolls instead) were my favourite toys as a child.

    And I think I turned out alright.

  7. When I was pregnant with my first (and only) child I swore there would be no Barbies in my house. Now my daughter is 8 and we own at least 10 of them, but she rarely plays with them anymore. I am holding firm with Bratz, which I consider far worse, but which she has never expressed any desire for anyway.

  8. Oh, I forgot to say: Great plan for the cell phone issue!

  9. The Barbie problem over here, has been somewhat compounded by the fact that I am the only feminist in the house. I live with an accomplished Belly dancer and a talented Ballet student. They gang up on me when I suggest things like: if Barbie was scaled to human proportion it would be twenty foot tall, they say “don’t say that about her”. I eventually softened my stance and brought home a second hand Barbie house thats now largely ignored and a bit dusty. now that Belly dancer has found a husband for Barbie at the school fare. I try to mitigate the unhealthy messages that arrive with that particular Trojan horse as best I can. Barbie has a sister but they both seem to be considered one unit. Coming to think of it, thats warped, Barbies all have the same name, different sir names depending on what the wear. Bellet student was playing with one of the Barbies outside, then arrived back in the house with one leg broken of (I didn’t ask) So now we have a ‘Barbie disabled’. Belly dancer says: thats a terrible thing to say about Barbie.

  10. What a fascinating post!

  11. I love love love this post! I am so humbled by a) your reasoning power and b) your ability to lay it all out so we understand it intimately even though we don’t know your child at all.

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