Tuesday, February 17, 2015

is this a girl fork?

The other night we were reading a story - Digger Dozer Dumper, a book about trucks. I like it better than the best-selling Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site because it refers to some of the vehicles as "she," as opposed to the latter, which assumes that all rough and tumble construction play must be engaged in by males. (Hey, I'm already deconstructing children's books. Don't get me started on heteronormativity and gender binaries.) At the end it asks "Which truck do YOU want to be?" and the kids always pick their favorite. Well that night, Colby picks this little baby bulldozer and says, "I hass to be dat one cuz I'm a grill [girl]." I did a screeching cartoon double-take like, "W-W-W-WHAT?!" And promptly launched into a lesson on feminism and gender equality for my two- and four-year-olds. The point being, this is something that I think about a lot. (See, e.g., "I wear The Pants" and "the bedazzled bulldozer.") It is something that is very important to me. And yet, apparently, somewhere along the line I seem to have dropped the ball.

This was just the beginning of our recent spiral into the abyss of gender dichotomy. Last week, the kids were "helping" me set the table. Colby walked up to me and asked, "Mama, is dis a 'grill' fork?" What in the actual f*ck?!

Lately, Colby has also taken to saying things like "Take off my shoes for me cuz i'm a pwincess," "I cant frow away dis gawbage cuz i'm a pwincess," and "Carry me! Pwincesses don't hass to walk wif dare own legs."

It is with great regret that I must hereby tender my resignation as a card-carrying feminist and gender-studies aficionado. Where did I go wrong???

I meant to write this post in December when people were flipping out about the "No Gender December" thing, but, it's February now. Whoops. Anyway. I'm not saying I would want to raise a genderless child like Storm or Pop, or that I advocate using the term "purple penguins" in lieu of pronouns. But. I wholeheartedly support the notion that we should let kids be who they want to be, wear what they want to wear, and play with the toys they want to play with, rather than forcing them into these cute little pink- and blue behavior boxes,

Of course, this is coming from the person who dressed her daughter solely in hot pink for the first year of her life, so it has to be taken with a grain of salt. I remember when I was pregnant with Colby, I originally didn't want to find out the sex of the baby. I said, "It doesn't matter, anyway. Whether it's a boy or a girl, it's wearing big brother's hand-me-downs. I'm not going to buy a bunch of pink frilly shit just because I have a daughter." I lied.

Seriously though. Why do we care so much? Why is this the first question anyone asks (myself included) of a pregnant woman? Is it a boy or a girl? It really shouldn't be such a big deal. But it is. People care. A lot. I know someone who had SEVEN children in attempts to get a son. What do you think is going to be SO different about lucky #7? And how do you think that makes girl chiles #1-6 feel?

One of my good girlfriends from college is pregnant with her first. She didn't want to find out the sex of their baby, but her wife did, and the wife won that argument ;) They were telling me about the night they found out - they had the doctor write down the sex and place it in a sealed envelope. They went out to a nice romantic dinner. They slowly opened the envelope together, reveling in the suspense - and - SURPRISE! It's a girl!

But my friend's initial reaction was less than ecstatic. Her wife was good-naturedly giving her a hard time as we were discussing it because M's first comment was, "We'll just have to make her hang out with dudes, because that's the only way she's going to turn out cool." I was like, "M! YOU are a girl! And YOU are cool! WTF?!" Next, she said "Well, I guess it's good she's a girl. I'll be more careful with her that way." Seriously?! Granted, M played professional rugby, can deadlift my body weight, and is a general badass, so my "Yay, another pretty-pretty-princess" remark was less than well-received. But still. I've written about this before. Why is this still a thing? Why do we attach such significance to the shapes of our bits and pieces? Why do we harp on the handful of immutable differences as opposed to the vast majority of things we have in common with the "opposite" sex.

I used to tell people that I didn't believe all this "boys will be boys" versus "sugar and spice and all things nice" bullshit, and that each child springs from your lady parts possessing a personality in full. Based on my sample size of two, I would tell you that MY boy is sweet and sensitive and dramatic and MY girl is tough and strong and chill. But then we sent them to preschool, and in return, got Star Wars/Ninja/Laser-Bwaster Boy and Pink Kitty Cat Pwincess Grill.

I don't want to say it's NOT okay for them to like those things. But it definitely makes me sad that The Boy now says things like "Pink is for Grills" and The Girl asks if her f*cking fork is sufficiently dainty to be held in the fragile female grasp. (I'm still not sure what that's all about. I think it might be because I only like to eat with the larger dinner forks, not dinky little salad forks, and my kids know this, so maybe "grill forks" are actually the big manly ones? ;))

Anyway. I know some people still think there's a place for traditional gender roles. But I am not one of those people. I have friends who refer to certain tasks as "boy jobs," and I just can't get behind that. Yeah, my husband is a little taller and a little stronger, but he's also afraid of spiders. He does lunches and dishes, I do dinner and laundry. We both take out the trash. I run the arachnid amnesty program, and he is in charge of taking dead rodents out of the pool filter. (I won't go so far as to call that last one a boy job. In fact, I am quite certain Colby would mind this job far less than her brother OR her dad. But I will say it is not a job that plays to my natural skill set. Nor is cooking, for that matter. But somebody's gotta do it!) I can't imagine telling my daughter (or my son) that they are any more or less qualified for a particular task just because they're male or female. In my mind, we're better at certain things and worse at certain things because we are all unique, individual people, not because our predilections are predetermined by the existence of an X or Y chromosome.

I'm not saying we have, as a society, or even as a household, achieved complete gender equality. Far from it. As a woman and a wife and a mother and especially as a female-mom-lawyer, I know that we still have plenty of ground to cover on that front. But you better believe I am going to do everything in my power to ensure that any obstacles or impediments to my daughter's journey based solely on the fact that she's a "grill" are not going to come from me. The same goes for parameters and expectations surrounding my son's potential. I just don't see any advantage to be gained from doggedly adhering to these stereotypes that no longer serve any purpose.

Have you ever heard of the term "skeuomorphism?" According to Wikipedia, a skeupmorph is a "derivative object that retains ornamental design cues from structures that were necessary in the original," e.g., "pottery embellished with rivets reminiscent of similar pots made of metal, and a software calendar that imitates the appearance of binding on a paper desk calendar." Or like how the "phone" button on your cell phone looks like the handset on an old landline.

This is how I feel about traditional gender roles. Maybe, in cavemen times, there was a purpose for these roles. I was not there, so I do not know. However, whatever purpose they served has long been rendered moot. Sure, they're comfortable and familiar. But we do not need them anymore. If they were just harmless decorative rivets on the fa├žade of life, that would be one thing. But when these outmoded biases result in a gender wage gap that starts from the time they're earning an allowance, that shit's got to stop. It's time to confront these stereotypes and step outside our comfort zones. Even if you're kinda old-fashioned, are you really okay with your daughter earning 78 cents on the dollar for doing the exact same job as a man? That's just some straight bullllshit. It actually boggles my mind that this is still happening in 2015.

My next post will tell everyone how to magically solve this problem. I will then win the Nobel Peace Prize, and retire.

Just kidding.

I have no f*cking clue how to solve the problem. But I'm going to start with my own little sample size, and go from there. Because sometimes that's all you can do. And if everyone else does the same, then maybe, just maybe, we really will figure it all out someday.

Until then, just remember: Little girls like superheroes too (even if they're called Bat-Grill Pwincess). And real men wear pink. But we call it "Nantucket Red."

And for your reading pleasure:

"What's Your Kids' Wage Gap? Boys Paid More, More Profitably," by Soraya Chemaly on Huffington Post. "Fathers are the gatekeepers of their daughters' ambitions." Oh dear. P.S., don't read the comments.

"Five myths about the gender pay gap," by Vivien Labaton on The Washington Post.

"Raising a genderless child: Possible?" by Emily Sohn on Discovery News.

I also really loved this, which points out that it goes both ways. "Here's why we have to stop labeling our boys," by Robyn Passante on The Washington Post. "I want girls to be on their radar as people just like them, not as pink sparkly objects of their affection, so that when they do eventually feel that tug of attraction for someone, they see all of her, not just the parts they want to touch."


  1. I love this! I too get all riled up about gender roles and all that nonsense. I remember being bummed out when I specifically told everyone around me that we didn't want our daughter to be swallowed up in a sea of pink and purple, only to have everyone buy only gender-specific items. I don't want her to ever have the idea that what's between a person's legs dictates what they like, how the act, or anything else. I don't want her trapped in a box. However, no matter how much we try to prevent that, society at large does a great job of pushing those ideas!

    1. We just have to "twy our best," right?? :)