Monthly Archives: April 2011

What are Little Boys made of, made of?!

Kindergarten. Oh, what vivid memories. Even though I was only four years old I remember those days clearly.*

It was a mixed class, boys and girls. We had to wear uniforms! Girls in skirts and boys in trousers. I remember meeting my first best friend there – she was cooler than other girls. I don’t remember sitting next to her in class though. I sat with a girl called Naomi and some boys. I remember having my first crush on this boy who was really nice to me. I remember looking like a six year old and thinking that this was the reason why one short scrawny boy, who used to sit next to me, would bully me. Then I remember him picking on other girls and thinking how silly little boys are. And I remember learning nursery rhymes for the first time and starting a love affair with them which has lasted up to this very day.

One particular nursery rhyme which I remember learning from a big book of rhymes (Childcraft – The How and Why Library, Volume 1, Poems and Rhymes – yes, I still own the collection!) as I got older was the following:

What are little boys made of, made of?
What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails
And puppy dogs’ tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of, made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And all things nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.

...and some Chemical X!! Ahh, the Powerpuff Girls. Every boy I knew used to love this show even though they wouldnt admit it!

As a little girl I recall reading this nursery rhyme and thinking why little boys were made out of such disgusting ingredients. I also remember thinking how not all girls were as nice as the poem suggested. However, I also remember thinking how rude and pushy little boys were and how most girls I knew loved acting like little princesses.

As I got older and started primary school, I found myself in an all girl environment – even our teachers were all female! Many girls bought pink stationery and lunchboxes. Mine were usually black, blue or green. I remember girls playing “Mummies and Daddies”, as it was referred to in the playground. I used to prefer some good old fashioned Power Rangers role-play! Girls would buy talking dolls that could piss just like real babies. I preferred Playmobil and Lego. The only doll I begged my parents to buy me was the Disney version of Pocahontas. She was always my favourite Disney female character – so strong, free spirited and beautiful.

It could be because I grew up with two brothers but it didn’t really matter. I don’t remember feeling bad because I generally liked more of the stuff boys are supposed to like or made friends easier with boys than I did with girls. I was happy most of the time wearing my elder brother’s baggy outgrown t-shirts and a pair of shorts to go play with the girls in their frilly tops and dresses during the cool summer nights in my neighbourhood. I only started to become aware of my choices at the age of thirteen. Hello Puberty!

It was like I saw pink for the very first time. I remember opening my wardrobe and realising I didn’t own anything pink and entering into a complete state of panic. I remember dragging my mum to go clothes shopping and I remember wearing almost only pink for two years after this revelation. Then I remember being conscious of fashion trends and make-up and the hair growing on my legs and underarms. I remember not feeling “girly” enough and starting to feel insecure about myself. Damn hormones.

It took me a while to realise that little girls aren’t really made of “sugar and spice and all things nice” after that. (Although, in retrospect, I already knew this at the tender age of five!) Since then I’ve learned a lot about sexuality and gender – especially my own. I respect and accept my character traits, my hobbies, my beliefs whether these are classified as “male” or “female”. I like embracing my femininity and my masculinity, even though I don’t really like to separate the two into categories. I mean really, what makes a man a man, and a woman a woman? Or rather, what are little boys and little girls made of ? (made of?!)

This question often rings in my head but I felt compelled to write about it after a little up-roar that happened in the US earlier this month. Gender issues and equality have been discussed so much in this last century that it has become old news but it seems people still feel threatened by the whole argument. The recent controversy has gotten people talking about gender again because of a recent advertisement by J. Crew.

First of all: Who are J. Crew?

Well, they’re one of the biggest names in specialty retail in the US and are very influential. They sell a wide range of apparel and accessories for women, men and children. Every year they issue 24 editions of their J. Crew catalogue – one of which had the controversial advertisement I shall be discussing.

The ad in this last edition, featured a designer from J. Crew painting her three year old son’s toenails pink and this is where it gets “controversial”: the caption on the ad reads “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.” Check out the ad below!

The ad would not have caused so much controversy had it not been criticised by Fox News pundit and psychiatrist Dr Keith Ablow in his article called J. Crew Plants the Seeds for Gender Equality. Ablow goes out of his way to explain how such an ad will corrupt the minds of young children and get them confused about their gender roles in society. Many people were against Ablow’s criticism. Most were females who spoke about “double standards” and how Ablow would have not had the same reaction if the ad featured a girl playing with toy monster trucks. Of course, there were some male bashings too like the one from Joseph Alexiou on the Business Insider. However, the response that intrigued me the most was the vlog posted on YouTube by a one John Halcyon Styn:

I like the way Styn uses his own experience with the colour pink to explain how society is so worked up with stupid things like colour or toys or clothes in order to identify a gender. At the same time, Styn uses a colour that is stereotypically a girl’s colour to actually put this message across. I really like some of the points he raises although it does irk me a little that he seems bothered by the son’s name and the psychiatrist’s name, which contradicts his argument on stereotypical gender associations. Of course, that’s just the vibe I got off of him. I could have misunderstood his comments.

What I get from all this controversy is a snippet from one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays Romeo and Juliet:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

This quote is as cliche as one can get, but let’s not diss Shakespeare. He was right, as always. And from this quote one can dispel any argument about what men should portray and what women should portray. Before being men or women, we are first individuals with our own cultural and family upbringings, experiences, education and a whole mix of genetics to boot! It’s hard enough going through all the images media and society drills into us as kids, let alone trying to come to terms with our identity and sexuality as teenagers.

I don’t know if the lady in that J. Crew ad was forcing her son to wear pink just to make sales, but I doubt it. The bottom line is that kids will have more serious things to worry about when they grow up so if one little boy likes the colour pink, who are we to judge? Who cares? It’s just a colour for crying out loud!

It’s true that some people feel that this whole genderless or androgynous look is becoming more of a fashion statement then a simple form of gender identity. We see it everywhere: catwalks, magazines, ads and on the street where the hipsters live. I too am enamored with the whole scene. One of my idols is Grace Jones, a woman who truly crossed all gender boundaries. I don’t want to idolise the scene but I always loved it because I too often feel genderless and I really wish genders didn’t exist. I wish we could just love people and not genders. It’s a confusing feeling to explain but it’s one that many people genuinely feel. And to have parents and teachers forcing stereotypical ideals of what society expects a woman or  a man to behave or dress like can become even more confusing for kids and can create opportunities for hate and bullying.

I am not trying to tell people how to raise their own kids, nor am I trying to outright bash Dr Ablow’s criticism of the ad, nor do I want to praise the ad itself as it may very well be that the “gender issue” was used as a marketing tool. However, I want to make people realise that they should be happy in their own skin and not succumb to what society tells them. I honestly mean this in a “pursuit-of-happiness-type-of-way” and not in a “rebellious-anarchist-type-of-way”.

Most people will come to terms with what makes them an individual eventually but until then they will feel like they have to uphold a role that society gives them like having kids, getting married, getting a job and all that other stuff “adults” do. At the end of the day, I guess kids will forever have to wait till puberty to figure all this out, which is fine by me. I mean, who wants all that pressure at the age of three anyway?!

What are little girls made of? Whips and chains and cello tape games. Thats what little girls are made of (ask Rihanna!).

Muchos besos,

Tammy.

*In Malta, kindergarten refers to the two years before primary school. Before that, children are sent to daycare (newborns to two/three years of age).

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“Be Kind as Everyone you Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle”

I was having a conversation with this woman the other day, about “big” girls being discriminated against at work. I can’t remember exactly how it started but it turned into a lengthy exchange of past experiences. We talked about how our skinny colleagues would break the dress-code at work and get away with it, while we would get a warning from the boss even if we were dressed decently. We talked about how the sight of us wearing a sleeveless shirt or blouse would be met by disapproval. The reason: too provocative. Ridiculous!  Since when is the sight of chubby arm flesh more provocative than the smooth toned arms of a size 10? We were having such a good old fashioned big girls vent off until she brought up her childhood days. This kind of ruined the mood but also got me thinking about bullying.

Growing up, I never really experienced any major bullying. I can only identify some nasty boys in kindergarten and two girls who used me as a target but they were mean to everybody so I couldn’t give a rat’s ass. It wasn’t like they only picked on me, so it didn’t affect my self-esteem at all. However, despite being the only coloured girl in a Catholic girls school who was a bit on the chubby side, the students, teachers and grown-ups seemed to adore me. I had it good.

The same can’t be said for this woman I was talking to. And before you ask, no, she wasn’t a random stranger. I don’t do childhood flashbacks with complete strangers. Anyway, this woman has had weight issues all her life but always seems happy and cheerful when I meet her. However, occasionally she gets temper tantrums and she was explaining to me why she gets so defensive when someone tries to correct her or bosses her around.

She told me how students at school would constantly tease her about her weight and how the teachers would get in on the act too. One particular story she told me really made me sad and angry. Apparently, there was a certain teacher who couldn’t stand the “fat” kids in class and would try and humiliate them in front of the thinner students. One day, she asked the five biggest boys and girls to line up against the wall, backs facing the class. This woman was one of them. The teacher then proceeded to ask the rest of the class to vote on which student had the biggest ass! Can you believe that? As soon as she finished telling me this story I had no idea what to say. She giggled and acted so cool about it. She explained that nowadays she just dusts it off and tries to remain positive about it. But she does admit that it was the reason she never liked school and never continued studying. She also says that those days gave her the witty tongue and the answer-back-attitude she has today.

Her story shocked me but I know that she isn’t the first or the last person to have gone through something like that. Countless people (and I say people and not kids, as bullying is not only confined to the school playground) have to put up with torment and harassment day after day, and even the people who care are too afraid to stick up for the victims as they don’t want to become victims themselves. And with the rise of the internet it just gets worse as these days people are subject to “cyber bullying” too.

I was actually compelled to write this blog post after hearing of the Brazil shooting by a bullying victim which claimed the lives of 12 students between the ages of 12 to 14. School can be an ugly place, not only because some students can’t take the workload stress, but because besides that others have to cope with bullying too! The same applies to even adult settings of bullying. Not everyone reacts to bullying in the same way but when something is “disabling” the mind and soul of a person then things can get ugly. I use the word “disabled” because I feel the action of bullying can have crippling effects on one’s mental health, which may cause one to not function properly in their daily routines. Bullying may “disable” one’s speech, may “disable” one’s morality, may “disable” one’s will to live. And the latter, is the most dangerous disability one can have.

So before you think of mistreating someone you think is “weaker” than you, stop and think of the consequences in your victim’s life. You may think it’s all for a good laugh and that your victim will play along, but you can’t even begin to understand the pain you’re putting them through. Very often, we joke about these things and claim that we’re only horsing around, but then we protest when we become the victims of actions we once supported. Man’s hypocrisy, is what I believe, leads us to act selfishly. We never really care about what we do or say, until it affects us or happens to us. It is a shame that we cannot see the world through each others eyes and truly comprehend the ripple effect of our actions.

I could go on and on about this topic but instead, I shall stop here and leave you with some famous stories of bullying on the world wide web-o-sphere in the last 12 months:

Fat girl: a history of bullying. How can people be so mean?

Bullied for being a Star Wars fan. My brother would gasp at this one!

———————————–

REMEMBER:

Be understanding. Be open-minded. Be loving. But above all:-

Much love,

Tammy.

 

 

 

Carousel [ Week 14, Year 2011 ]

Hello fudge puppies!

Fudge puppy is a word I used when I was younger. I was quite a weird child growing up. Weird in a good way, of course!

Here’s my supposedly weekly carousel post – a few weeks late but it’s here nonetheless. Knock yourselves out:-

niagaradetroit.com


  • Do you remember being a kid and putting chocolate wrappers in the oven and watching them shrink? If you do, then this website is going to take you way back and the best part is you can still buy the special plastic that allows you to create these perfect miniature items!

Waxing Frida. Hahaha!

 

That’s all folks!

Tammy.

Public Speaking (or What do I do with my hands?)

Public speaking or giving a presentation can be a really nerve-wracking event. On one side, there’s the difficult choice of what visual aids to use for your presentation, if at all. Then there’s the fear of speaking in front of an audience. Will I look like a dumb-ass? Am I sweating? What do I do with my hands? One funny example of all this is Will Ferrell as Ricky Bobby’s interview scene in Talladega Nights. This scene always cracks me up!

But of course, nobody wants to be caught in a situation like that.

My own personal experience with public speeches has been quite positive on the whole. I can’t say the same for television or radio appearances. When I look back at moments when I was filmed or recorded LIVE I always cringe. Those mediums of communication terrify the hell out of me.

However, speaking in front of an audience is something I find easier to do and something I think everyone should feel comfortable with. I feel that when it comes to an audience, you know exactly how many people are listening to you. When you’re on radio or television you’re exposed to people you cannot see. It is more comforting to see who you are talking to. And the bigger the crowd, the better. A really small room of people tends to make me panic more than a massive hall of three hundred people, as the level of intimacy can be a bit intimidating.

Some people disagree with my views and feel safer in front of a camera, more confident in an intimate setting and braver on the radio! Whatever setting you prefer, here are a few tips to improve your public speaking:-

  • Dress to Impress: Perhaps it’s the Commerce student in me or the fact that I usually don’t give a shit about wearing the same top to university twice in a week, but I think dressing up for a presentation is a real confidence booster. It’s true that wearing a suit (or something more formal than you usually sport) can take you out of your comfort zone but it can also make you feel powerful and in control. When I look smart, I feel good and I perform better. In the great words of Barney Stinson, “Suit up!” and be “Legen – wait for it – dary!”

When I start getting stage fright, I just suit up and be awesome instead. True Story.

  • Know your audience: I learned this one before I started reading about it on public speaking sites and in books on the topic. I find it really helpful to ask about the audience, learn something about them which they didn’t expect you to know and make them feel like you took the time to get to know them before meeting them. After all, you can prepare the best presentation in the world, but you’ve got to win over the audience first.
  • Rehearse: I like to wing it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Don’t leave a good presentation to chance. Make it happen. Practise it way ahead. If you have some slides or a video or other visuals to share, then make sure you’re familiar with the technology being used, and check beforehand that the room you will be using has the necessary tools for your presentation aids. Look at yourself in the mirror. Do you pace the room a little too much? Do you look like a statue? Practise your speech in front of someone you trust to give you good critique. Trust me, the mirror check always works. And so does talking out loud. I always used to come first in reading class back at secondary school because I had this weird habit of reading and studying out loud, or in front of a mirror. When I got to Intermediate English class, teachers used to encourage us to do the same when I had already been doing it for years!
  • Watch: Gala Darling, Jim Carrey, Steven Johnson, Hans Rosling – these are all great speakers whom I truly admire. Every time you listen to someone who inspires you, put them in your memory bank and pull them out whenever you want to list down the attributes of a good speaker. I’m sure that as kids your teachers would tell you that reading improved your writing. Well, guess what? They were right! Now take it a step further: watching presentations improves your public speaking. You can watch a speech anywhere but my favourite resource is TED talks. Here you can find a multitude of inspiring speeches on a wide range of topics which you can watch for FREE. Happy TED-ing!
  • Forecast: A good idea is that of forecasting any problems that might occur during your presentation and seeing how to avoid them or else tackle them if they arise. It is also useful if you prepare a list of questions you think the audience may ask you. If you’re not prepared for a particular question, then the audience may think you’re ill-prepared, not really that informed or a even a phony! And that would really put a damper on an otherwise well presented speech.

And to round off this post, which I thoroughly enjoyed writing, here’s a useful list of resources for the public speaker in training:-

Articulation is Sexy – one of the most inspiring public speaking coaches I’ve found online in the past year.

Prezi – the alternative to Powerpoint. I haven’t tried it yet but it looks so cool!

TED talks – a website full of inspiring speakers.

And finally, the queen of diction:-

Oh, I wish Julie Andrews was my fun aunt!

Good luck on your next presentation,

Tammy

One day at work…

A weird thing happened at work yesterday.

I was late for my morning shift in the computer labs on campus so I rushed in, put my bags down and started switching on the computers. At first, all I noticed were these five students quietly working on the computers. But as I moved to the front of the room I saw a man pacing in and out of a row of computers, giving instructions to a student. There would have been nothing wrong with that, had the man not been speaking in a distractingly loud voice. It was awkward as the students didn’t seem to mind and kept on working. But I was annoyed and as a lab attendant, I had the right to tell him to keep his voice down.

Under normal circumstances, I would have done just that. However, I couldn’t help but listen to what this man was saying. I wondered if he was a lecturer giving a one-to-one lecture, or a tutor meeting his student to discuss his dissertation.

But a lecturer wouldn’t go ” Stevie baby! Come on, you can do it!”.

I was curious.

After eavesdropping for a while (it wasn’t exactly eavesdropping as the guy was pretty loud), I realised what was going on. This guy was actually a public speaking coach. I had never seen one in action, so I let the guy do his thing and listened in for some pointers.

The student was sitting down in front of his computer, looking absolutely terrified, hiding his face under a long fringe of hair and a cap. The coach (still standing and with that loud confident voice of his) said:

“Come on Steve, you just have to stand up. No need to be scared. I’ve embarassed myself already and nothing bad happened. There’s only a few students here and they don’t mind. You’ll be giving your presentation in front of an audience anyway.”

Steve eventually stood up after several requests. He grabbed his right elbow with his left hand and stared down at his Powerpoint slides, then slowly started his presentation. I felt kind of bad for the kid. He was mumbling and I could hardly hear a thing compared to his big voiced coach. He lacked conficence but his coach kept pushing him on.

Here is some good advice I picked up during the session:-

  • If you have a difficult word to pronounce in your presentation and the audience may not understand it verbally, then always include in on your slide. They will see the word and hear it at the same time. Two senses are definitely better than one.
  • Avoid abbreviations. Try and write the full term. However, if you have to write an abbreviation due to space constraints, make sure you use the full term when speaking (at least when using it the first time in your presentation). This is good for the audience who may not know what it means and for you who may have forgotten what it stands for.
  • Project your voice and articulate. Don’t mumble or look down.
  • Never make last minute changes if you’re not feeling confident and without consulting any group members doing the presentation with you. Try and finish your slides and go through them the day before. Preparing or practicing things in the last minute can make you nervous.

I especially agree with the last one. I love presentations and public speaking but I don’t consider myself a great public speaker. I think it is because most of the time I just wing it instead of preparing myself. I can turn the charm on 100% but I only take in the true meaning of what I’ve written as I’m reading it live. That is NOT a good habit at all. In fact, I have a presentation this week and I’m doing my best to go through it before the big day as it’s not an easy topic to present.

I found the whole experience really interesting. And although it was a bit of a cringe-fest to see what that student went through, I still felt that he was a brave kid to address his speaking problem and seek guidance.

Even King George VI needed a coach! (Colin Firth in The King's Speech)

Essentially, the coach’s technique was to put the client in an uncomfortable position, show him that it’s fine to be in that position by self-demonstration and then encouraging the client to do the same. You go coach!

I’m definitely interested in attending a public speaking session after yesterday. It is a topic that I am really interested in. That said, my next post will include the Do’s and Don’ts of Public Speaking from my experience and from the eyes of professionals. It will include video clips, links to websites and other references. I can’t wait to put it together and hope you will find it useful.

Tammy.