Monthly Archives: June 2013

What boys have to deal with

Standard

There is a problem with the way boys are raised.

Disclaimer: I don’t have a boy (yet), but I did have gender disappointment with both of my girls and it led me to think about the differences between boys and girls. See here.

My cousin has a boy. Well, all my cousins really. I seem to be the only one with girls. I’m thinking about one in particular though. His life is so gendered already and he isn’t even a year old. His life is full of sports themed paraphernalia, and strictly blue and boy themed clothing items. Sure his parents like baseball, but if he had been a girl he/she would not be decked out in sports themed girl stuff.  Sports have become the male pink in this instance. Now I like blue enough to dress my kids in it, but this kid is the male equivalent of  a girl only wearing frilly dresses. Which is slightly less acceptable these days.  I haven’t ever met the kid in person, what with living far far away, but I worry about him, not for the way he dresses or his toys, but I worry about his parents pushing so much on him. Are they going to flip their shit if he plays with his mother’s makeup, if he wants a dolly or something less stereotypically male (but completely child-normal)? I guess that comes off a bit judgy, but it does worry me. I’m pro happy kids and well adjusted adults.

I was talking with a friend who does a playgroup that has lots of minority children. She was talking about one boy in particular and how his mother had told her off for comforting him when he was hurt. The mother said that the coddling would make the boy a sissy and that if he was crying what she wanted done was to smack him on the back and tell him to man up. I was flabbergasted. My friend was talking about this boy in the context of having behavior problems, hitting and having a short temper (for a three year old), and how she tried to sneak physical contact and hugs to him when his mother wasn’t looking.  That anecdote just breaks my heart in a variety of ways.  That poor kid is getting less physical contact and highly gender influenced access to affection. How is he ever going to learn to deal with his emotions as he gets older?

Having girls I’m well aware of gendered messages on clothing. I wanted to pull my hair out at all the little shirts that proclaim “Daddy’s Princess”, and various iterations of cute, beautiful, along with pink, sparkles and fake gems. But then I looked at the boy ones and they are just as bad. “Strong Dude”,  “Lock up your Daughters”  and iterations on being strong, tough, wild and active. Though I would have bought the ‘Mommy’s little Monster’ onesie if it had come in a size my kid could wear. Apparently girls are pretty, boys are active.

The same friend I mentioned above, the one who does the playgroup, has a boy. She’s also on a no yelling kick. Fine and dandy. Except that she mainly talks to her boy in a softer than conversational, slightly sing-song tone of voice. Especially when she’s trying to tell him off for being rough or something. Then he doesn’t listen. Perhaps its a public facade. Then she dismisses his acting out as being a boy.  Makes me sigh it does. You can’t blame something not working on a given child on their gender. That sure as hell wouldn’t work on my kid and she isn’t a boy. I’m not sure that would work on any kid. I think with preschoolers and toddlers you really  need to treat them a bit like dogs. Make sure you have eye contact, firmly and clearly make your point and so on.  I often physically restrain my kid until she calms down and listens to me.

Then there’s the whole boys will be boys, excusing being uncontrolled, inconsiderate, impulsive and rough. People will tell you that boys need to be rough, boys are more active, more physical. My 3 year old girl is pretty physical and rough if you let her be too. Is my encouraging her to learn respect for boundaries, her own strength and to be aware of her surroundings quashing in her what makes boys boylike? Because boys are often thought of as just being boys- you can’t reason with them, they will be gross and clumsy and rough and need rough play and physical activity…I don’t see how boys specifically need that any more than girls do. If I had a boy I would sure be doing the same things I do with my girls- teaching them that physical activity is fun, hitting is bad, don’t be too rough, behavior is different inside versus outside and so on. I wouldn’t be letting boys will be boys exist as an excuse for anything. Because of that approach boys are often given more leeway into bad behaviour and it fulfills the boys will be boys stereotype. I say of my eldest girl- she needs physical activity, she likes rambunctious play, but I attribute it all to her personally, not to her gender.  We don’t go around saying girls will be girls to explain away wanting to play quietly inside or anything. No, boys will be boys is a saying because those uncontrolled aspects of behaviour are generally viewed as less desirable.

So that sucks. I mean, your whole gender gets dismissed with one phrase as undisciplined and prone to undesirable acts and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

There are loads of how to raise boys, things to teach boys articles, and so on,  on the internet. I know these might help people break away from the boys will be boys idea-the idea that you might as well just give up trying to manage your boys because after all, they are boys, but they are usually good general rules for all children.

I didn’t want girls

Standard

I had gender disappointment with both my girls. I’ve read various opinions on gender hating women and what not about women who do not like other women and who did not want girls. I felt guilty for apparently being one of those women, but then I examined my reasons a bit closer.

First off I was afraid of pinkness and ruffles and princess stuff, but that doesn’t have to be a given. Girls do not have to equal a world of pink candyfloss. I think this is quite a common and superficial reason really. Not superficial in a bad way, but the actual meaning of the word-only touching the surface. All the things associated with having to wear pink, or ruffles, or dresses. It doesn’t have to be like that. As the mom I make executive decisions on clothing. When they are babies they have no say anyhow, so I go for things I like-which tend to be plain neutral colours. There’s a fair amount of green and blue and grey in the baby wardrobes. When they get older you help them pick out things they like and you want them to have what they like because you love them, so it doesn’t matter if it’s pink or ruffly.

I remember being a little girl and finding my gender so unfair that around age 5-9 and probably beyond I desperately wanted to be a boy. It just seemed like boyishness was no question the better option. All of the sit still, look nice and the additional experiences of being denied some toys and having other toys foisted on me all in the name of being a girl and none of the boy allowances of getting dirty, playing rough and playing with robots and dinosaurs.  I was actually denied toys because they were boys toys and had other toys given to me because they were for girls. I had to dress in certain ways, I had to behave just so and I had to worry about my weight and my body from very young. So naturally I found the whole idea of being a girl undesirable for my children.

Growing up and puberty were not easy either and often presented as a female burden. I have a touch of PCOS and was worried about passing that on, passing on my body shape, and although I maintain a relatively positive outlook these days I did have a lot of self loathing when younger for being short, stocky, a bit more hairy. I didn’t see those aspects of being female as positive for any children of mine.

Women hating, no, self hating, yes. I expect that the majority of gender preference for boys from women is along those lines.

So no, it’s no wonder I didn’t want girls. It didn’t come from dislike of my gender in the slightest, but from concern over what their life would be like. The unfairness and fear I’d experienced-who would want a child to live through that?

Now doing it, it’s a much different experience than I ever expected. There is pink and purple…and orange, green and blue. There are princesses and butterflies, and trucks and bugs and monsters and robots. Princess robots even. It’s pretty rad actually, making sure these little girls lives are full of pirate girls, catching spiders, and pretty skirts. Nothing is just girl stuff. I’m sure that that’s largely me exerting my influence over what my kids get. Some of it’s 30 years of feminism as well.  I can see there is still worry to be had…

Not wanting girls because of our own past is sad, but it’s not completely self hating or necessarily a sign of internalized misogyny. Even now it’s a tough world for girls, and as a female it’s easy to see privilege in how males live and want that privilege for your offspring. It’s part of our first world obsession with wanting the best. We want the best food, the optimal circumstances, and to do the best. In a lot of ways boys are still viewed as the better gender. Simpler or at least less complex, with fewer potential minefields to negotiate (though this is very much the wrong way to look at things. I’m just saying that unless you make the effort to look deeper this is how things look: Girls are tricky, boys are simple). It’s getting better and it can certainly be a tough world for boys too, for some of the same, though markedly different reasons. Boys more often still have the disadvantage of gendered toys, whereas with girls it’s more frequently viewed as cool for girls to play with boy intended toys. I could write a whole bit on the disadvantages boys still have, but the point is that boy disadvantages are not as obvious to a woman.

All of that makes me wonder about women who do want girls and what their perspective is.  I’m fine having girls now (even if I end up with three- previously a private nightmare) because kids are kids and gender is pretty irrelevant by the time you get to know your kid (and they stop being a little baby-beast) as far as I can tell. I had to look beyond my experiences and how I was raised to get to this point though.

Can I still be afraid of teenagers? Because I am. I’m sure that’s because I was a horrible teenager. Just awful.  But I have good things to look forward to there as well. My girls are damn well going to know about how ovulation works. Taking Charge of Your Fertility will be required reading. I despair at the thought of them finding their body a complete and frightening mystery. I just can’t imagine being too embarrassed to talk to them about sex. I had to clean poop out of their vaginas (which I was also afraid of but the reality is you just get on with it).

Pffff sex.

Girls are people too.

Standard

When my eldest was around 2 she was getting the idea that she was like the child characters in her books. So she would ask me ‘what’s that?’ to everything and unthinking I would reply- ‘that’s the little boy’, as most of the characters in the books were little boys. She then she started telling me she was a little boy. This dismayed me as I had wanted to give her a positive outlook on being female, but then I realized that what she actually meant was that she was a little kid, and that she was using little boy in lieu of little kid because there were no girl characters in the books. Looking around I realized that most books where the kid is a generic kid doing something that many kids go through, the character is actually a boy. Characters that were specifically female were often bratty, bossy, or spoiled and the stories were about them getting taught a lesson or learning to be nice. Realizing this made me irate. Like spitting, hopping mad.

I started looking for books that just had female characters being kids for the preschool set. Seems like a simple enough request, right? I had very little luck. I asked around for books with female kids just being kids. People gave me lists of ‘strong female characters’. They gave me novels with good characters in them, completely unsuitable for preschoolers. I don’t know about your kid, but my two year old wasn’t going to sit still for Madeline, Ramona or Pippi Longstocking. There are a lot of great characters that are female for older children, but not very many for little ones. That was not what I wanted. I do not want my daughters to start out with female characters needing to overcome adversity and having them be female be exceptional. That seems a bit like closing the barn door after the cow ran off.

The whole strong female character issue irritates me because I would much rather see good characters that happen to be female, not characters that are strong because they are female and they need to compensate. Gender should be irrelevant to the character. What about a foundation for kids seeing that girls are kids too? Rather than they have to become spunky and exceptional to be worthwhile additions to stories. I wanted my kids to see that simply some characters, doing regular things, are female. In a book they would sit still for. It really seems simple, but the archetypal kid is apparently a boy.

Since then I have found A Mighty Girl to be a good resource. It does focus a bit much the whole strong female character (SFC) rather than strong characters that are female (SCtaF), but there really isn’t too much of the latter for preschoolers.

Books I found after much perusal.

Zoogirl

An orphan girl gets left at the zoo

Blueberries for Sal

A small girl goes blueberry picking with her mother

Mostly Monsterly

A monster girl learns to be herself at school

Outside Over There

A girl loses her sister to goblins and must get her back- by Maurice Sendak. The plot of this book is a bit Labyrinth-esque…

We also have a potty book and a big sister book– both designed specifically for girls and the relevant situations. I’m ambivalent about both of them, but they get the job done.

TV and movies

You know what? I like Dora. Her gender is completely irrelevant to everything she does in the regular show. The new sexed up, slimmed down Dora isn’t great, but the older one, with her toddler belly poking out of her shirt, is ok. Yeah, they shout. But I’m ok with her as a tv role model. Not so much on the merchandising front however…

Brave- I like how Merida gets herself into her problem and gets herself out again. Other than the gender roles she has to fill (getting married against her will) she is a good princess role model. She is certainly more of an example of a SFC, but she isn’t anyone’s sidekick. She’s a self rescuing princess.

Doc McStuffins- is ok. Doc is a doctor to stuffed animals, calm, confident and helpful.

Many of the Studio Ghibli movies. My eldest is especially fond of Ponyo, but also likes Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Arietty. My Neighbor Totoro too.

Anyhow, my eldest now knows that she is a little girl (and Momma is a girl and sister is a girl and Daddy is a boy) and she seems happy enough with that.

The Giraffe hat

Standard

A while ago I found a mouse hat for Thing 2 on clearance. Seeing as I used to call her mouse it seemed fitting. Enter sibling jealousy. Thing 1 snitches the hat and is generally jealous of it. So I tell her I will make her a hat. What does she want? A giraffe hat. Ok. I can do that right? I knit a lot like I sew. With mental patterns and only really following a rough guide, if at all. So I pick up some fuzzy yellow, black and brown yarn on clearance and it sits in the closet for a while. I wanted to finish a sweater I had been working on since I was pregnant with Thing 2 first. So I finish the sweater (which Thing 1 picked out the yarn for, the sweater is for her and she won’t wear it. Naturally) and get started on the hat. Hats are easy. I like hats. So I whip it out in a few days. I think it looks ok, though it turned out big. Everything always does. That whole no pattern thing biting me in the ass probably. It also weighs a ton. For a wooly hat anyhow.

Yes I even made ears and wooly horns.  I have a lot of brown yarn left over. I thought about making Thing 2 a wooly hat for daycare, but then that starts off the sibling jealousy again and I’ll have to make something else for Thing 1 that she won’t wear…

ghat1 ghat2

 

So she wore it when I finished it, but since then it’s been languishing on the living room floor and she’s been braving the cold outside with just a coat hood.  Maybe it will be like the various skirts and she will decide she actually does like it in a few weeks. It fits me, so unless she loses it, it’s a hat for life.