Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cross-Cultural Medical Observations From "The Little Boys’ Room”: Part I--Auntilary*/Psycho-social

For the first time in a long while (y-chromosome readers will be happy to know), I spent significant time in the “little boys’ room”--twice, over the Christmas holidays. I have never made it a habit to frequent the “little boys’ room”, but have done so, usually in emergency situations in a single unit one, occasionally an empty multiplex one, with my personal male protector at the door; or, in the past, when a lifeguard, checking the change rooms (amazing ability to leave underwear behind), or during training when the y chromosome showers were the only hot ones--much to the consternation of the male lifeguards and pool rats, who thought my question about who was in there and in what state of dress or undress was a hypothetical (all bathing suits were on and regulation Speedos stayed in regulated places). However, extreme circumstances call for extreme transgressions of the one sign so universal that it is used to teach structural linguistics and semiotics: the gender sign on the washroom door.

Not only good semiotics but a philosophical commentary on gender relationships

Fair warning in China and in Korea

The artistic approach, French Impressionism

The artistic approach, Italian Renaissance style

Muslim majority country, or very politically correct European/North American one

 Read carefully or enter at your peril

Unisex emergency overrides usual signage, but given colour distinction there is probably gender segregation at the end of the arrow

From the John F Kennedy Library, unhappy signs of segregated South

IT people think these are normal

Gender Equality: the pipi dance; children only, it seems, but still gender segregated

South Asian Artistic

Segregated but sexy

Art deco

Contemporary Country, diaper change stations in each

Sporty, and international, pictograms

Both recent instances of  being in the "little boys' room" required my expertise (I don’t transgress lightly), and more importantly, perhaps, my compassion as a family member (here I am willing to transgress boldly the gender signs on washroom doors).


My 10-year-old nephew is an aspiring NHL goaltender, who admires, and can imitate well, these types of moves in the photos following, beginning with one of his idols, and then showing the others.

J.S. Giguère, recently traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, with a record 2 shutouts in a row in his first 2 starts for Toronto

He was asked, over the Christmas holidays, to fill in as goalie for a "friendly" game, by another team in his Atom Division, Minor Hockey, House League. Eager to play, to please, and to escape pre-Santa holiday boredom, he immediately agreed. So, off went his "crew", mother, grandmother, and myself (grandfather indisposed; uncle unavailable) to a nearby but obscure arena.  This arena is a very local one for practice and recreation only, as it was built by a community group in a former airplane hanger, and is therefore too small an ice surface, and lacking the amenities, to be a  proper game-level rink. Among the amenities that this rink seemed to lack, once we entered the little door that led to the little change room (ie no hall, in = in the change room), was a washroom.

Carey Price, a mixed Native and non-Native Canadian; mother was her band Chief, and father bought a plane to fly him the minimum 300 miles to and 300 miles from practices and games; now with the Montreal Canadiens (or Habs ie Habitants ie the original settlers of New France)

As all goaltenders and their crew know, failure to pipi before an hour in goal is an invitation to distracted pipi-dancing and a dreadful goals against average. My sister, after a quick glance around the room, which had no obvious facilities nor signs pointing in that direction, ordered my nephew to "go" outside--bear in mind this is in the middle of nowhere in farm country, and in the freezing (literally) cold of Canadian winter.  With more than a little reluctance, but not wanting to mess with an imperious mother, he headed off. Grandmother headed out after him, convinced that there is a pedophile behind every bush/ friendly face, willing to pounce.

I, with the least hockey facility experience, refused to believe there was no indoor facility, so opened the one and only door in the room to discover a tiny rink observing area, with a kitchen at one end, and YES! the open door to a loo at the other. It contained a rather simple standard sink with cupboards, and a toilet, and suffered from dim lighting, but had the advantages of being indoors and private. The child was quickly rescued from having to watch his stream freeze, and was delighted to discover indoor facilities.

Martin Brodeur Jr, considered to be one of the best goalies ever, started life as the forward playing son of a goaltender, asked to fill in one game as goalie, about aged 9, and the rest is history

Just in case, given it was such an odd and foreign setting, I stood in the observing area, analyzing the ice surface, while being nearby for moral support.  After a cautious glance in the room, and a rather reluctant entry, my nephew jumped out yelling "whoa!" at something on the left of the entrance, and went running back to mother. I explored the something, while overhearing my sister tell him to get on with it, just go,...etc. The something was a machine, but my nephew, after more protestations, and the threat of some unspecified punishment if my sister finished counting to 5 (I have never known this to be an effective induction of pipi technique, but then I am just an aunt, and she is an excellent mother), ventured back in.

Only to wander out again, protest futilely, and return, but not venture forth into the washroom. I offered to stand nearer to the door, no?; okay, just inside the door, no?; okay, inside the door facing the machine, ah too near the mirrors, a trick he has used many a time on family members; okay then, inside, and inside the newly discovered shower stall, facing the wall?; good, settled for inside the washroom, and just admiring the new tiling on the shower stall, with distracting and noise-covering commentary on bathroom tiles and décor--finished, and left me there in mid-exposition on comparative international tiling styles.

Vesa Toskala, recently traded from Toronto, to Anaheim, despite excellent play

Of course I said nothing more about the washroom terrors, and resumed my rightful place and role as cheerleader, except that as usual I was mostly distracted by talking to a Dad (or other parent)--this time about cross professional psychologies, organizational and other, his (finance) his dad's (surgeon), his mom's (pediatrician), and mine (various), sports psychology, health care services, his diagnostic questions about narcissistic personality disorder (his MIL), eating disorders (his SIL), and various observations and instruction (his to me) on hockey. At least it was better than the other Dads who had organized this game so they could get themselves and children out of the house on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and enjoy drinking some Christmas "cheer". I did notice my nephew's team won, handily, and he played well, with the advantage of an excellent girl on defense.

Chris Osgood, backstopping the Detroit Red Wings to the 2009 Stanley Cup 

As for the psycho-social observations on the "terrified of the washroom" part of the afternoon, so terrified as to require my presence in the temporarily designated "men and boys only" area, it seems that this combination of fearlessness in some situations--having 5 guys shoot a dense rubber puck at you with all their force, at speed, and with the kinetic energy of their skating--and wanting mommy, or reasonable substitute, in others, is a universal characteristic of  the young and not so young.  This is true cross-gender but probably more striking stereotypically among boys/men than girls/women. It is often hard to recognize the child within, for the person and for the observer. Professionally, I have learned to recognize sadness, fear,  hurt, and insecurity behind the universally acceptable male emotion of anger. Personally, it seems to me that North Americans have the greatest difficulty acknowledging these emotions, especially those of WASP heritage or cultural influence.

Eddie Belfour, considered one of the very best of all time, in goal here for the Chicago Blackhawks

In terms of family dynamics, aunts have a sort of honorary mother status in the best case scenarios, and when possible exposure of private parts is involved, though like mothers after a certain age such exposures are limited to emergency situations only. Aunts are also usually at a safer psychological and emotional distance than a mother, and even a grandmother who is a major caregiver. This distance within a loving and protective relationship allows for calmer negotiations of options, and implicit confidentiality.  It means an aunt is available when the alternates are distracted, engaged elsewhere, or being too pig-headedly focused on the goal to appreciate the child's other worries (as happened again recently in one of the "what to wear for the cold" morning battles before school between uncharacteristically oblivious grandmother and uncommonly distraught nephew). An aunt, like an uncle, may offer alternate experiences, serve as an alternate role model, and share with the child interests that the other adults in his or her life don't. Again, to me this seems to be a universal, transcultural, or cross-cultural phenomenon.

Nazem Khadri, Lebanese-Canadian, and the first Muslim drafted into the NHL by  the Maple Leafs (in 2009-10), only the 2nd in the League, and an inspiration to Muslim Canadians, especially in the Greater Toronto Area where he will play, and in Ottawa, where he was born and raised a practicing Muslim , and served as president of his high school's  Muslim Student Association:  not a goaltender but doing a good job of defending his goalie here

*Auntilary is a neologism for aunt-like, an adjective created to correspond to the more common avuncular, for uncle-like, by writer Dorothy L Sayers; and popularized by Amanda Cross, writer of excellent literary detective fiction, pseudonym of Carolyn Heilbrun, American literary critic and feminist, and the first ever tenured English literature professor at Colombia University, cracking the patriarchy led by one of the most misogynistic (at least professionally) of patriarchs, famous American critic Lionel Trilling, who developed the close reading method of literary study now considered the norm in North American education.
Heilbrun began writing detective fiction to retain her sanity in the face of her workplace, and her home life as a young wife and mother of 3. She did so, on a typewriter, at 5am in the morning, and published very successfully under the pseudonym Amanda Cross to protect her professional identity. She was so successful, and her workplace so competitive that a colleague eventually tracked her down, but after she already had tenure.
Her protagonist/alter ego is a literature professor, a character named Kate Fansler, at an Ivy League New York university, who somehow is always the centre of a mystery, and develops a reputation for solving them. The books are a great read, entertaining, fast paced, patterned on Agatha Christie whodunits, and each has a different literary theme (Austin, Shakespeare, etc) which is enlightening and fun even if not a personal favourite. Her books also give a glimpse into academic life,  a particularly bitter on in Death in a Tenured Position, and into the history of academia in the US (the Colombia University struggles during the 1960’s, for example, as part of the background to Poetic Justice). Her description of the PhD thesis committee and defense in Poetic Justice I find particularly hilarious.
Those familiar with Colombia recognize places, architectural features, and professors. Rumour has it that Edward Said, then in the Comparative Literature Department at Colombia (English Departments and Comparative Literature Departments have a love-hate relationship, and a Department of English and Comparative Literature usually is a marriage of convenience given funding constraints with all the challenges inherent in such a union) is the model for the professor pushed out of a recognizably Colombia window in A Trap for Fools. Some, especially the psychologically-oriented looking for positive coping strategies, eg kill off your nemesis in fiction rather than real life--much as Simone de Beauvoir did to Olga, the teenager in her real life ménage à trois with Sartre (or one of them), in her first successful novel L’invitée [She Came to Stay] -- see Lionel Trilling as the murderous professor in Poetic Justice.
In her academic work, Heilbrun made it a point to introduce feminist perspectives into literary study and was a leader in that field in the US; and, to advance women academics.
Her autobiographical work, Last Gift of  Time, is intelligent, witty, and a great insight into the power of a life transition (in this case retirement) to wreck havoc with one’s mind, emotions, and behaviours: she decided to live separate from her husband, James Heilbrun, Economics professor, who patiently waited for her to come to her senses in a separate residence, which she did after brief period of time. The life transition could be anything: getting married, moving to another country, converting to a new belief, becoming a lifetime expat…sound familiar? LOL :) Heilbrun died by rational suicide** according to the announcement of her death at age 77, provided by her son, lawyer and writer, Robert Heilbrun.

**rational suicide does exist*** but most often suicide is highly irrational, coloured by mental illness, drug addiction, or a sense of hopelessness where there are remedies, including for most with chronic pain or medical illness, or all of the above.

***This topic is addressed well from a philosophical perspective by Albert Camus in Le mythe de Sisyphe [The Myth of Sisyphus]  but tends to get short shrift from most psychiatrists, whose job it is to make sure the suicide is rational, not irrational, but has more credibility with critical care specialists who are not exactly willing to say so****.

****Okay, so now you know, I also write copious long footnotes, and am forced to amputate some, or parts of some, by editors wondering why I didn’t just write another article. Hmmm, future posts…? LOL :)

Jacques Plante (1929-1986) became the first goaltender to wear a face mask regularly in NHL game play, at first at considerable risk to his career and subjected to much ridicule, eventually establishing it as the norm, and now the requirement of all goalies, leading to masks (and helmets) for all players and required at the minor hockey level. Plante had an outstanding career goals against average of 2.34, and helped the Montreal Canadiens to a record 6 Stanley Cups.

To what extent do you think gender influences emotional expression, and how cross-cultural or universal is it?
What is the role of the non-parental adult relatives in a child's life and development? Does this vary cross-culturally? How?
Have you had analogous experiences of recognizing and aiding the fearfulness behind the bravado of a family member? How did you deal with it?
What gender boundaries would you be/have you been willing to transgress, in what circumstances?
How similar or different are family dynamics cross-culturally in your experience, eg American/Saudi, European/MENA, Western/Eastern, other?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

Coming next...Part II Filial-Daughterly/Medical


Susanne said...

Those bathroom signs are GREAT!! I loved so many of them! I don't have any children of my own, but I've always been very close to my almost-8-year-old nephew. We still go out every week. I'm thankful he lives in the area so I can be involved in his life.

I can't think of any gender boundaries that I've crossed, but I have an Arab friend who is seeking to follow her dreams of traveling to another country for higher education. She doesn't want the traditional wife/mother role ONLY and she wants to do what her male family members have been able to do and travel and study. Her mom wants her to marry, but she is determined to not continue this cycle that she sees prevalent in her area. She's courageous and ambitious!

I don't really have many similar or familiar family dynamics to share. If I compare my family to Samer's (he's the only person outside of my culture that I know well enough to compare) then I'd say we are both close to our immediate families. His extended family seems a bit more close-knit than mine. The ways we get approval (or not!) for our marriage partners is different. The family's role in marrying off their children is different. My dad would have preferred to keep me at home longer. :)

Chiara said...

Susanne--Thank you for your comprehensive comment. Those bathroom signs are great. Having had peeping Toms in residence I particularly appreciate the "fair warning" ones.

Having a nephew is a wonderful way to enjoy the positives without the parenting challenges. Now for a little niece too! :)

I admire your friend's courage. Hopefully as time goes on her parents and family will take pride in her accomplishments and encourage her further. Unfortunately some are never satisfied until marriage and babies also happen.

I think you described the American-Arab family constellation differences well. Generally extended families in Arab culture are closer than those in American culture though both value family. I think the difference is one of the aspects that makes both mistakenly believe that Americans don't value family as highly as Arabs do. To me it just seems they do so differently. I enjoyed reading Queen Noor's biography for her enlightening views on this.

You make points about marriage partners, and marrying which often aren't highlighted enough, and can catch both members in a romantic relationship off their cultural game! I'm sure you're Dad would have wanted you home for the longest time possible!:)

Thanks again for such an insightful comment.

Susanne said...

Yes, I hope for X's sake that her family will be accepting of her following her dream. I don't want to encourage her to do something wrong, and I don't feel what she wishes to do is wrong -- just not what her mom wishes. *sigh* I really feel for her. I explained it to someone else that I would not like to have a mother who resented me and being at home keeping house so is it fair to her children to "force" marriage and family upon her when she - for now - is not wanting this? I wonder how common her thoughts are. Well, she said most of her friends are waiting at home for marriage proposals, but she wants MORE out of life that than.

Oh, I'm glad you agree with me on the comparison of Arab and American families. S told me a long time ago that he heard we weren't close to our families because oftentimes we move out of state when we get jobs/married/whatever. (Like he has room to talk now that he is in Germany, his brothers in Dubai and Kuwait and another brother desiring to travel to the US for med specialization..LOL. Of course they "have" to do this due to lack of jobs and/or their mandatory army service if they remain within Syria.)

Anyway...yes, I am close to my family and most of my friends are close to theirs as well. It's kind of a joke among some that Southerners in particular stay close to Momma and Daddy even after marriage. And it may be true for many of us. :)

Wow, this comment is so long already so I will quit. I think the marriage process (American vs. the traditional Arabian one) is very interesting - maybe worth a Chiara post in the future. I was amazed learning it from Samer last year when his oldest sibling was looking for a wife. I told him it was the way we look for cars and appliances. (I am so bad, I know.)

Off to do some "auntilary" duties... talk to you later. Have a wonderful week. It's good to see you back. Last week it seemed you weren't around as much. I guess I "worry" about you when you are quieter than normal. :)

Take care!

Chiara said...

Susanne--it would be important for X to connect with other positive role models, like other female students and professors, and associations for them including specifically Muslim ones so she can build her own support group, and have guidance. I wish her all the best.

Yes my filial and auntilary duties cramp my blogospheric life, but I am getting back on track, as my father improves enough to go to a rehab unit. Thank you for caring. I always look forward to your comments, here and elsewhere!


Related Posts with Thumbnails