The Pink and Blue Diaries: What’s Gender Got to Do with It?


Deborah Siegel thinks in public about the through-lines in her writing and asks, what are the through-lines in YOUR work?


I’ve been thinking a lot about gender of late.  Gender—that theme that’s made its way into most things I’ve written—is integral to what I’m thinking up next.  The other day I composed a quick inventory.  I urge you to create one of these for yourselves—turns out it’s a somewhat helpful exercise, particularly when starting something new.  Here's mine:


My book Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild, was about the way different generations of women in American have imagined “feminism” across the past 40 years, how they’ve fought for it and fought each other along that long and winding road to gender parity--a goal we're still fighting hard to achieve.


My column, “Love in the Time of Layoff,” posted at Recessionwire, was about gender relations during The Great Recession (media-dubbed He-cession), and all the personal and political ramifications that ensue when a husband (namely, mine) loses his job and a wife (aka me) becomes the breadwinner—and then becomes pregnant with twins.


My "She Writes on Fridays" posts here at SW have focused on varying topics, though the ones that resonate the most for me are the ones that deal with my growing desire to write about motherhood and the conflicts (maternal narcissismoversharingoverexposure of my kids) that desire dredges up for me.  My “Mama w/Pen” column at Girl w/Pen has focused on much the same.


So here are the two sets of gender issues I’m wrapping my head around these days:


1. Gender dynamics in "modern" American marriages: Since his layoff at the beginning of 2009, my partner Marco and I have been genuinely sharing household duties (which, by the end of 2009, when the twins arrived, blessedly included childcare duties) while both working out of our home.  Last week, after two years of unsteady freelancing, he accepted an offer for a fulltime, on-site position.  Suddenly I’m the working parent who will also be the more primary parent, since I’m still working from home.  (I’m also the parent who now gets to spend at least part of each day writing.  Woohoo!)  I’m somewhat relieved to no longer be the primary supporter, but I’m mourning the end of this period when, stressful though it’s been, we’ve shared parenting equally.  Soon, Marco will not be around for bedtime, nor will he necessarily see the babies in the morning before he heads to work.  The initial questions now swirling loosely in my brain:


What happens to relationships that start off egalitarian and enter into a more traditional arrangement for a time?  What will happen to ours?  Why don’t more industries in this country offer the flexibility that allows workers to engage more authentically on the homefront while still being good workers?  And why does every damn generation of women in this country—even the liberated, so-called postfeminist one—have to grapple with this tension anew?  How does who parents when, and more, affect the kids being parented?  How do the roles kids see their parents occupying affect the boys and girls--and ultimately men and women--those kids become?  How might it affect ours?  Which brings me to number 2.


2. The gendering of childhood from the earliest years of life: The Pink and Blue Diaries has its origin in a diary I started keeping when my twins, a boy and a girl, were born.  When they were first born, I was more concerned with staying sane than correct.  Still, the last thing I wanted to do was check my feminism at motherhood’s door.   So--after finding the Mother Writer! group (thank you, Victoria!) and kicking off some mother writing with this post--I began this journal, a gender diary of sorts, in which to observe the gendering of childhood as it played out in my own private petrie dish.  I figured I’d record some of the contradictions at play in the larger culture in which these new lives would begin to grow.  Along the way, I’d try to monitor some of my own internal contradictions, which perhaps mirrored those of my generation, in an effort to document that space between ideology and diaper changes where today’s parenting philosophies are born. What I was utterly unprepared for was how immediately the very assumptions I had spent my adult life trying to uproot took hold.  So I've been busy getting it all down--the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unexpected.  And I'm backing it with some of the latest in research in a variety of fields.  (I'm a researcher at heart.)


Can these two threads—the gender shakeup and shakedown experienced both personally and nationally, and the gendering of the two new lives (one male, one female) entrusted to our care, 40 years after the feminist movement began—co-exist as part of a single narrative? 


The Pink and Blue Diaries: A Memoir of Gender and Expectation


Hmm.  I wonder.  I don't know.


What do YOU think?


And what are the through-lines in YOUR work?  Feel free to share them in comments or a post!

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Comment by Katharina Chase on February 2, 2011 at 3:07pm
Thanks Deborah - finally got round to reading this and it was well worth it!

In terms of through-lines, I like that you've brought this up because it's something I struggle to identify. I find it interesting that a writer could identify through-lines, when it's hard not to be subjective about your own work. I suppose mine have something to do with identity, something to do with culture, social history, people... it's get broader and broader!

Re. the gender discussion - I find the whole concept of 'inequality' in terms of gender rather contradictory and by its very nature impossible to define. I don't think inequality is necessarily a bad thing, if it is occurring as an imbalance (rather than one gender being shunned and one being praised, for example). So how can we strive for this idea of equality in the context of something like gender which, by definition, isn't equal and shouldn't be! Genders are diverse and therefore cannot be 'equal' as such. It would also be interesting when comparing stats to qualify things like 'work' - ie. before washing machines, women would have spent five times the amount of time washing clothes, doing that 'work'. The concept is different depending on what time period we're talking about. And why is work such a bad thing anyway? Men can't give birth, women can - how empowering! We're one up on them, already there is something not equal there, and who are we to question mother nature?

Just my ramblings, thanks for a very thought-provoking piece!
Comment by Diane Meier on February 1, 2011 at 8:45pm

Good grief. I don't think anyone would suggest that gender inequities are the cause of all of our "problems". 

And certainly, some, of ALL genders and persuasions, may be concerned about the pace, the control, the concepts of success or failure, projected in an environment of perpetual media scrutiny and consumption...

But here - in this century, in this very lucky country, living lives that are graced with enough affluence and education to have us communing via an Internet,  women -- find that we cannot, for all our success and all our ambition, climb over barriers that continue to keep us connected to a culture that is no longer valid.    

It shows up in huge ways and small; we're all diminished, challenged, and somehow,re-invigorated, often in equal doses, nearly every day of our lives. But when we talk about our commitment as artists, and our responsibility as parents or mentors, we recognize the fact that in both cases, change must be in our hands.  


Comment by Mary Keating on February 1, 2011 at 7:40pm

I read recently of a study by the Work-Life poligcy that the average woman works nine hours more each week than in 2004. It is not just more time logging hours at the office. Little things like cleaning the house, running errands, paying bills, taxiing children and doing laundry are eating up free time. It woudl be great to see a comparision study between men and women evaluating similar issues!! :)


Comment by The Pink and Blue Diaries on January 31, 2011 at 8:38pm

Deborah here. Inspired by the rich thread of commentary you've all given me, I just posted a bit of an homage to ALL of you, here (at the very end):

Newly Employed Husband just came home, and now, I'm off to bed. I still want to respond more individually to things you've all said! Stay tuned...


Comment by B.A. Webster on January 31, 2011 at 5:21pm

I'm confident you have the skills to weave your two threads into a single narrative . . . and yet, it may depend on your approach, especially with your item #1.  If you essentially focus on what you're living in your own relationship, then writing to item 1 might be more manageable, but it might not resonate with a potentially broad audience of women living significantly different scenarios--raising children with no father present or involved in any way, to name just one.   I'd imagine way more time, research, and chapters involved in taking on those different scenarios, but it might be well worth it. 

Also, imagine this:  your daughter (or son) is 22 and asks if you'll complete an "autoethnography interview," all related to gender issues, as part of her (his) psychology class project.  This happened to me last year (I was 40 when my daughter was born):  25 probing questions covering many of the issues you raised:  workplace discrimination when I was her age vs. now, how I think I may have influenced her with respect to gender roles, what in my own parents' attitudes and behaviors influenced me.  Yikes!  Needless to say, I was up all night, both trying to answer the questions honestly, and wondering how much of this I should have talked about earlier with her. 

Very interesting post--and great responses from others.  Thanks, and best of luck! 

Comment by Catherine Chisnall on January 31, 2011 at 9:32am

I'm late to the party again!

I suppose my through lines are strange relationships. Not strange... but... unconventional? Relationships which are not classifiable as 'love' or 'friendship'. They are somewhere in between/ dancing around the love-friendship definition e.g. the films Lost in Translation, Girl with a Pearl Earring, that sort of thing.

Comment by Sharon D. Dillon on January 31, 2011 at 9:02am

Interesting questions, Deborah and thoughtful comments by other readers that expanded this discussion. I think this issue will always be with us in some form. I see my granddaughters struggle with it as did my daughters and so on. When I was newly separated in 1975 and needed to return to work, interviewers asked questions like:

How many children do you have?

What are your child care arrangements?

What is your contingency plan if one gets sick?

Our society still expects the male to be the provider. If he can't for whatever reason, he feels diminished as a man. Not much thought is given to whether we feel diminished if we can't provide. Oh, she can just go on Medicaid and WIC...

I started this response planning to just say, "good topic, good responses" so I'd better jump off the comment bandwagon.

Comment by Deborah Siegel on January 31, 2011 at 7:10am
She Writers, I am moved, humbled by all these thoughts!  More detailed and personalized responses later today, but I just first wanted to say: THANK YOU!
Comment by AngryCat on January 31, 2011 at 2:08am

Injustice has been my theme, always. Welcome to the world of women! For your project, I just found this (by big tink):


Comment by Joyce Evans-Campbell on January 29, 2011 at 6:06pm

Also Deborah, I thank you for posting this. I look forward to your pieces and/or books.

In addition, I remember while at the newspapers I worked, we had a style situation that prohibited us from using the word black, negro, colored, African-American, which is still controversial. Some blacks don't like it and refuse to use it. Back to my original comment. As a columnist, I used the race identity unless there was a picture because of the tone, style, voice, culture, etc., blacks wouldn't identify with the subject. And since the readership was down among that group, they needed to know about it and they needed to identify or not with the subject. They also had issues of inequality, invisibility, etc. I hope this puts my previous comment into perspective.


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