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Archive for November, 2009

I was lucky enough to see this amazing film last week and to hear from the filmmaker, Debra Chasnoff. The subtitle for the film, “How gender’s got us all tied up,” speaks volumes. As do the voices of the youth in the film.

It’s heartbreaking to hear from boys who acknowledge that how they often act is sexist, chauvenist, and disrespectful of girls/women. And then acknowledge that they will probably return to school and continue to act that way. Because it is so engrained in who they are and how they move through the world. Literally, gender norms have bound them and are a stronger force in determining their behavior than any of their thoughtful self-reflections.

Chasnoff explained that she made the film out of a desire to shed light on the homophobia that is latent throughout society and that so powerfully shapes many of the gendered norms that many of us take for granted. I appreciated her pointing the finger at homophobia as a root source here. The connection is so clear, yet I think it often goes unspoken.

This film is winging its way around the country. See it. Bring friends. I think that it can play a huge role in loosening the grip that gendered norms have on all of us.

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It’s so easy to get away with making closed-minded statements about folks who don’t conform to gender norms. Or to sexuality norms. It remains so very easy. I don’t think that it’s the LAST acceptable stereotype or prejudice, but it remains an acceptable one.

This weekend I was part of a discussion on a different blog involving stereotypes of Native Americans. It’s amazing how many people failed to see the way that power and privilege play into how we think about, talk about, and portray Native People. Coming from the perspective of a white person, “playing Indian” propogates stereotypes, is probably based on stereotypes, and only belittles and demeans the multi-layered community of Native People. Yet it remains fine to have football teams named things like the Redskins. Or, still, for kids to play “cowboys and Indians.” Certainly, there are some who are uncomfortable with these things but don’t quite know how to voice that discomfort. I definitely understand that stance.

I think the same is true with gendered norms. There are plenty of folks who are uncomfortable with the blatantly pink and blue aisles at Toys ‘R Us. But they don’t know how to address that discomfort. Or they don’t know what to say when a relative describes a nephew as “all boy.” Or how to react when a friend titters at a transgender individual who might struggle to “pass” more than others.

But just because we’re uncomfortable doesn’t mean we need to suppress ourselves. Sure, we might stumble over our words. Or feel embarrassed. Or have to laugh at our own spoken missteps. But speaking out, even simply in the form of a question, calls into question the assumptions and stereotypes that we all walk around with. “What do you mean by that?” It’s a simple question. But one that can so easily begin to break down the strong walls that have been silently built up around us — walls that constrain how we express who we are, as men and women, boys and girls.

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There's still a long road ahead...

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With a bit of publicity of late, this blog has had a sharp rise in visitors. I like that! It’s also brought with it some folks who rightfully question why I write this blog. In particular, there are questions about whether I’m somehow pigeon-holing Q and/or whether my appreciating things like his love for purple and pink are somehow pushing him further in that direction.

So, why do I write this blog? Yes, there’s a little tab at the top of that page that you can peruse, but here are some further thoughts. I am not happy with society. There are many reasons why. I don’t like that today is Sunday and, across the country, in millions of households, men will sit down to watch football and women will serve them food. Without thanks. Often without thought that this is a warped expectation and what these entrenched gender roles mean. Please, please, please, know, though, that I don’t by any means think that any and every time this happens it’s a negative. I just used that as a generalization to draw light to my point.

On a more personal note, I don’t like that my marriage to my wife is not recognized in the majority of states in this country. Again, I think that too many people don’t truly think about the ramifications of their actions when they vote against me, never once considering that no one ever had to actually vote FOR their marriages.

And I don’t like it that my son gets teased for wearing pink. Or purple. Or bandanas. Yes, I know that there are plenty of other boys who like those colors. Or sport long hair. Or wear bandanas. Or like glitter. And probably some of them get teased too. If you’re a parent, I’m sure you know the feel of the sword to your heart when something hurts your child — be it physically or emotionally. So that’s the simplest reason why I write this blog. There are things that happen to my kiddo because of his choices, and things that COULD happen because of his choices, that I think no child should have to endure. Yes, I know all kids get teased, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. And getting teased merely for what you like — for liking a color or a particular shirt — it’s outrageous. So I write this blog with the intent of opening minds. Just a bit. So that instead of commenting on the pink shirt, people perhaps think twice. Or think twice when they tell their son that a particular shirt is “just for girls.” It’s really not just about my son, but about many boys, girls, men, and women out there.

I write this blog to open minds a bit, to change minds a bit, to “trouble” the norms that we have ALL become so comfortable with. And having my particular son has opened my eyes in a particular way to this particular area of norms and social expectations. So I use him as a bit of an example, I use his experiences as a jumping off point. Does it mean that I know what the future holds for him? Absolutely not! But do I want that future to be wide open? For him to be able to choose what it’ll be like? Absolutely! Really, this blog doesn’t exist just to report on him. It exists to make us all fidget a bit in our seats, to reconsider our expectations around gender….to make a bit of change.

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Today brought with it the news of the defeat of marriage equality in Maine. I’m saddened, angered, frustrated by this loss. But I won’t explore the details of those sentiments here.

What’s most pertinent about this moment in history, as well as the anniversary of last year’s similar moment with Prop 8, is the message that it sends to our children. Of course there’s the message it sends to everyone — that it’s okay to vote on the rights of a group of people. But to our children who sit somewhat outside the norm, be it in the domain of gender expression, orientation, whatever it is — I think now is a particularly important time to watch out for their little hearts.

At the same moment that my son joins my indignation about the marriage loss in Maine, I wonder what messages he tucks away to explore at a later date: What rights of mine might be taken away later? What’s so wrong about being gay, anyway? Why do other people get to decide what’s right for me or for other people? Questions such as these, along with the other insidious messages that accompany the passage of laws that discriminate — these are the things that compel me to hug my boy a bit longer, to whisper extra messages into his ear, to remind him that he’s perfect just the way he is now, and will always be perfect, no matter how he chooses to be in the future.

So I take today’s loss as yet another reminder of the ways in which I need to be strong everyday for Q, help him to continue to be a proud person, to own and stand strong in his ever-changing identity.

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Years ago, now....

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Gender markers, that is. I’m continually fascinated by how folks read gender markers on Q. For example, this weekend, he was wearing jeans and a turquoise shirt (not too “loud” turquoise). He declared it “a blue day” — nothing about gender, just really about style. We were walking around our liberal town and he was on his scooter. His helmet, by the way, is VERY boyish — sort of monstery, in fact (who knows HOW we ended up with that style…). We passed a 3 year old in a stroller who asked her parents, “Is that a boy or a girl?” First, so intriguing that that’s the question she asked. I know that young kiddos are all about organizing their world by what’s like them and what’s not, but still…fascinating. Her mom replied, “It’s a girl.” The only clear reason I can point to for the response was the tip of purple bandana peeking out below Q’s helmet. That’s it. Just a glimpse of that marker and for sure it’s a girl in there.

Fascinating.

So fascinating, in fact, that it really makes me want to know more about how people read faces, hair, etc, as I know we as humans are “supposed” to be able to discern sex/gender by faces alone. Not sure I agree with that premise at all.

Earlier this weekend, at cello class, Q had a substitute teacher who referred to him as “she.” I stuck by our agreement not to correct, but later, when explaining what solo Q was practicing, referred to him as he. Clearly, I’m his parent. In spite of this, the teacher kept referring to Q as “she” through the rest of the class. Q was wearing brown shorts and an orange shirt. And boyish sneakers (though they do have lots of silver on them!). His shorts have the slightest gather at the pockets, which I think is the clue that they come from the “girls’” side of the aisle. I think that the gender markers that the teacher picked up on, whatever they might be, were even stronger than my referring to my own kiddo as a boy.

Again, fascinating. Clearly, we are pulled to organize our world based on how we experience our world. And we experience so much through seeing. And what we see is filtered through our stereotypes, our prior experiences, etc. It’s so interesting how much is revealed when we hear folks talk about what they see through those lenses. Suddenly, the invisible filters in our minds become highly visible. And strong. So strong that they can withstand “correction” even by the parent of a child whose gender might be in question.

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Of course we know what that pink schoolbag means...

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Recently, I was introduced to the AcceptingDad blog, which chronicles the life of a dad with a kiddo much like mine. A child born a boy, but who eschews many of the labels that so often come along with being a boy.

He’s got an amazing post that, to me, summarizes the “mission” of my blog. It’s always good to renew that purpose, that mission, so I figured I’d link it here. Thanks for these words, AcceptingDad.

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This morning, Q was looking through a catalog, pointing out things to me that he was interested in. The list included a take-apart model of the human body, a model of a solar house, a robotic arm, and many marble runs.

He’s really interested in how things work — looking carefully, taking things apart, etc. Out there in the wider world, one might say these are typical “boy” things that he’s interested in. Having only one kiddo, I don’t have a good point of comparison. I know, clearly, that there are both boys and girls interested in these things. For those who have boys similar to Q/who have pink boys, what are your boys interested in? There are plenty of fairies, etc in our house (of course!), but I always am intrigued when Q gravitates towards something more “traditionally boyish,” to follow stereotypes. I think my intrigue comes from seeing what natural likes and dislikes kids have when they are hemmed in less by gendered constraints.

I’d love to hear how this plays out for others.

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