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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  • Katharina Chase

    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!

  • Diane Meier

    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.  


  • Mary Keating

    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!! :)


  • 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...


  • B.A. Webster

    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! 

  • Catherine Chisnall

    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.

  • Sharon D. Dillon

    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.

  • Deborah Siegel Writing

    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!

  • AngryCat

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


  • Joyce Evans-Campbell

    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.

  • Joyce Evans-Campbell

    Deborah, we can never use or allude to gender too much. It's like using rape -- never too much. (I heard a man on the news say he's sick of hearing about rape all the time) I said to my hubby who's disabled like me: If rape stopped occurring, we wouldn't have to talk about it. And to you: If we had gender parity, power, etc., we might be able to get soft on the gender usage. Somehow, I think it'll be a long time from now. Just a few thoughts. May be this could be a book, too.

  • Kathy Brunner

    It's interesting because both men and women have responded on my blogs so I don't necessarily write themes gender specific. I do however find myself navigating back to a theme about change and the unpredictable nature of life. I am most often distracted by the stories of individuals who somehow ended up where they never planned to go either because of a circumstance or even another individual who crossed their path and redirected their life (sometimes for better, sometimes worse). I was reading an article about James Patterson the other day and he indicated that while he is drawn to a certain writing style, he reads a variety of non fiction,historical and otherwise. Writing non fiction, I don't find myself drawn as much into other genres but I guess a question for another time might writers that evolve into a specific genre, read more or as much outside of their writing genre? I wondered Deborah if you also see that in your writing?

    This got me to thinking that if I am navigating back to a theme of how life can change in the blink of an eye, would I be more able to expand my writing by choosing to read more suspense thrillers, novels or historical books? 

    I rather suspect that writers tend to write about what they definitely know or what they have an interest in knowing more about but that might just be me. One thing I have observed is that more men are appreciating good writing by females as it is surprising to find men at my book signings and commenting and participating in discussion. I just began a blog with a group of women called We Need A Wife and while all the writers are female, males are often volunteering the best ideas. Maybe we are not as traditional as we once were, role wise; but still "want" to be that way.

  • Mary Keating

    Where does one begin with so many thoughts on gender issues, ‘feminism,’ parenting and motherhood mixed with so many stories, forty plus years of living and nearly eleven years of mothering history? Hum – lots to ponder and certainly to share. I too, like you, find much of what I pen to be rooted in motherhood and parenting. However, even more so, my pen helps me in the quest to reach personal life-balance in all the varied concentric circles in my life - a wife, a mother, a professional, a writer, a friend, a daughter and so on.

    I rather like to view myself as perhaps a work in progress – not a solid, rigid, well-defined form such as marble, but maybe similar to clay. With each new stage or season in my life, I am able to recreate myself to be what I feel I need to be at that moment in time or that which brings me self-esteem and lends meaning to my daily world. Transformation with a dash or two of strength-of-character spiced with some organizational OCD talents allow me to be a professional, a mother, a writer, a partner, an equal, a traditional women or even an individual who takes great joys in taking on the tiger with a smile. (No, I am not the Tiger Mother :) ) This is not to say I am acquiescent or compliant, it bespeaks of a women’s’ wonderful ability to live the various stages of life with emphasis on one or more of her concentric circles at any given moment in time. Albeit, at times it is not a pretty sight when one circle is calling me and another circle is in need. Furthermore, it can be comedic hula-hoop routine at times. Like moments when I WANT to write, but the girls require my time. If honesty must be told, I do get a bit feisty when my husband plays dishwasher monitor on my watch in an effort to be helpful.

    How my personal philosophy of being a women “and all that” is translated and interpreted by my two daughters is certainly something the future will reveal and definitely worth thinking and musing about. If they realize they do not have to be defined by this or that, there is nothing set in stone that says a line drawn in the sand can never be crossed and recognize that occasionally a life views at one moment often causes one to put a foot in the mouth at a later moment, I have accomplished something positive.

    In the past eleven years minus 2 months, we have gone from pink to blue, from tutus to basketballs, from soft and needy to solid and strong. The girls are competitive yet posses great empathy; they can wear skirts one day and pants the next and they are comfortable reaching for any and all things possible. Granted, the formative years have been a blessing with many changes and much learning for each of us – dad included. He is capable of a mighty pirouette! The need to transform as a mother to tackle the hurdles yet to come: writing a novel, parenting teenagers and attempting to do it all with wrinkles and sags is on the horizon.

    Any gift of insight and thought to aid with all this mothering, feminism, parenting and such would be a greatly welcomed package!!! Best of luck in your writery cave – come out soon – hibernation is only for a short season. :)

  • Diane Meier

    Deborah - I love this and I love you for tackling it.  Brave and wonderful of you.

    Clearly, there's more to talk about (and more depth to mine) than I know I can manage in a quick response, but I did want to immediately leave you with two thoughts:

    1. My generation and the generation that went before me in that glorious revolution of Second Wave Feminism, did many, many brave and important things, no doubt -- but we dropped the ball on parenting/childcare, and it was/is central to the issue of equality.  

    If biology is not entirely destiny, many of us, myself included, sidestepped the discomfort of pieces we couldn't get to "fit", by not having children at all.  But I always knew, in selfishly avoiding the personal challenge, we were ignoring the very real social problem. In creating a culture where childcare becomes each and every woman's challenge to solve on her own, we've taken no responsibility for a movement that promised to create lasting and positive change. And, unlike many of the issues at hand, it isn't something that money (except, perhaps mountains of it) or education can buy women 'out of'.  

    But solving it is not going to be easy. It is charged, in every direction.  It hits all the scary Socialism buttons for Conservatives - which makes reasonable discourse in anything beyond personal choice practically impossible.  And even on the home-front, it requires a kind of sea-change about what it means to be a good parent, when all of our historical myth has a mother at home, ready to make the oatmeal or wipe our tears or see our first steps. In light of all of the changes we were grappling with, I'm not sure that anyone, 40 years ago, was ready to face this head on.  But 40 years is a long time -- and we're barely an inch ahead. At least we're starting to talk about it again. Ten or fifteen years ago I couldn't even get a conversation going about childcare... so if it's not a groundswell, at least it's something. 

    And if I don't know so very many women who are ready to talk about it, even today, what about the fathers?

    Do you ever hear men sit around and stew about whether they should be home at 3pm so that their kids can come into a house with a parent?  I don't.  I think that young men today are light years ahead of our fathers, but still.... it never really seems as though it's their problem, does it.  

    Which brings me to Point #2:

    2. I have a friend, a child psychologist, who is the son of another prominent child psychologist. Both doctors are male.  They believe that we will not see an end to what they recognize as a highly-charged negative response to women in western culture until child-raising is managed by both sexes.  The psychic need to separate from the dominant parent, they explain, the need to reject and diminish the connected and powerful mother, is intrinsically tied, in both genders, to the female parent.  In other words, we hate them -because we need to.  We see them as weak, because they are so terribly strong.  And when we children are also female, we also hate the female in us. 

    The first time I heard my pal expand on this theory, I could feel my eyes roll back. I had every possible negative reaction. Of course, Freud always said it was Mother's fault, I thought sarcastically.  Where is the new thinking there. And I, for god's sake,  didn't hate the female in me --

    But years have gone by now since he first suggested this, and I've watched our reluctance to grapple with mothering and childcare.  I've watched educated, ambitious women reject things domestic, including all kinds of things that would have others see them as feminine.. even as those very things might be creative or life-enhancing.  Most of all, I've watched a Movement stalled on a sandbar of indecision or lethargy as we all just shrug and leave the unspoken issue of Children up to the next woman to face.   

     remember an interview the sculptor, Barbara Hepworth gave, about only getting to her work when her children were napping -- and my thinking that her limited output was not only cheating her from creative time, but cheating all of us (her audience, her culture) from the revelation of her art. 

    But where to begin.  

    That's what you have started here, Deborah -- I hope.  The "Where to Begin". 

    And I am so anxious to hear how other writers respond.

  • Donna Hatch

    Since I write romance, the happily ever after always happens. Beyond that, I tend to have themes about redemption and second chances. What that says about me, I don't want to know ;-)

  • Jennifer Hazard

    Interesting question, I think the answer is a clear yes, but I also think it may be part of a very long term project. As your kids grow and develop, society and culture goes through it's own developmental stages . I think that starting at birth and journaling throughout their childhood and teenage years will produce an end result that is full of surprises, more questions and epiphanies. I say keep at it!!

    In response to your question, my through-lines seem to be coming back to living a 'non-traditional" life, from being raised that way, to rebelling and becoming even more non traditional, to trying to "fit in" normal society and now, in mid-life, discovering the liberation in being Me, no labels, just me. I have 3 different blogs each covering different areas of life and that seems to be the central theme.

    I'd love to read your book, "Sisterhood interrupted" I have plenty of thoughts on that subject as well, now that I've become the "older generation", lol

    Thanks for your thought provoking post and enjoy those twins!