I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here, but a few articles and a few in-person discussions have gotten to a point that at least I feel like I can try to articulate it. The Rhymer is a boy. A boy with who has trains and dolls and a kitchen and tools. He took ballet class and soccer class. He pretends to breastfeed his baby, but knows and likes his penis. He has boy and girl friends. He's never asked to wear a dress, but I borrowed one from a friend when he asked a lot of questions about skirts. He is a very sensitive kid, very in tune with his and other's emotions, but also likes to wrestles and climb. In other words, I feel like he's kind of all over when it comes to the gender stereotypes (but he's also not pushing any boundaries).
But, I'm started to get frustrated. Not by society or even conservatives around us, but by the liberals around me. I just get caught off-guard when many of them claim that their kids' personalities are different because of their sex. Another one says out loud that he doesn't want to have a boy because he might be on of those "wild ones" (he claims my kid isn't one of them). Another blogged about her fear of male babysitters.
I don't know. I'm raising a white male (oh wait, two of them). Life will be easier for him than many others. But, this doesn't mean that the patriarchy doesn't haunt me, too. Am I allowed to be frustrated? Any suggestions for reading materials so I feel less alone in this? What do I say to my friends without losing their friendships?
Yeah, you can be frustrated. Of course you can. They're white males and so they get certain privileges. You and I both know this. This means you can teach them they are lucky and not simply entitled. They can use their power for good and not evil. :)
But they also get a certain amount of shit to deal with from the rest of society. About who they can be and who they can't be. And it is totally fair to point that stuff out. In fact, I always got more traction in my huge lecture classes by discussing the ways gender stereotypes hurt us all than I ever did just talking about feminism. And it's really annoying when the people who are supposed to be "liberal" and "progressive" are being just as dumb as anybody else.
But maybe don't be frustrated. Maybe see it as an opportunity. When you advocate for getting rid of traditional gender norms, it's not just for your boys I hope. It's for the many people who don't fit neatly within any gender category and don't understand themselves according to society's paradigms. And hopefully your boys will see that too. As for your friends, I find it's always best to ask questions in these situations. Why are you scared of male babysitters? What in the media makes you scared? Why do you think a boy is any wilder than a girl? Why do you think your kid isn't just going to be your kid, whoever they are? If you ask the questions neutrally and mildly people generally accept them and maybe rethink their stupid knee jerk fears.
But I would also have patience. The media and culture are insidious and they really do get in your head. It's hard for anybody to ignore the popular notions of beauty, and it's hard to get on a plane without thinking of terrorism. Culture is good at telling you stories and getting you to believe them.
Love/hate this issue! There's plenty of "oh, BOYS" in even our anti-Disney, anti-guns circle of friends. And that, of course, is very lightweight compared to what the kids get in the larger local culture.
On the other hand, lots of the families we know (including ours) are two parent families in which the (or one of the) female partners are the main breadwinner. This means a lot of modeling of good caretaking behavior by dads. The gendered socialization is still totally there - the dads are inevitably more energetic, physical players with the kids, in ways that never fail to make me tired just to watch them - but I actually don't mind that, as it gives the kids a way to reconcile the bigger social messages about maleness (loud! lots of running!) with being caring and thoughtful. For example, the bub and his friends decided they wanted to do wrestling play, and my answer would have been "No! Too dangerous!" but my husband taught them to 'tap out' when they wanted to stop and then supervised them practicing it and letting each other go when a kid tapped out. This group of dads is mostly also good about taking boys crying very seriously and respecting their sadness/pain. The one exception is someone who has talked about being brought up with a tough-guy dad, but I can see him kind of retraining himself around this more evenhanded peer group.
Anyway, for us the answer is good adult modeling to create social roles that are blends of traditional "male" and "female" categories, because the larger social messages aren't going away anytime soon.
Bad morning for work-focus for me! Looking at the XKCD forums I came across a reference to "bronies", adult men who are fans of My Little Pony. Don't fully understand the appeal, but generally gives me hope that men's gender roles are also transitioning.
Regarding gender roles transitioning: I am a serious pessimist on this issue but that is heavily colored by my own experiences.
Our library discards books periodically, and leaves them on a table at the front for people to take home. I look for things that are interesting or funny. So I pick up a lot of social science stuff written in the 70's, a truly hideous book from the 80's about women and their wombs of destiny, and a really funny one called "smoke in my lungs" which was a poetry book written on acid trips.
I digress. Recently I picked up a book written in 1978, when many of you weren't even born, called "HELP: A handbook for working mothers" And it describes fairly frankly the issues that women face as they phase into the workforce.
It was sort of heartbreaking to see that the majority of issues they discussed around spousal dynamics, balancing work and life, single parenting, dealing with the male partner were... the exact same issues I see in my life and in those around me (I work in field that is almost exclusively male) every. single. day.
It was very much a "the more things change, the more they stay the same" sort of moment.
In my larger workplace, I still watch, for example, when a small group of peers are talking or having a meeting, if one of the men starts to talk, the women almost universally stop talking respectfully and turn towards them. The men do NOT do the same for the women. And this is a fairly 50/50, almost exclusively north american caucasian workplace (age varies widely).
So... yeah. I'm not holding out a lot of hope on progress, because in 30 years it doesn't seem like we've made much.
I don't have a lot to add to what has been said. I can say that simply being open, modeling that it's ok to express emotions, and being there for my son to talk to has apparently been working so far. I mean, older son still occasionally expresses opinions that blow my mind with their unaware sexism, but in general I feel like because he can and actually does talk to me about anything, I can guide him to really be relaxed and comfortable with all sides of himself, both the "masculine" and "feminine" sides, without shame.
Also, I read this book when older son was about 3 and remember liking it:
Real Boys : Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood william pollack
And I've heard good things about this one:
Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys Dan Kindlon
I've read both of those books (back when I had my OS column, I think they were officially endorsed by "Give William a Damn Doll"). They are definitely worth reading.
Wookie, some of the stuff people are dealing with in terms of gender I read about when I do research on the 18th century. For example, people didn't like Wollstonecraft's arguments that women weren't idiots so they called her a slut (see: Sandra Fluke). It does often seem glacially slow. Still a boulder worth shoving, I think.
I've read both of those and for lack of a better term, they are scary. They've definitely informed my educational choices to date and make me concerned about our choices ahead. And also I've read Cinderella Ate My Daughter and I don't even have a girl! So, how do I get my friends to read the books about boys? It's not a one-upmanship game, but I want them to appreciate the struggles I have in front of me, not just the ones they have.
Also, another book for the reading list. Pink Brain, Blue Brain (ok, so I only read the preface so far, but she gave away the conclusion there). Two other blogs I follow: Pink is for Boys and Pink & Blue: Telling the Boys from Girls in America (historical perspective which is fun). The second blog is interesting because she's been exploring the 70s recently and there was more androgyny embraced. My favorite outfits were brown. In my mind, I still wish I had had more spatial toys, but it wasn't all pink and frills at least.
And I'll note that in the 70s/early 80s, my brother had an adorable Fisher-Price doll that no one gave a second thought too.
I bugs me when people say, "Oh, he must be a boy!" or "Don't you find that boys are just so different from girls?" My response is usually, "Well, I think they are just two different kids and I don't think it has anything to do with the fact that he's a boy." It's hard to say that without sounding confrontational, so I sometimes pick and chose who I say that to. And it depends on how feisty I'm feeling that day.
BTW, if anyone ever says they don't want a boy because they don't want a wild child, I challenge them to come babysit Ebay for a day.
Some have you have been keeping up with our "tooth drama" on FB (RoRo fell and one of his front teeth was shoved up into his gums). The dental assistant says something along the lines of, "don't feel bad. he's a boy." Like, I should feel bad if he was a girl? Or maybe boys should have these things happen? I'm sure she meant something like"don't feel bad. Kids fall all the time." I just wish she had said that. What I think is kind of funny though is I have since learned of 3 of my friends who fell when they were kids and their teeth were shoved up into their gums. and guess what? ALL GIRLS.
Sometimes it really amazes me how much we assume about the sexes even when the evidence is contrary to what we believe. Obviously all kids have the possibility to land anywhere on the spectrum about any action or behavior you can think of!
You know, even in my group of friends, which leans very heavily toward the gay/lesbian/queer/genderqueer, we get a surprising amount of "I know it's supposed to be ridiculous to say this, but I've spent a lot of time with kids and boys are just different! [insert: energetic, physical, strong, risk-taking, etc]". Or, in a way that equally bugs me, treat the little man's kind of extreme sensitivity, dress/bikini-wearing, emotional intuitiveness, etc as a sweet novelty. Which is kind of awkward, to be the queer family with the genderqueerish kid. Like he's that way because of us (he's not - he asks for princess/pink/dress stuff and we just don't tell him no). But he's not a novelty, and we're not doing anything particularly revolutionary or that I don't see lots of other parents doing who I respect and admire and whose kids do more stereotypically gender-normative things, and he's not more or less physical or rambunctious because of his sex - interestingly, we only get the "oh, boys!" kind of remark in the 15-20% of the time he's being physically really energetic. Like he's less of a boy the rest of the time.
It's intense, how we're so culturally driven to categorize. I don't know what to tell you about responding, though. I'm usually genuinely baffled, and kind of internally freaking out about responding in such a way that if the little man overhears he feels supported and stood-up-for, that I end up staring blankly at the person and stammering something along the lines of "well... he's a ...kid. That's just kind of who he is."
I think kommishoner has hit an interesting point: Humans are pattern based creatures. We are more comfortable when we feel like we have a handle on how X or Y or Z "should" be. We either ignore data that doesn't fall into that pattern (conclusion bias) or mark it as abnormative probably more strongly than it should be noted. Anything that supports our conclusions is used as "proof positive".
A girl who, say, like Ebay (according to her mom), behaves wildly is probably regarded as a worse behaved child than a boy who acts the exact same way, simply because we pattern matching humans have decided that one gender should fall within certain parameters and the other should meet these other patterns.
I'm just thinking this is a hard pattern to break out of. Try not to read more into it than you have to or you're going to spend a lot of time being offended. Be aware of your own biases. Reinforce the neutral messages to your own kids.