This is Just to Say…

The other week, I received a comment on a post that went up a couple of months ago, “Love.” The post talked about the ongoing observations I have of my son and his understanding of himself within the world at large. I’ve written before about how the rigid constructs of gender have only frustrated my son, who – at 7 – cares for many things that are typically considered more “girly.” Because of that, he still gets confused for a girl regularly. For a while that bothered him, but more recently he’s decided he is fine with it. He is comfortable and proud that he’s a boy, and understands that his likes/dislikes do not define him, much to the confusion of many adults he encounters.

All of that is background for the particular comment I received:

Where is his father?

This cutesy stuff is all fine until he’s 12, at which point he’ll require a figure of authority to guide him. Women can’t raise boys into men, since they are not men themselves.

I know it’s your child, but you’re emasculating him into someone who will have a hard time coping with the real world. Sounds like you’re raising him into a sexually confused teenage boy, that one day just might start identifying himself as a girl.

Of course, if that is your goal, keep going.

Allrighty then. Let’s break this down for a second:

1. His father is right here, part of our family and very much aware of everything that goes on in our lives. His father also has the longest hair in the family, so perhaps that nullifies the fact that my son has a very present, very involved father. Who knows. (For the record, his father is also a 3rd degree black belt who taught Karate lessons for many years, if you’re ticking off boxes on your “masculinity chart.”)

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My husband & son

2. What happens magically at 12? Does my son not need a figure of authority before then? I’m pretty sure he does, or else most meals would consist of candy and would be eaten in front of the television. Also, Legos would be strewn everywhere. EVERYWHERE. But to be serious, I think that the younger years are where the true “magic” happens. It’s when we help our son as his conscience forms and he understands right from wrong, good from bad, and how to navigate all of that. It’s when we (hopefully) teach him how to make informed, positive decisions. And, most importantly, it’s when we teach him how to not only be himself, but be comfortable and happy with who he is as well.

I won’t even touch your comment about how women “can’t raise boys into men,” but obviously I think it’s a load of hogwash, beyond ignorant, and does a huge disservice to the single mothers out there raising sons, single dads raising daughters, and same-sex couples raising opposite-sex children.

3. Emasculation. Sigh. I’ve dealt with this before. In my 2011 article “Pink Scare”  for Bitch Magazine, I talk about the media’s panic over “pink boys” – kids, like my son, who tend to dig toys, clothes, etc… that are usually ascribed to girls. Allow me to quote myself taking on Fox News columnist, Keith Ablow, who holds similar thoughts to the commenter above:

Ablow believes that allowing young boys to dabble in nail polish will not only “plant the seeds of gender confusion,” but will also trigger a downward spiral in society, until gender becomes so convoluted that—gasp!—it might just cease to exist. He posits, “It will be a very big deal if it turns out that neither gender is very comfortable anymore nurturing children above all else, and neither gender is motivated to rank creating a family above having great sex forever, and neither gender is motivated to protect the nation by marching into combat against other men and risking their lives.”

Ablow makes quite the leap in reasoning there, if indeed it can be called reasoning. (“Blind gender panic and homophobia” seems more accurate.) For me, the fact that my son plays “family” and lovingly cuddles his dolls (and paints his nails and dresses up on occasion) actually gives me hope that he will be a loving, caring, nurturing father. But beyond that, Ablow’s fears seem not only irrational but ahistorical: The fact of a young boy wearing a dress, or a young girl refusing to wear one, is not a millennial phenomenon. The generation that grew up on Marlo Thomas and Friends singing “Free to Be… You and Me,” for instance, doesn’t seem to have had any problem marching into combat, finding “true love” via reality television, getting married, having children, tweeting photos of their private parts to strangers, and living heteronormative, appropriately gendered lives.

4. CAN WE STOP CONFLATING GENDER & SEXUALITY ALREADY?! No? Okay, then let’s do this again. For the billionth time – The fact that my son enjoys the colors pink or purple, wears his hair long, or digs playing family or dress up has no bearing on his sexuality. He’s only 7. He hugs everyone. I have no idea what his sexual preferences are, nor do I want to spend anytime actually thinking about it. (also, let’s not even talk about how somebody’s sexual preferences have little to do with how masculine or feminine they are, unless we’re talking tired stereotypes that you’ve only seen on television…)

 

Here’s why I hate that we have such narrow boxes for our children. Instead of just being allowed to play with whatever toys he fancies or wear clothes that seem cool to him, it becomes about bigger messages that my son isn’t even thinking about. And for the people that feel that by allowing my son the freedom to express himself, I am damaging him – I have to ask: Where’s the line?

What’s “too girly?” Is there a magical point (much like the 12-year-old assumption above), where my son has taken on too many girly things and it all goes to hell in a hand basket? Can I balance it out with enough “boy stuff” to not worry about damaging him? Can you sense my sarcasm through the screen? I hope so.

Because here’s the thing. I have this kid. He’s 7. And he’s frankly all sorts of awesome just the way he is.

He climbs rock walls all the way to the top, showing off his agility, strong muscles, and fearlessness. Boy enough for you?

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Of course, he does so while wearing headbands to keep the curls out of his eyes and spandex leggings & neon green shorts (“sports clothes” in his mind). Too girly?

He’s also a star soccer player, tearing up the field scoring goals.

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But he does so in his rainbow leg warmers and pink shin guards.

He’s also an incredible downhill skier. He leads his ski class down trails and over jumps. He’s fearless, fast, and is certainly better on skis than me.

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But he does so while rocking some awesome pink gloves he picked out and a white helmet with pink accents.

He also spends hours playing Legos, building snap circuits, and pretending to be a superhero. But just yesterday he spent most of the morning playing family with his best friend (a girl *gasp!*). He also helped me cook dinner and frequently convinces me to use up precious picture space on my iPhone to snap shots of his latest plated creations.

Random, internet commenter: You might see a kid who will turn into a confused, aimless, sexually ambiguous teenager with a limited future. I see a kid who knows what he likes and is full of opportunity and possibility. I see a kid who is secure in his abilities and desires and is unafraid to stick up for himself or others. I see a kid who enjoys being who he is, even if he doesn’t fit into a cookie cutter definition of “boy.” I see a kid who is truly loved and loves back just as fiercely.

So, as you say in your last line – I will keep going, because everything is going pretty damn great from where I’m standing.

 

 

 

37 thoughts on “This is Just to Say…

  1. Maybe you should have deleted the blatherer’s comment. Don’t get me wrong: no matter how much I like your answer (and I like it a lot!) – someone writing a comment like that will probably never get what bringing up a child is about.

    • Yeah, I tossed around whether to hit publish on this post (just writing it out felt good!), but ultimately decided to put it out there, if only because this commenter is not alone. Unfortunately, there are many people who have similar viewpoints, and the more we can expose the falsehoods that prop them up, the better for all!

      On Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 2:58 PM, The Mamafesto

  2. Your pride in your awesome little guy shines through everything you say. And it sounds like you have a lot to be proud of. Your kid is going to grow up to be a MUCH more well-adjusted person than that idiot commenter, whose insecurity about masculinity extends to policing other people’s children.

    • Thanks, Dana! I wondered after the fact if the post sounded a bit too braggy at the end, but then though – eff it, I’m proud of my kid!😉

      On Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 4:59 PM, The Mamafesto

  3. I think it’s high time you made a REAL “masculinity chart” for the insecure among us. Maybe a “femininity chart” too? And a “while you’re judging my parenting, I’m raising a balanced & happy kid so maybe you should log off and get a life” chart!

    • Oh, if I only had the time I would *love* to create something like that. Just assume tools, trucks & blue for the boys & princesses, housework & pink for the girls😉

      On Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 5:11 PM, The Mamafesto

  4. He really is all kinds of awesome. In fact, your whole family is sounding terrific.🙂

    So many times I’ve heard people, sometimes the parents themselves, express concern that a child is wandering outside their gender stereotype. I’ve even been told off for buying a girl the ‘toy for boys’ with her Happy Meal at McDonalds (I would have been less surprised to be told off for buying her junk food, but no, the movie-themed car was the issue). I always want to ask them, ‘what are so scared of?’ I don’t understand why they can’t see, at least to some degree, that these gender rules are arbitrary.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Debbie! And isn’t that what it all boils down to – fear? Because otherwise, how does a girl playing with the “boy toy” or a boy wearing a pink shirt hurt them in any way? I just can’t understand these fears…

      On Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 5:37 PM, The Mamafesto

  5. Great post! I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    My 7 year old, unlike when he was younger, is very conscious about what is “for boys” and what is “for girls,” but I have been doing my best to educate him about the gender bias in his statements (which he is learning from friends at school). My younger son (age 5) still dresses up in his sisters’ pink fairy costumes because they have wings and he wants to pretend to fly, adores playing in his school’s pretend kitchen, often plays with the prince and princess in his sister’s pink castle toy… He liked what he likes and I don’t think it’s my place or anyone else’s to tell him he can’t play with something because it’s too “girly.” Besides, I have girls. There is no such thing as anything being “too girly” or “just for boys.”

  6. I was hoping that you would also address the original commenter’s sexist implication that a woman can’t be a “figure of authority”. What a load of hogwash!

    But from your article alone, that assumption is obviously VERY false! Thank you for writing it. The world needs more parents like you.

    • It’s amazing how much complete BS was in one short comment, eh? I tried to hit all of it, but may have missed some of the “nuances.” But yes, obviously full of hogwash & just more demonstrative of the underlying patriarchal nature of the entire comment:/

      And you’re welcome – thanks for reading!

      On Wed, Jan 22, 2014 at 8:12 AM, The Mamafesto

  7. All of this person’s comment was so out of touch with reality but there is a part that disturbs me. Why in the world would you look at a picture of a 7 year old child and based on what you see, start thinking about the sex they are going to have? On one hand, that’s just creepy, on the other, what business is it of yours? It just goes to show that there is a certain school of thought, if you can indeed call it thought, the fears anything that is not like them and doesn’t fit in to their cookie cutter, tidy, 1950’s that never actually were worldview.

    I raised two boys and made sure that they were free to love whomever they wanted as long as both were consenting. They are both heterosexual, though it would have made not one bit of difference to me if they weren’t. I currently have two daughters, ages 3 1/2 years and 19 months, and they will be raised the same way. In fact, having daughters has opened my eyes to the rampant gender inequality and the unfair bias of masculinity of femininity that exists. These girls will be raised knowing these things are wrong and they do not have to be accepted.

  8. When my 3.5 year old daughter turned three, or maybe a little while before, she adopted a boy persona. I assumed it was because she spends a lot of time with her boy cousin, three years older and really looks up to him. While I don’t really care whether she wears “boy clothes” or “girl clothes,” I found it interesting that she clearly understood the difference between being a girl biologically (She knows that girls have a vagina and boys have a penis, and that she has a vagina herself), and being a boy, gender-wise. She has days where she wants to wear “girl clothes,” with girl underwear and on the days she wears “boy clothes,” she insists on wearing her Thomas (aka Boy) underwear. She also seeks affirmation that boys can have long hair, like girls and girls can have short hair, like boys, and most recently, that boys “can wear pink if they want to”. My 5 year old is very much a girly-girl, so it’s been fascinating to watch my 3.5 year old figure this stuff out and express her gendered persona based on her current mood. Her cousins and older sister have labeled her a tomboy, which she happily accepts but made one of my sisters quite upset because she felt like they were putting her in a box, and judging her. I decided that as long as Stella is not upset about being called a tomboy, I’m not intervening. I feel like this is how kids figure stuff out and come to understand what it means to be a boy or a girl, and I don’t think her cousins or her sister are being mean when they call her a tomboy–they just like everything to be ordered and labeled.

    • Yes – kids can be big into order/labels, which is why it can be easy for parents to slip into that “boys do/like this & girls do/like that” mentality. Good for you for allowing your kids to be themselves!

  9. I am so grateful for your blog and for this post. I’ve only just stumbled across it, but the reason I’m so grateful is because you so eloquently say what I (and I’m sure so many others) want to say, but can’t quite find all the right words! Now I have a few potential comebacks to the people (strangers, mainly) who try to tell me I can’t put blue on my six month old girl because it will confuse her. She’s six months old!

    Thank you for putting the argument into words.

  10. Dude-you rock. So much! I always feel like mailing out “Hit Head Here” pillows to awesome Mommas like you and Melissa over of PPBB for when you have to wade through all the stupid that comes your way daily. My husband frequently gets comments like “oh that’s too bad!” and “I feel sorry for you” when strangers find out we have 3 daughters. He loves to knock them down a peg with “Why? I’m surrounded by the four most beautiful women in the world.” and proceeds to brag about our oldest love for fishing with him, our middle daughter penchant for dump trucks and dirt,and the fact that our baby girl will charm the socks right off of you with her great grin. Get the eff out of kids way and let them be the awesome they already are. Love you, your writing, and your totally kick butt kiddo!❤

  11. I did ALL THE SAME THINGS with my son when he was young… the dolls, the little kitchen with all the play foods and dishes, nail polish, dress up dresses and other costumes… zillions of legos, cars, and art supplies… long hair too… he also played sports and was active in Boy Scouts… he’s now 17… graduated high school with two years of college at the same time, working full time, and sharing an apartment with a buddy… he is the Absolute Best Babysitter around… he cooks, cleans, and organizes… he is a car freak… and great mechanic… he’s amazing on Anything Technology… he’s straight and very loving, caring, and considerate of his girlfriend… he snowboards, skateboards, and bmx is another love… he is caring and considerate of seniors too… he is one of the most all around talented, well adjusted, productive young men I know!!! I am a single Mom that didn’t date… keep it up Mom… he will be far better adjusted than most boys that get “boys only” input!!! I’ve raised four boys and one girl… they are all multi talented and quite well adjusted from the same opportunities… only stupidity and insecurity would throw such garbage your way… bless you

  12. In 2009, Eddie Izzard completed 43 marathons in 51 days for charity. He happens to wear nail polish or make up on occasion.

    I look forward to a day where gender is recognised by society as continuum rather than a binary choice.

  13. I’m sorry you have to deal with uneducated comments like that, but kudos to you for the way you handled it. I’m just now pregnant (should have my son in a few more weeks!) and posts like this are inspiring for my future child rearing days. I’ve been feeling a little annoyed with myself because my newborn son so far has so many boy-gendered items of clothing (I even began noticing my own biases about buying anything that might be construed as “too girly”) but don’t want to allow that to be the standard throughout his life. For now he’ll be an infant and won’t really remember or understand what he wears, but I hope to instill some love of variety in him, and to encourage him to make his decisions without succumbing to societal standards of gender (if he likes cars and trucks and the color blue, cool, but if he likes ballet and purple and glitter, also cool, and if he enjoys a random mix, which I assume is the case with most kids, still damn cool). Everyone in my family and most of the friends I have all have pretty standard ideas about gender (my nieces all have pink and purple and princess EVERYTHING and it drives me up the wall) so I know it’ll fall mostly to me to show him he doesn’t have to abide by one set of rules and should be free to do and choose as he likes. I’ll be looking back on more of your posts for even more inspiration🙂

    • Thanks! And congrats on the babe-to-be!🙂 It can feel overwhelming, especially with the way companies love to shove gendered toys/clothes/everything down our throats, but know that there are those out there who don’t fall prey to it all. It’s just a bit trickier to navigate, but well worth it!

  14. First time visitor to your blog. . . I really enjoyed this post.

    As a mother of two two-year-old boys, I agree with everything you have written here. You are giving your son a great gift in accepting him for who he is and not forcing him to conform to society’s expectations of who he should be.

  15. Pingback: Sex vs. Gender | The Mamafesto

  16. Sorry for the late comment. I just found your blog and I am catching up. Good Gravy! What is wrong with some people. Kudos for you for not calling the individual who replied with such rubbish names. I did for you though. Seriously, a boy playing with toys that girls also enjoy playing with, leading to the downward spiral of society? He may want to take a bit of a break shopping for the lifelike AK47 in Toys R Us for a moment to check out the news. Such philosophy has not led to a more loving tolerant world. What does make change is parents like you and your son’s father. Keep giving him a safe loving environment that supports his individualism and he will grow up to keep changing the world. And he too will show your grace and dignity when he guides his own children.

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