Saturday, December 30, 2006

Dilemma

So, I've been thinking about this post in which I worried aloud about my son. And I'm cringing as I think about how narrowly and traditionally I've defined success. I think it's part of a problem I have--believing one thing politically and acting out in a totally contradictory way. IOW, my efforts to think outside the box leave a lot to be desired.

For example, Quinn writes some about her adventures in gender free parenting. That is also a goal of mine, but one in which I fail miserably. I had a little girls' sleepover recently. When I was planning it, I honestly thought, "Oh, we'll do some 'fun' stuff like polish their nails and give mini-facials." I'd even picked up four pots of sparkly lip gloss before I thought, "What the hell are you doing?" We ended up coloring, watching a movie, and eating lots of popcorn. But I was tempted.

Just like I am when I shop and I buy more things for my four year old goddaughter than my own son. "It's more fun to shop for girls," I whine, "All you can do for boys is buy jeans and shirts!" But now I'm thinking, what am I modeling for her? Where is all the feminist theory in practice?

There are many more examples of my being a contradictory hypocrite. Why can I talk the talk, but struggle to walk the walk? If it was just with myself, I wouldn't be so troubled. But I worry that I'm helping bring up a whole new generation in a patriarchy-conforming manner.

10 comments:

ChasingMoksha said...

When I was keeping a foster boy for 18 months then again for a few more months I tried to mix genders. He accepted everything very well. It was his mother, and sometimes my husband who would make a fuss about something. At least my husband would only say it to me in a joking way. His mother was the one that would make the gender differences so defining that it was impossible. When she was not in our face it was good though. He loved this one night gown with Clifford the dog on it, the gown was pink and soft. And he loved lip gloss. Then when he came back after being with his mother for five months, I would hear things like "that's for girls, or that's for boys."

Poor little fellow. I miss him.

elle said...

my sister and i really do work at it, but she says her husband is an ass about it--making my nephew take off a pink shirt he loves, always telling him "that's girl shit" or "that's white boy shit." he's got very definite ideas about what is "manly" enough or "black" enough. my son's father is a little bit better, but he has fussed b/c he says my kid puts his hands on his hips "funny" and has other what-he-describes-as feminine mannerisms. from living with two women, he says, like it's a sad, sorry thing.

ChasingMoksha said...

I just re-read my comment and it sounds like I was talking about my husband's mother, because I said "his mother" after I was talking about my husband. To clear that up, I was talking about the boy's 24 year old mother. Which to me gives me more despair, because that is a new generation and it seems like the ideas are old generation that she pracitces.

Yeah, what is wrong with have female mannerisms. What is female anyway?

Gwyneth Bolton said...

This is a tricky one, Elle. Because I think we are all so caught up in all of these very specific gender roles, even those of us who have awareness get caught up in them because they are so ingrained. I say keep trying to break them apart as much as you can. Expose him to new ways of thinking about gender. And don't kick yourself too hard when you take a fall back into the old ways. :-)

Quinn said...

Oh, honey, this is such a struggle! As you can see over at my place, I'm failing miserably at some of my attemps. My son loves princesses and ponytails, but my daughter is loathe to wear anything but pink because she doesn't want to be "laughed at" by her friends for dressing like a boy. Argh!

And how much of this do I do subconsciously? Buying certain coloring books for one kid, others for the other child. Or even their pseudonyms on my site reflect gender stereotypes, with a "wild boy" and a "drama queen." It's an uphill battle, and I'm rolling back.

Zan said...

Oy, I had this problem at Chrsitmas with my niece. She's such a pretty girl, she really is and she knows it -- because everyone tells her she is. This Christmas, all she wanted was lipstick and nailpolish. And she's not even THREE yet! I, of course, being her aunt got her nail polish. *sigh* But I also got her other stuff -- coloring books and playdough and stuff like that. Non-gendered.

But I was just....she got this fake makeup set from my mom. And she just loved it. Putting on the makeup and saying "I"m pretty" over and over again. And she IS pretty...but I want her to know she's much, much more than that. So, everytime I get her, I tell her she's smart and brave and funny. And I ask her questions and she answers them and I tell her how much she knows. She looked at me and said "I do!" like she didn't realize how much she knew. I just wanted to hug her. (But I was driving the car, so I couldn't).

I don't have so much a problem with her liking girly things, although it hurts me to buy her pink! It's her favorite color, but I think she's shifting to purple now....my problem is, I don't want her to think she's /only/ girly. And I don't want her to think that there are things that are 'girls' and 'boys'. And my family is doing that....like she was all about painting EVERYONE's toes and fingers with her new polish, but my dad and brother were like "Boys don't paint their fingernails'. Which is bullshit, because hello, some do. And anyway, it's just nail polish. It's not permenant, it's just a little color that can be removed in no time at all. So why not let boys wear it too?

Which is going to be a huge problem for my family, should I ever have a son. Because he's getting nail polish if he wants it. And long hair, if he wants it. And 'girly' clothing, if he wants it. So long as he's clean and healthy, why make a big deal over those things? Gah.

(Which almost makes me want to have a son, just to subvert them. But that's a bad reason to have a kid. I'm sure.)

Breena Ronan said...

Interesting, to me this relates back to all the talk about transphobia. It's actually dangerous to encourage feminine behavior in boys, they are likely to get beat up at some point. I think that men are secretly afraid of that, which is part of the reason that they tend to be so harsh in reinforcing little boys gender identities. If you view the men and women who reinforce gender stereotypes in a harsh way as being fearful rather than hating it's easier to understand.

I think it's fine to cater to a child's gendered play as long as you aren't pushing it either way. I was a really girly little girl, but it didn't stick. Kids are going to get all sorts of crazy messages about gender, but having someone who supports them no matter how they act will allow them to experiment and figure out what they really like. I mean you wouldn't want to define you success in raising a child by how much they challenge gender stereotypes, that would just be a sort of reverse gender stereotyping.

RageyOne said...

I am sure it is a struggle Elle, but at least you have recognized your abilities with regards to the matter. That, the receognition, is half the battle. At least you are conscious of it and can make an effort to combat it. Don't beat yourself up too much, keep working at it and you will see your efforts pay off in the future.

elle said...

i know that i wrote a comment about how i'm guilty of treating my goddaughter like a doll to be dressed up and accessorized, sometimes, and it's not here.

that's happening a lot, lately. i'm wondering if it has to do anything with the fact that i don't always get a word verification.

QuakerDave said...

I think the fact that you are thinking about these issues and are making conscious choices about them is a victory in itself.

I have learned so much in the past year or so about issues having to do with mental illness and violence, and I try very hard every day to try and make some small changes in how I approach these issues as I move through the world, even in terms of basic conversation. I don't use the word "crazy" as a perjorative anymore. I check myself from using the word "kill." It may not make a difference in changing the world, but it makes a difference for ME.

For now, that might just be enough.

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