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.