Wednesday, October 2, 2013

the bedazzled bulldozer

what better way to start your day than with some more critical analysis of heteronormativity and hegemonic masculinity.... AMIRITE?!? hahaha, i'm half kidding.

this is about my boy and his pink blankie - the kernel that sparked my recent gender studies rampage. warning: there may be an inverse relationship between word count and actual knowledge on the subject.

anyway. my son is very ... sensitive. the sensitive child thing, and more specifically, the sensitive boy thing, is enough for a whole book (seriously, there's a whole book), let alone a blog post, so i will address that another time. i know (or hope) that, at least in part, it's the age, hence the "top 50 insane reasons my son is crying" fad. but i also know that, at least in part, it's just who he is. he's the sweetest, funniest, most thoughtful, most empathetic, cleverest little person, but he's also very emotional, raw, dramatic, and intense. he cries a lot and has a quick and furious temper. he gets his feelings hurt SO easily - even a stray look can set him off like a spanish soap opera. we call him our "drama king." he also loves the outdoors and is obsessed with all things sports-related, especially baseball. he will reenact his world-series-winning pitch time and time again, but inevitably, his dad or his sister or i will say something wrong and there will be bats thrown in fury and a waterfall of tears.

jack loves bikes and skateboards and "surfing" and jets and rockets and construction vehicles and motorcycles and garbage trucks. he is also the only boy in his preschool class who listed pink as one of his favorite colors. he has a pink blankie (two of them, actually). he screams bloody f*cking murder if any winged insect flies within 37 feet of his head. (i'm talking like, a gnat, let alone one of those enormous shiny green pterodactyl bugs. last week we were eating lunch out and one of those skeevy things buzzed through the outdoor seating area and jack's reaction was exactly the same as the 14 year old girl one table over). meanwhile, my daughter will stomp on a big juicy spider with her bare foot, or pick up an enormous horned beetle bug between her little pincer fingers like it's no big thing.

jack has an internal safety-meter, closely monitoring himself and anyone in his general proximity, while colby likes to climb anything taller than she is, and will launch herself backwards off any surface with complete faith that someone will catch her. if her faith was misplaced and she comes crashing down on her head, she'll rub some dirt on it and move on. she's a little lover and gives the best "huggles" (snuggle-hugs), but if you wrong her, she will bite you or smack you in your stupid face. she loves "foop-ball" and "beep-ball" and is really into "air-peens" and trucks right now, or, as she calls them, "phucks." :) maybe this is just because her brother also loves all of those things and we basically haven't bought the poor girl a single toy of her own. the only "girly" toys she owns were gifts from aunties and uncles and grandparents. sorry kid ;)

jack likes to have his toenails painted, and when i'm getting ready in the morning he demands his own "makeup" so he can "get ready" for his "'pecial date." he loves to try on my heels (his favorite are a pink patent leather pair that he calls my "ballerina shoes") and his sister's glitter Target Toms. the other night he told me he wanted a pair of glitter shoes, too. DM was sitting there giving me a warning glare so i said, "would you rather have glitter shoes, or light-up Spider Man shoes?" he chose Spider Man, and DM said, "that's my boy!" [*insert eye roll*]

but i couldn't help but ask myself, why did i make him choose? (aside from trying not to make him spoiled as sh*t, and it is too late for that.) the same thing happens when he wants to wear one of his sister's flower headbands to school, or wonders why he doesn't have any tutus. i just duck and weave, claiming they're in the wash or we don't have any in his size. when he asks to have his toenails painted pink or purple, i try to steer him to green or blue. i know how ridiculous that sounds. i'm painting his freaking toenails, so at that point, does it really matter what color they are? (speaking of, did you guys read about the hullabaloo last year when the president of J Crew was featured in an ad with her son, painting his toenails, and the caption read “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.” the backlash was quick, fierce, and absolutely absurd. ugh.)

but, my point is, why do i care? why can't i be more brave like that mom who let her son dress up as "Daphne" from Scooby Do on Halloween?* why can't (or rather, won't) i let him choose his own identity without placing my parameters on it? these are obviously my hang-ups, not his. where is that internal cringe-factor coming from when he zeros in on the gold glitter shoes at Payless Shoe Source? my critical gender studies professors would be ashamed of me. he's freaking three. i've seen enough photos of my straight male friends dressed in high heels and dresses as children to know that he will probably not turn into a cross-dresser later in life, no matter what he wears today. i don't worry that i'm "turning him gay" or anything of the sort. either he is or he isn't and i'm fine either way. i guess mostly - at least, this is how i justify it to myself - i feel like i'm protecting him? isn't it better that i steer him toward "gender appropriate" choices now so that he doesn't get teased and made fun of down the road? but then, i am just perpetuating the problem, right?

i mean, we live in california. people name their kids cricket and apple and lazer and some family used their third-born child as a sociological experiment re: gender norms. i understand that we've got a lot more leeway here than we would, for example, in kalamazoo, michigan. i mean, some places, a kid could get beat up for having his toenails painted pink or wearing his tinkerbell backpack to school. but still. i can just see him proudly bringing his favorite pink whatever to show-and-tell and some big brash bully character calling him a pansy or a "girl"... just imagining his little crestfallen face, and him coming home and telling me he hates pink and his new favorite color is black (not technically a color but not the time to tell him that). UGH. just the thought of that imaginary scenario in my mind BREAKS MY HEART. seriously. my heart. it is hurting right now. ouch.

many people claim nature over nurture and i'm not disputing that we all have, at our core, some essence of being that we carried with us into this world. but i think this essence is such a unique, individual thing. i don't think it comes in only two colors, two shapes, two sizes. nothing has driven this point home for me like having children. my kids each burst forth from my womb (and boy did they burst) with their personalities more or less formed. they like what they like and they DO NOT LIKE what they don't. they don't fit any formula, prescription or mold. they couldn't be more different from each other, or different than what i expected.

and who knows. maybe, statistically speaking, more girls do like dolls and more boys do like trucks. but i also know, from my own experience, kids pick up on our every prejudice. yes they come complete with personalities, but the knowledge and information comes from us, and they soak up every last drop, even the things we don't mean to share. to the extent that we do inform and mold their beautiful little minds, our responsibility as parents and as a society is to fill their brains and hearts and souls with everything they need to grow into functioning adult humans, preferably of the non-A-hole variety. one of my best girlfriends was telling me a while back that she was trying to convince her daughter to leave dance class or the park or wherever and she said, "Let's go home so we can watch princesses with Daddy." Millie replied "Daddies don't watch princesses. They watch football." my friend was marveling that our kids are now at the age where we are no longer in total control of the ideas that fill their heads. it's so true, and a little terrifying, too. but in the end, it's a good thing, right? it means there's still hope for children born into that cult of dickish douche bonnets at westboro baptist church.

maybe the fact that i'm even thinking and stressing about it just reinforces the walls that have already been built. i don't know. all i know is, my boy AND my girl like trucks AND dolls, glitter AND baseball. and i want that to be okay. i want to be aware of, and resistant to, this pigeon-holing that we do. looking on Pinterest, i see "10 crafts for toddler boys," "outdoor games girls will love"... can't we just call those "crafts" and "games"? why do we always have to fit everything so neatly into boxes. do this OR that. be this OR that. must check one. it's dumb.

interestingly, i really don't stress about my daughter in this regard. (actually, that's not entirely true. sometimes the daycare girl dresses her in these horrible butchy/frumpy outfits and ties her beautiful curls back into this little knot and she kinda looks like a sumo wrestler and i have to resist the powerful physical urge to change her outfit and fix her hair immediately upon arriving home.) but generally, i don't worry that she's going to get made fun of because she likes football or dresses like a boy (thank you Shiloh Jolie-Pitt). if she wanted to wear light-up spider man shoes instead of pink glitter ones, i wouldn't even think twice (okay, i'd be a little sad. i do love me some glitter. but i am fully prepared for a tomboy/goth phase as retribution for dressing her solely in hot pink for the first 2 years of her life.) so. i guess that strips my biases bare. why is that?!

maybe because she's tougher and thicker skinned than him. maybe because we are (thankfully) getting to a place in history where it's okay and even lauded when females excel at sports, math, science, and life. or maybe it's because, as a woman, i've spent less time confronting and analysing the socialized concepts of masculinity than i have those of femininity. i don't know. i hope you weren't looking to me for any answers, because i don't have any. thanks for coming along for the ride, though. and if you have the answers, please, feel free to share :)

*um, okay, side note. i went to look online for the link to that Daphne from Scooby Do "My Son Is Gay (or not)" blog post, and it seems to have magically disappeared from the internet. then i see a post from its author basically talking about how she was excommunicated from her church and community for writing the post. WHAT THE CRAP?!?!? okay. THIS is what i'm talking about?!?! is this what happens when you set your kids free to be who they want to be?
dear god, please let the internet self-destruct
before he is old enough to find this
on the world wibe web
by the way, i'm not saying J is necessarily "gender creative" (if that's an official thing), or a "girly boy" (this term is problematic on its face), or is or should be defined by his appreciation for pink glitter, but i do find it really comforting and enlightening that there are so many people thinking and talking about issues like this. it makes me think the interwebs are not a complete and utter waste of our brain cells.
Selected Googliography:
Can I Make My Son Gay, by Karen Alpert of Baby Sideburns at Chicago

Raising my Rainbow - Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son
[And I love what she says about photographer/artist Parisa Taghizadeh's project "BOY," "a series of portraits of my son who enjoys 'dress-up.'" Although the project seems to be about a boy’s love for princesses and fairies, it’s more "an inquiry into what little boys are allowed to be before the world changes them and molds them into some notion of what it means to be a man in our society.”]

Sarah Hoffman - On Parenting a Boy Who Is Different


  1. Oh honey... I feel yah... My first born is male, 4, and suuuuuper sensitive. My second is 2, female, and will take you out with her brother's TMNT Katana with an evil gleam in her eye... Last night, they were both playing "Disney Princess Pony" in costume jewelry after watching My Little Pony. I will admit... I had a moment. And I hate that I had a moment. Society is stoooopid....

  2. Glad to know I'm not alone! Disney Princess Ponies, Unite! ;)