The Issue of Gender

After chatting to a neighbour about the survey I did on children’s digital games, (
http://marian-penman.podomatic.com/entry/2014-09-23T21_01_08-07_00 ) she pointed out that their choices were all gender-based, which was a direct follow-on from the games and toys they were given when they were younger. Lego, for example was always for boys. Then they brought out ponies and pink stuff for girls, but the boys had all the adventurous Lego. My neighbour said she did not believe in gender distinction. She felt it led to the current obsession with transgenderism. How does a male know what a female feels like and vice versa?  How can young people ‘feel’ they are in the wrong bodies? Most of us would like a different body if we had the choice, be it more muscular, thinner, taller or daintier.

She then asked what does ‘feminine’ feel like. I immediately said, it’s when you’ve had your hair done and you’re wearing a pretty frock. To which she replied, that was alright for someone of my dimensions, but that didn’t apply to her. So was she less feminine?

What she was saying was that every female is feminine, but that feeling is different from one person to the next. Just because you might be petite and blonde does that make you more feminine than a more bulky woman? Just because you might like wearing pretty clothes, does that give you the right to feel you are more feminine that a woman who wears pants all the time?

And similarly, a geeky male with flabby muscles has just as much right to the title of ‘masculine’ as a beer-swigging footie player. Doesn’t he?

We make judgements based on generations of conditioning. It was once considered feminine to be uneducated, to occupy yourself with idle chatter and embroidery. So is there still an undercurrent of feeling that an educated woman, especially one who chooses a career in something like engineering, is less feminine that a stay-at-home mum?

In some African cultures it’s the women who build the houses. They probably haven’t got time to sit and ponder the meaning of the word ‘feminine’, if it even exits in their language. But if they did, would their idea of feminism be the same as ours in a western culture?

I now realise it is as broad-spectrum a word as ‘love’ , which we use to describe feelings we have for everything from romantic relationships, to parental caring, to affection for our pets, to a sunny day.

Feeling feminine or masculine surely has to do with being comfortable with the person you are, accepting your body shape, your interests and your gender, knowing that you are a woman or a man, and with that comes the right to think of yourself as feminine or masculine, whichever  the case may be.

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Video Games and Children and Me

This is a transcript of my podcast : marian-penman.podomatic.com
Children and digital gaming
I’ve always thought of writing & publishing in the context of books, magazines & newspapers, but suddenly the landscape of opportunities for writers has broadened. With the development of new and mixed media, people are making a living out of blogging and writing digital games. I never thought about the fact that someone actually writes the games everyone plays.
Digital games are ‘now’. Children love playing on a computer or other device and most have formed an addiction at an early age. I’ve seen two-year-olds flicking through images on a screen, fully aware of what they’re doing. Perhaps it is random, but the two-year-olds I observed were looking for their own age-specific games. How can we blame them when they see their parents and grandparents engrossed in either complicated virtual realities or mindless clicking, moving, or virtual ‘buying’ ? Children are taken out to a restaurant for a family meal, and what do they see at every table but people with their heads down playing on their phones, checking their Facebook newsfeeds or sneaking a quick five minutes at their favourite game! Electronic communication is a way of life, and with that comes games.
Anyone who has read my earlier blog will understand that I am not a gamer. Except scrabble, to which I admit, I am addicted. But I don’t quite understand the attraction of virtual reality games and I was interested to see which games children played and how it affected them.
The Victorian Health Promotion Framework acknowledges that new and mixed media plays an increasingly significant role in determining a young person’s mental health. Electronic games represent a sphere where a person can be free from discrimination and life pressures.
As adults, we accept that most media has a bias, from the politically biased ‘old’ media to digital games that cater mainly to a specific demographic, namely; the white, heterosexual middle classes. This is particularly evident in American-designed games, although I believe there is now much greater emphasis on political correctness.
The implication must be that the majority of game-players fit into this demographic and can therefore relate to the game.
So, the ways games are being created now, combined with many children’s fascination for digital games, opens wonderful opportunities for some subtle education. This generation of children are technically savvy. I was totally amazed two years ago when my (then) 9 year-old granddaughter asked me if I’d like to see her PowerPoint presentation on albatrosses. And then her brother, 15 months her junior asked if I’d like to see his presentation on racing cars. They had done all their own research via everyone’s best friend, Mr Google, but had gleaned worthwhile information which they had both compiled into very watchable presentations which even included some animations.
With this in mind, creative games designers have an absolutely amazing opportunity to use virtual reality to give children the chance to make moral, ethical, ecological and humane choices, while they’re simply having fun. What better way to learn that every action has a consequence? How much more comforting for parents knowing their children are learning critical life skills in a non-threatening virtual environment?
I have seen children excited to get on to the computer to ‘play’ Mathaletics, which isn’t even thinly disguised as a game. It’s plain sums with a bit of competition attached. So how much more excited would they be to play a game that teaches in a less obvious way.
However, there is a downside. Many parents I spoke to, said their children’s behaviour changed after extended play on an electronic device. To investigate this further I created a questionnaire with specific regard to the age and gender of the child, the type of games played and the length of time the children played them.
When I started on this idea, I took the children aside from their parents to answer questions, and then I posed the same questions to the parents (plus a couple more), but the group I studied were all very involved and aware parents who monitored what their children were doing.
Initially I was only able to take data from a small group, all within the same socio-economic stratum, but if anyone cares to contribute further comments, please check out the blogsite: marian-penman.blogspot.com/
In the hope of extending my data source I compiled an online survey which I put out through facebook. However, as the responses are anonymous, I have no way of confirming the demographics. What they did show, however was that the average time spent playing electronic games was 18.3 hours per week. I took only results from children aged between 7 and 11.
The favourite game amongst those surveyed was: Clash of Clans followed by Minecraft. Other games played were Hey Day, Fifa 14, The Sims 3, My singing Monsters
The children did play against other players, supposedly all known to them, although the children said it was possible to join random groups in Clash of Clans, and one 10 year old girl had been contacted by an unknown person but she ignored the request.
50% of parents said their children’s behaviour changed after extended time on devices. They became grumpy , moody, narky and gave back chat. Of those 50%, 75% were boys.
Although all parents questioned had verified the games for suitability, only one had actually played the game with the child, and several parents confessed they didn’t always have time to check out what their child was playing. Parents I spoke to also said they had played electronic games in the past with their children, games such as Candy crush Saga, 4 pics one word and word shaker, but their children now professed those games to be passé. As they did with the games classified in the Apple App store as being suitable for kids 9-11. Only one of the games featured under the educational section of the App store had been played by any of the children interviewed face to face. That was Campus life, which the one child had outgrown (in her own words). One 9 year old girl played games from the section classified as family.
I did try a couple of the games, and am sorry to say I found them fairly mindless. I probably didn’t persevere for long enough to get into them.
One interesting thing I noted was that the average amount of time spent gaming was 3 hours longer among the online respondents than the people I interviewed face to face. Were they being more honest, or was that just coincidence?
And regarding the children’s behaviours, again, in the group I monitored, the parents were aware of their child’s reactions to extended screen time, so computer games were mostly considered the necessary ‘fat ‘ content of a well-balanced diet. As long as the children had outside play time, playing on their devices was OK.
As a parent and previous teacher, I am excited about the potential that lies at the fingertips of creative games designers. Through the power of digital games, there lies the power to create a generation of caring, moral, humane and culturally aware individuals who have overcome temptation and greed, observed the consequences of dishonesty and cruelty and have thought their way through virtual challenges, and all while having fun.
But for me, as an older person, I do not envy parents the responsibility of monitoring not only the time their children spend on their devices but also the content of the games they are playing.
I would welcome your comments.

Cyclone Ita

It’s a family joke. Every time I go on holiday it rains. Last month I went to see family in South Africa. They had been having glorious weather – right up until the day I arrived. Then the rain came, every day! but this time I have truly outdone myself. Tropical cyclone Ita followed me to New Zealand. Torrential rain and gale force winds battered Tauranga all day an all night. Are the heavens trying to tell me something? But with a child sitting on my lap, looking at those heavy clouds I can actually see the silver lining.