The New York Times piece on gender-fluid kids reinforces so many stereotypes, I’ve got to go through them.
Let’s start with sentence #1:
The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).”
Here, the writer, Ruth Padawer, sets up a series of stereotyped binary/ boy-girl opposites: soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas, lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows. I waited for her to explore any reasons why our culture promotes this symbology. Unfortunately, I waited for the whole article.
Why are princesses considered to be the epitome of femininity? Could it, perhaps, have little do with with genes and everything to do with the fact that perpetuating the image of a passive, “pretty” female is popular in a patriarchal culture? Just maybe?
A few more sentences down:
Some days at home he wears dresses, paints his fingernails and plays with dolls; other days, he roughhouses, rams his toys together or pretends to be Spider-Man.
Most kids on Planet Earth would paint their fingernails if they weren’t told and shown by grown-ups that it’s a “girl thing.” Nail polish has nothing to do with penises or vulvas or genes, or even anything as deep and profound as “”gender fluidity.” To kids, nail polish is art play, brushes and paint. That’s it. Oh, right, art is for girls. Unless you’re a famous artist whose paintings sell for the most possible amount of money. Then art is for boys.
On an email that Alex’s parents sent to his school:
Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.
What? Does this writer have young daughters? Has Padawer heard about the boy’s baseball team from Our Lady of Sorrows that recently forfeited rather than play a girl? Or what about Katie, the girl who was bullied just because she brought her Star Wars lunch box, a “boy thing,” to school? Does Padawer know Katie’s experience isn’t unusual? How rare it is to find a girl today who isn’t concerned that a Spider-Man shirt (or any superhero shirt or outfit) is boyish and that she’ll be teased if she wears it? My whole blog, Reel Girl, is about that “raised eyebrow.” Has Padawer seen summer’s blockbuster movie “The Avengers” with just one female to five male superheroes? The typical female/ male ratio? Or how “The Avengers” movie poster features the female’s ass? Think that might have something to do with why females care more than males about how their asses are going to look? You can see the poster here along with the pantless Wonder Woman. Does Padawer get or care that our kids are surrounded by these kinds of images in movies and toys and diapers and posters every day? How can Padawer practically leave sexism out of a New York Times piece 8 pages long on gender?
First sentence of paragraph 3: (Yes, we’re only there.)
There have always been people who defy gender norms.
No way! You’re kidding me. Like women who wanted to vote? Women who didn’t faint in the street?
Moving on to page 2:
Gender-nonconforming behavior of girls, however, is rarely studied, in part because departures from traditional femininity are so pervasive and accepted.
Um, wrong again. Been to a clothing store for little kids recently? Ever tried to buy a onesie for a girl with a female pilot on it? Or a female doing anything adventurous? Check out Pigtail Pals, one of the few companies that dares to stray from “pervasive and accepted” femininity. One of the few. And we’re talking toddlers here.
The studies that do exist indicate that tomboys are somewhat more likely than gender-typical girls to become bisexual, lesbian or male-identified, but most become heterosexual women.
Is the writer really writing a piece on gender fluid kids and using the word “tomboy” without irony?
Still, it was hard not to wonder what Alex meant when he said he felt like a “boy” or a “girl.” When he acted in stereotypically “girl” ways, was it because he liked “girl” things, so figured he must be a girl? Or did he feel in those moments “like a girl” (whatever that feels like) and then consolidate that identity by choosing toys, clothes and movements culturally ascribed to girls?
Hard not to wonder. Exactly! Finally, the writer wonders. But, not for long. Here’s the next sentence:
Whatever the reasoning, was his obsession with particular clothes really any different than that of legions of young girls who insist on dresses even when they’re impractical?
Once again, I’ve got to ask: Does Padawer have a young daughter? Legions of young girls “insist on dresses” because like all kids, they want attention. Sadly, girls get a tremendous amount of attention from grown-ups for how they look. Today, my three year old daughter wanted to wear a princess dress to preschool, because she knew that if she did, the parents and teachers would say, “Wow, you’re so pretty! I love your dress.” And if it’s not a girl’s dress everyone focuses on, it could be her hair, or perhaps her shoes which are probably glittery or shiny or have giant flowers on them because that’s what they sell at Target and Stride Rite. Unfortunately, focusing on appearance is how most adults today make small talk with three year old girls.
The next two graphs are the best in the article so I will paste them in full, though notice the use of “tomboy” again with no irony.
Whatever biology’s influence, expressions of masculinity and femininity are culturally and historically specific. In the 19th century, both boys and girls often wore dresses and long hair until they were 7. Colors weren’t gendered consistently. At times pink was considered a strong, and therefore masculine, color, while blue was considered delicate. Children’s clothes for both sexes included lace, ruffles, flowers and kittens. That started to change in the early 20th century, writes Jo Paoletti, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America.” By then, some psychologists were arguing that boys who identified too closely with their mothers would become homosexuals. At the same time, suffragists were pushing for women’s advancement. In response to these threatening social shifts, clothes changed to differentiate boys from their mothers and from girls in general. By the 1940s, dainty trimming had been purged from boys’ clothing. So had much of the color spectrum.
Women, meanwhile, took to wearing pants, working outside the home and playing a wider array of sports. Domains once exclusively masculine became more neutral territory, especially for prepubescent girls, and the idea of a girl behaving “like a boy” lost its stigma. A 1998 study in the academic journal Sex Roles suggests just how ordinary it has become for girls to exist in the middle space: it found that 46 percent of senior citizens, 69 percent of baby boomers and 77 percent of Gen-X women reported having been tomboys.
The piece is riddled with more gender assumptions that aren’t questioned.
When Jose was a toddler, his father, Anthony, accepted his son’s gender fluidity, even agreeing to play “beauty shop.”
But why is beauty shop feminine? We all know beauty toys and products are marketed to girls, but why? Here’s that Avengers ass poster again. In a male dominated world, women are valued primarily for their appearance. They are taught to focus on how they look and that if they do so they can get power and prestige. Appearance is the area where girls are trained to channel their ambition and competition. Oh, sorry, girls aren’t competitive or ambitious. That’s a boy thing.
On gender fluid child, P.J., the author writes:
Most of the time, he chooses pants that are pink or purple.
Wait a minute, didn’t she write a few pages back about Jo Poletti’s book Pink and Blue? Remember, pink used to be a “boy” color; it’s only recently that it’s perceived as a “girl” color?
Here might be the most fucked up quote:
When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?
When Miss Representation posted that on its Facebook page above the link to the the article, angry commenters immediately began to respond:
i am NOT the lesser gender!
why can’t people see how insulting that is? i mean, who would *openly* call a race or ability or sexual orientation “lesser” and not largely be considered a bigot?
It was that comment that inspired me to write this post, because the whole piece is insulting to girls and women. I hope it’s insulting to boys and men as well.
Read my email to the New York Times editor here.
Read my response to comments on this post here.
Ok, I’m going to have to be critical of Magowan’s article in the sense that it seeks to pen an audience into the writer’s way of thinking. I’ve read the NYT article and I did not feel as though Padawer made any attempts to direct my perspective. In fact, the article, while it does still unintentionally support the traditional mindset on gender, does a fantastic job of providing an objective exploration of gender variance. For instance, as the first paragraph of the NYT article is viewed by Magowan as Padawer creating stereotypes, anyone who can read can see clearly enough that Padawer is explaining what the parents had written in their email. There is nothing opinion based in that first paragraph. I am actually quite offended that anyone with Magowan’s credentials would write such an emotionally-charged critique which has, for lack of a better term, cherry-picked specific points of Padawer’s article in order to establish Magowan’s point of view. I don’t need your help in confirming your bias. A writer and a producer should know better than to take material out of context in order to appeal to a specific audience. That’s just bad form. Also, the fact that Padawer bothered to conduct research into the history of gender variance along with current studies and work by psychologists speaks volumes to Padawer’s validity as a writer. Overall, I just don’t think Magowan is respecting Padawer’s piece. There is too much focus here on Reel Girl about how the article supposedly stands as a way of supporting and maintaining the status quo and our current cultural understanding of gender and human experience. Magowan seems to be expecting Padawer to be a voice of change rather than the voice of discussion. I really appreciate what Padawer has done because her piece is capable of engaging with people from all walks of life. It is so full of helpful ways of approaching this topic with those who are stuck in traditional ways of thinking. I would actually appreciate Magowan to revisit her response to Padawer’s piece and explore it in better detail with much better supporting evidence and arguments.
letter to the editor:
it’s MADNESS, i tell you! MADNESS!!
as stated on http://www.thelessergender.com, every woman is subjugating herself by accepting a spouse or a significant other who is a man and who is superior to her in height. everywhere i look, it’s tall man/short vagina. i don’t understand how vaginas everywhere could not be ashamed of themselves, proclaiming gender-equality while adding insult to inferiority by publicly proclaiming their lesser states-of-being with each and every date-night that they partake in.
ALL WOMEN MUST DATE SHORTER MEN, STARTING TODAY!!!! DO IT FOR FEMINISM, DO IT FOR PRIDE, DO IT FOR KIRSTEN FIKE AND EVERY OTHER COAST-GUARD VAGINA WHO DIES OF HEAT-EXHAUTION ON THE JOB. DO IT FOR YEARDLEY LOVE, WHO WAS NOT WOMAN ENOUGH TO FIGHT OFF HER BOYFRIEND AND WHO WAS KILLED WITH HIS BARE HANDS..
heck, do it for the memory of all “strong women” who were murdered not by a weapon but by a strong(er) man.
first came gender-based sporting events to keep the vaginas from competing with men (and from being a detriment to the team). then came gender-based requirements for acceptance into both the military and the police-force (making these forces look more like farces, where masculine competency is sacrificed for the politically-correct inclusion of members of the shorter/smaller/weaker gender whose physical competency pales in comparison to that of men). for crying out loud, coney island went and added a “womens’ division” to their frankfurter-eating competition so that there could be such a thing as a female champion. AND, on top of everything else, there’s the “do it HERself” workshop at the home depot (which, like “curves fitness,” serves as a “mister rogers” type of “land of make believe” and caters to vaginas who are either too intimidated or too pious to function around a superior gender…ahem, make that “unjustifiably pious,” just because there is no reason for feminists to feel that their gender can trump anything but a defenseless baby’s head).
as a way to battle the meek public-image of women that the aforementioned physical competitions contribute to, please IMPLORE all women to STOP LOOKING UP TO THEIR DATES. society must STOP seeing a man with a vagina on his arm if the man is taller than the vagina. women must be the tall ones in the relationship – if society got used to the concept of “short man/tall woman,” then the concept of “the lesser gender” would not necessarily signify the female gender. granted, mens’ broad shoulders would still point to a the existence of a stronger gender (as would their superior biceps, v-shaped backs, ripped chests and thick legs), but if every vagina would only date men who are shorter…well, i truly believe that the whole “masculine superiority” thing would slowly fade away.
mr. dylan terreri, i
dr. sheldon cooper, ii
miss abingdon blazavich
“When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m thirsty, I drink. When I feel like saying something, I say it.” – Madonna
A WOMENS’ MOVEMENT IS LONG OVERDUE
dear sir or vagina:
please join the movement at http://www.thelessergender.com and support the ladies who take pride in NOT being manlike.
do any other females think that there is something not right about a female who can’t get a sense of esteem without being regarded as “manlike”.
i am starting a movement for females who love and respect femininity as the absence of masculinity that it IS, rather than as the “a woman can do anything a man can do” propaganda-line that feminists love to recite but cannot justify. feminists have no respect for the feminine gender, they have no respect for their gender being the shorter/smaller/weaker gender, they have no respect for reality or for they way things ARE. they’re trying to put some kind of a spin on gender so that society regards a woman as man-like with a womb (wombman). now, i realize how the word “woman” stems from “wombman,” much like “ape-” and “spider-” are both prefixes to the word “man” which differentiate the prefixed man from the actual man, but the population of vaginas all seem to want to be man’s equal (even though both the bigger anatomy and the superior ability of one gender has slapped that notion of gender-equality right in the face ever since the coney island hot dog eating competition had to placate the lesser gender by adding a woman’s division in order for the little gender to triumph).
i am starting a movement for females who take pride in being female. furthermore, vaginas everywhere should be OFFENDED at other vaginas who are trying to measure-up to men, but instead they take pride in it. it is disrespect towards femininity for a vagina to think that she’s nothing unless she’s as strong as a man. it is disrespect towards femininity for a vagina to use the “a woman can do anything a man can do” line as a pride-preserver – first because it’s a lie propagated by self-discontent feminists who won’t be happy until the jagged little lie of gender-equality is as accepted as alanis morissette’s “jagged little pill” was in the 1990s, and second because anyone who utters that line is belittling femininity by trying to morph a masculine identity onto it.
there is something not right about a vagina who can’t get a sense of esteem without being regarded as “manlike”.
i am wholeheartedly OFFENDED by the excess of vaginas featured on “104.7 fm” internet talk-radio advertisements, i am offended by there being a blatant ignorance of men on television news-shows as if to suggest that the shorter/smaller/weaker gender of masculine wannabees has some kind of superiority over men. i don’t want to hear a bunch of egg-bleeding vaginas sitting in a coffee-klatch and speaking their opinions on important things – they are bimbos, from whoopi goldberg to barbara walters to andrea tantaros to kimberly guilfoyle. people who were designed to bleed eggs and to spout milk should NOT be looked up to – this is because they are merely tools to be used by men for procreation, they are tools to be used by babies for nourishment. that’s all they are, they should NOT be regarded as an authority on ANYTHING, they should NOT be looked up to by little boys who will eventually have no choice but to look down upon all women who don’t wear high-heeled shoes.
men are taller, men are broader, men are stronger, men are hungrier, men are hornier. regarding vagina-people: whether or not 1) the wannabees wear high-heeled shoes to be as tall as men, 2) the wannabees wear shoulder-pads to make their shoulders as broad as mens’, or c) the wannabees go to a vaginas-only exercise facility which lacks man-sized barbells and any other inkling of masculine superiority, the fact remains that masculinity is the physically-superior gender. people who cannot accept this, namely feminists, are lying to themselves. women should not be seen as heros, they should not be seen as father-figures, single-parent households are as wrong as the notion of gender-equality. women should not be seen as heros because (aside from laying an egg every month and spurting milk from their MOMmary glands) they are not men and they cannot achieve like men (refer to your GENDER-BASED physical competitions which actually suggest that having a vagina on a team full of men would be regarded as a “handicap”).
bottom line: vaginas NEED physical competitions to be gender-based in order to excel. that is, in order to excel ALONGSIDE of men and never OVER men. from military requirements to the olympics – even to the “coney island hot dog eating competition,” vaginas NEED separate (gender-based) divisions in order to win in any competition. if you build it, they will come – if you either keep ’em separated or give them LOTS and LOTS of mens’ hormones, they will finish in first place. any vagina who takes man-hormones is the personification of “wannabee”.
i refer to members of the little vagina-gender as “masculine wannabees,” i call them “vaginas,” i have no problem with pointing out their defects with as much offensive language as N-1-6-6-3-R-S use in their rap songs . how many female bodybuilders would be lackluster without hormone-injections? all of them? it’s like the only thing that makes Strongwoman strong is a man’s hormones. testosterone is the mark of a man, and with little vaginas relying on testosterone-injections to excel…well, that is why they are masculine wannabees. like “strong enough for a man but made for a woman” and earlier buzzphrases which tried to subjugate the superiority that masculinity has over femininity, the omnipresent-yet-unjustified buzzphrase of “a woman can do anything a man can do” is the latest fashion, the latest placebo meant to provide vaginas with a sense of worthiness and esteem. society just accepts it, but “a woman can do anything a man can do” is a lie and it’s a placebo because there is nothing to justify it. it has no backbone and nothing to support it. also, there is something not right about a vagina who can’t get a sense of esteem without being regarded as “manlike”. identity-crisis, anyone? speaking of an identity-crisis,i will continue:
at least chastity bono’s fabricated, “pin the tail on the donkey” gender now conforms to the crisis of her mind’s gender-identity not conforming to her actual gender…though she should have changed her mind rather than changing her gender’s appearance. she could have changed her mind instead of her gender. it took time for her MIND to discover that she felt that she was in the wrong body, it took time for her MIND to refuse any sort of gender-acceptance and self-acceptance, it took time for the outside world and the genders around her to make her MIND feel that she was un-ladylike. one must LEARN that there are two genders, one must LEARN one’s own place in the world regarding those genders. any gender-dysfunction that chastity bono felt had to be learned through living. chastity bono is not a mentally-sound person, she is weak because she abandoned self-love and self-esteem to mask her own misery by dwelling in 24/7 circus-sideshow.
let me get back to the masculine wannabees who DON’T play “pin the tail on the donkey”.
it is my opinion that vaginas everywhere should be OFFENDED at other vaginas who are trying to measure-up to men, but instead they take pride in it. it is disrespect towards femininity for a vagina to think that she’s nothing unless she’s as strong as a man. from rose tennant on wpgb to fran drescher on reruns of “the nanny,” i can’t count how many times they’ve implied that either they’re just as capable as men or that all vaginas “can do anything a man can do”. quoth nanny fine, “i’m an independent, self-sufficient woman,” as she figuratively pats herself on the head and tries to sell the viewing audience on seeing the disabled gender as capable. “anything a man can do,” says rosie the riveter. if that’s true, tell me why the difficulty of getting into the armed forces depends on gender…no man is going to become a soldier just by satisfying what is required of the little gender.
there is something not right about a vagina who can’t get a sense of esteem without being regarded as “manlike,” but there is something very wrong regarding a man who could not become a soldier because his stronger and more-capable presence existed on the stronger and more-capable gender. if we’re going to compromise our national security out of pity for feelings of the lackluster/wannabee gender, why even bother going to war? we’ve already surrendered.
vaginas are not members of the superior gender, they are lesser – men have greater heights, broader shoulders, greater weights and greater appetites either for sex or for food. there is a reason that physical competitions are based on gender, it’s because vaginas would serve as a handicap on a team of men. america’s strongest womb (wombman, wombn, woman – are you getting the wombn and her baby-making namesake?) is either on hormones or testosterone and should not be accepted into any physical competition on account of these gender-bending hormones.
dr. frank-n-furter is the only person who can make a man out of nothing (femininity = nothing). chastity bono may have the appearance of being manlike, but she should’ve changed her mind instead of conforming her body to the “help, i’m a man in a female’s body” state of mind that she had allowed to develop throughout her life. again, nobody is born into a “wrong” body – nobody is born with any opinions or feelings or knowledge of anything. it’s just as easy for a skinny boy to grow up into the man of his dreams as it is for a skinny boy to regard himself as “not man enough” and to turn to homosexuality to find that big and strong man of his dreams that he’s always wanted to be. wannabee. gay “men” lust for a masculine identity just as much as feminists do. they’re all a bunch of masculine wannabees, this is why i refer to gay males as gay “men” with quotation marks. it’s time that at least feminists would embrace their femininity rather than mock it with the words “a woman can do anything a man can do”.
this has been an introduction to my Womens’ Movement. please join the movement at http://www.thelessergender.com and join the ladies who take pride in NOT being manlike.
mr. dylan terreri, i
dr. sheldon cooper, ii
“When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m thirsty, I drink. When I feel like saying something, I say it.” – Madonna
And by the way:
How can you conclude that Ruth Padawer INSULTS girl and women? Your criticism is that you have the impression that she links stereotype “female” behavior and personality traits to being a woman or a girl. I don’t think she really does this, but it’s your impression – OK. If this impression was right, one could conclude that this is a problem and that it prevents women and girls from occupying “male” priveleges. But that’s not what you say. You don’t complain that Ruth Padawer is preventing women and girls from getting empowered – you claim – LITERALLY – that she’s INSULTING them by linking being a woman or girl to stereotypic “female” traits. Sorry – but these traits also come close to my gender identity (as a gay and gender-fluid man). So you conclude that being linked to MY (rather stereotypically “female”) gender identity insults women and girls??? Don’t you understand how deeply YOU are insulting ME by claiming this? You are claiming that MY identity is INSULTING! That hurts.
But what is the irony in all that: You’re pretending to write from a neutral gender-fluid perspective and critisize Ruth Padawer for allegedly not doing so. Can you even imagine that a man could find something positive about personality traits that are labeled “female”? Obviously you can’t. You are thankful to men who do so, for your own indirect benefit in terms of “one male competitor less”. But you don’t really respect them. From my male gender-fluid perspective, you talk like a patriarch in a woman’s body. But neither your sex (the body) makes a difference, nor does mine. Have you ever read Judith Butler? And have you really understood what she’s writing and talking about?
I have the impression that your comment is written from the perspective of a kind of retro-pseudo-feminism that has stuck somewehere in the late 70’s. Maybe that’s an American thing, but in Germany the modern discussion is completely different. I found the link to this NYT article in a German feminist blog – and that was not a blog of so called “differential feminists” of the second generation. It’s a blog of the third generation that promotes indvidual post-patriarchal identities (or rather tries to overcome any kind of shaped identity) – and it sees no contradiction between gender deconstructivism on the one hand – and a positive re-evaluation of what society refers to as “female” personality traits on the other. Because gender-fluidity is not specific for so-called “women”. There are also gender-fluid (so-called) “men”, and they are also victims of patriarchy – though you are excluding them. Sex means nothing!
I’ve read your critical comment on the NYT article (more than one month after it appeared – sorry). However, I think you misunderstood the author’s intentions. On the one hand it’s true that she lists numerous gender stereotypes, yet she doesn’t do that to show what’s girlish and boyish, but to show what society LABELS as girlish or boyish. And when she asks why anyone should want to be the lesser gender, the irony seems more than obvious to me, and it should be clear that she doesn’t label any gender as the lesser one, but she critisizes that that’s what society does. She asks the question “Why should anyone want to be the lesser gender” from the perspective of a society that is shaped by the values of patriarchy.
If she did not do this, she wouldn’t be able to show why it is way more hard for boys to escape from “their” stereotype role than it is for girls. Just one simple example: Traditionally, wearing trousers has (historically) for a long time been considered to be “male privilege”, and wearing dresses is still TODAY regarded as typically “female”. In our modern society, no one cares about girls wearing trousers (at least not in Germany where I live – and I live in a small town) – but if a boy wears a skirt, you can be sure that he’ll be ridiculized. My little neice, for example, has always played soccer and climbed trees (what our CULTURE considers to be typically “male”), and no one made a big deal of it. However, when a boy uses a coloured lipstick you can be sure that many people will consider that a severe mental problem.
Maybe it’s different in the USA, I don’t know – but in Germany (even in my small town) the hardest thing that could happen to a girl who wears a Spiderman-T-Shirt would be someone advising her to behave “more like a girl” or calling her a “Tomboy”. That’s bad enough, but she would not be ridiculized. That’s completely different for a boy who wears a pink dress.
And this is a consequence of patriarchy – denying it would mean denying the power of patriarchy’s values. I’m writing this from the perspective of a gay male who positively identifies with many personality traits that society labels “female”. E.g. in my country, female homosexuality has never been persecuted by law. Even during the Nazi regime there was no official law forbidding female homosexuality – whereas male homosexuality has been punished quite hard for a long time, even up to the 1970’s! That’s obviously a consequence of traditional cultural values that considered male homosexuality to be “a much bigger shame”. Female homosxuality was not accepted either, but it was never such a big deal as male homosexuality was.
And that’s exactly what Padawer wants to show: A woman who consequently escapes from the traditional role (in whatever aspects) may be disliked by many people who see her as cold-hearted and “unfemale”. That’s true. But at least she gains status and power. That’s what psychologists call “ambivalent sexism”: Women have to decide whether people LIKE them for being stereotypically “female”- or if they RESPECT them for coming closer to the “male” stereotype. Women still can’t have both. At the same time, stereotypically “female” men may be liked by many people (including women), but are not really respected. And the closer they come to personality traits that are considered typically “female”, the more they will be ridiculized. This means, that society DOES have a problem with ANY kind of nonconforming role behavior – but the way people react to it is different: Women who are considered to be too “male” (or too much of what society claims to be male) are DISLIKED. Men who are considered to be too “female” (in the same stereotypic sense) are rather RIDICULIZED than disliked. Society wants gender-fluid women to feel morally GUILTY, but they want gender-fluid men to feel ASHAMED. And that has to do a lot with the values that patriarchy has defined: So-called “female” behavior is considered lovely, whereas so-called “male” behavior is considered powerful. So-called “unfemale” behavior is considered a moral problem, whereas so-called “unmale” behavior is considered funny. But it’s true that Padawer (the author of the NYC article) failed to explain that and wrongly suggested that girls and women would have no problem with escaping their traditional role. But since all capitalist Western societies tend to be rather narcissistic cultures (which is also a consequence of patriarchy valuing dominance and success more than loveliness, caring and emotionality), feeling inappropriately “powerless, ridicoulous and ashamed” hurts much more than feeling “unlovely and not caring enough for others”. That’s not my conception of masculinity and feminity, but society’s. And it’s not Padawer’s conception either, I guess. She critisizes society’s view.
To come to the end now, I just want to say that as a gay man who really appreciates emotionality and caring (which, of course, not all gay men do, whereas some straight men do as well), I often feel disriminated against – not only by straight men, but also by that kind of first gfeneration feminists who consider anything that society labels “female” inferior and worthless.
I can accept anyone’s personal preferences and values, but I want them to accept mine as well. There’s still a lot of people who call themselves feminists but are infected with patriarchy’s values. Not because they want to do the same things that men do (anyone has the right do do so!) – but because they refuse to accept that also a traditional so-called “female” identity CAN be a conscious and indvidual choice that must be respected, no matter if it’s expressed by a woman or a man. It seems a bit hypocritic to me when the same “feminists” who claim that they love my gender-nonconfomity (because I am a man) label the same identity and behavior inferior and worthless if it is expressed by someone who’s a woman.
That smells like ambivalent sexism: What these pseudo-feminists really show me is that they LOVE me for not competing with them and leaving those traits and behaviors to women, that are generally more respected by society. But at the same time they show me that they don’t really respect me: They’re just thankful for a man’s decision to live in – what also THEY consider to be – the “lesser gender”: because that’s one male competitor less.
It’s not my intention to recreate stereotypes: I want anyone to develop their very personal identity – independent from what society or patriarchy wants them to do. But I HAVE to refer to patriarchy’s stereotypes and values in order to explain why I as the so-called “lesser gender” feel discriminated against. If you forbid me or Padawer (the author) to refer to these stereotypes, you take away my language as the only way to fight against my discrimination. Mainstream feminism has – for a long time – had a very simplifiyng view of what patriarchy does: It labels behavior as “female” or “male” to defend man’s power and woman’s suppression. That is indeed true. But that’s just one side of the story. The other one is that patriarchy links the so-called “male” behavior (that most men have gotten used to) to power and status and the so-called “female” behavior (that many women have also gotten used to) to inferiority. I insist on the fact that this evaluation is not god-given, but MAN-made: it’s a male invention. To me it seems that parts of mainstream feminism have for a long time been reproducing the values of patriarchy by labeling loving and caring behavior – MY favorite values – as inferior and worthless. Thus biological patriarchy (women’s suppression by men) has become less during the recent decades, but gender-patriarchy (the suppression of the so-called “female” identity by the so-called “male” identity) has NOT become less. That’s a problem that women who tend to identify with so-called “male” behavior (which is of course their human right!!!) just don’t see. It’s a problem that men and women have who tend to feel more what society calls “female”.
You can complain now that I’m using stereotypic language – but what other way is there for me to express how I feel about people suggesting that I’m living in what they see as the “lesser gender”? That’s just an attempt to take OTHER victims of dicsrimination the language they need to defend themselves. Or would you also critisize the victims of apartheid for complaing about racial segregation, just because “race” is a socially constructed category? So may I also talk about the social construct “gender” then – if I live in a society that tells me that my personality traits and my preferences and values are inferior?
It’s easy to complain about patriarchy, but it’s rather hard to think critically about oneself – and about the quesition whether in certain aspects one could be part of the dominant culture – not through one’s sex, but through one’s preferred gender identity. The gender-fluid perspective is dominated by people who identify with what society calls “male” personality traits. That’s because people who come closer to the so-called stereotype “female” traits (love and caring) are not that good in dominating and suppressing others. Domination and suppression is what patriarchy does – be it classical biological patriarchy (men suppress women) or what I call gender patriarchy. You even find that sort of gender patriarchy within the gay scene, where those who see themselves as “real tough men” suppress and ridiculize other gays who are more sensitive and emotional.
So I was indeed very thankful for this NYT article that you critisize, because it explains the emotional conflict that I suffer from – in this macho society.
This article would never have been written if we did not live in a gendered world. And for the most part, the public cannot / does not want to believe that gender fluid “boys” exist, and if they do, they should hide because it is “dangerous” for them. This article actually helped my dad understand who my child is and our family situation. Every other article I find is strictly about transgender children without “fluidity.” I am assuming that you have never met any children like the examples in the article. I see your points, especially from your young daughter’s perspective, and am really glad that you have written them. Still the article was not meant to be a statement on how we “should” be seeing this and how to make a more equitable society. It was more to explain that these children exist, why we know they do and how their families deal and interact with others with their children as the focal point of daily situations.
I would love to see an article written about society’s view of what is boxed as feminine and why this view and active division make it impossible for gender equality. I think you should write it. Ms. Padawer’s editor might not be the right person to bring it to, though.
I have “met” many kids like the ones described in the article. I believe it would be a rare boy who would not wear a dress if society did not insist otherwise. I also believe most kids would choose clothes that would allow the to play and move and that the Jim Crow of kid world creates all kinds of reactions and rebellions to rigid stereotypes.
Having the experience of living in the kind of situation in the article, I do not believe that most boys would opt to wear dresses. The dress wearing in my home os not about comfort, it is about gender expression. Gender neutral does not enter this at all. My kid does not want neutral, definitely wants amazing and what my child feels is feminine in relation to wardrobe. In activities, this is all over the map. But not neutral. Every child is different and as parents we can clearly see that. If you are not a parent, it is a hypothesis that does not ring true though I wish it did. We all have personality before we are even born! Ask any pregnant mom how her pregnancy is going and if it’s different from others she’s had. No two pregnancies or births alike. No two kids alike.
I believe we need to much as a society to have space for all, to rid ourselves of gendered/abled roles and expectations. I wish it were obvious to all that this would be better for everyone but it seems we are long way from that with the current ugly presidential debate. Freedom for all gets folks all riled up when they think their losing power. Please write that article!
Thank for this great and insightful look at this issue. I was forwarded the original NYT article by a gay male friend who grew up in a particularly close-minded small town in Indiana. For him, he saw that boys wanting to buck stereotypical behavior as a win when thinking about his frightening years growing up. And I definitely see what he is talking about. Even watching old reruns of 90s sitcoms like Friends makes me surprised at the level of homophobia that was considered both normal and funny not that long ago. It is good that we are starting to talk about it being okay for children to want to dress up, however that might be defined.
However, since my own childhood in the 80s, girl stereotypes (and, subsequently, boy stereotypes) have gotten more and more insidious. When you walk through the toy aisle of Target or WalMart, it’s clear by the colors whether you are in a “boy” aisle or “girl” aisle. It’s only okay for girls to play with Legos if they come in pink or purple. Children know what colors belong to what gender. And don’t get me started on the clothing for babies (and I was thrilled to find Pigtail Pals in your post, by the way, and I will certainly be buying stuff from them for my son and niece). I don’t remember feeling that pressure to like girly things as a child. So I played with He-Man and My Little Pony, and I saw nothing wrong with that.
I do applaud seeing things like the book My Princess Boy and other works that are trying to open the door to more fluid gender norms. But I would rather see a day when we don’t need them. When you are just as likely to ask a small girl “Do you like trucks?” are you are a boy, or to say to a boy “Wow, I like those schmancy shoes you’re wearing.” Until we get to that point, articles like this are just window dressing.
Thank you SO much. I lost a good friend recently by saying that the male to female transgender community has sometimes contributed to gender stereotyping by choosing “feminine” appearance (what my female friends refer to as “drag”, as in the phrase “I have to get into my ‘work drag.’) over more gender neutral appearance. This article was so much of the same. Saying “We’re not wearing satin to an environment with painting.” seems a task beyond the strength of any modern parent, whatever their child’s birth or experienced gender.
On another point, the writer seems to be utterly confounded by the idea that people can cross-dress without being confused about their gender. That’s another aspect of this where she completely avoids the experience of born female, although not necessarily ‘cis’ female persons entirely. I can tell you that having infants dressed in ANYTHING that wasn’t strongly gender coded let me in for some seriously hostile attacks by random strangers. My boychild had a onesie with embroidered stars on it? Doting old people who said “What a pretty girl you are!” were ANGRY when a sib said, “That’s my brother.” but equally angry if a baby in red white & blue turned out to be a sister. And my 9 year old daughter actually LOATHES being addressed as Princess, which is apparently s SOP for cast members at Disney. We talk about a world where little girls are addressed with “How are you doing today, Neurosurgeon?”
Kathleen Massara blogged this on HuffPo:
“In the article, Padawer also explains transgender is “a term for those who feel they were born in the wrong body.” The Gender Equity Resource Center at Berkeley, however, defines transgender people as “those whose psychological self (“gender identity”) differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with.” Why wouldn’t Padawer use this definition, rather than the “I’m trapped inside the wrong body” understanding, which is false? It seems that the author’s understanding of gender is more close-minded than she’d like to admit. ”
the whole piece is great, here’s the link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathleen-massara/its-still-not-easy-being-_b_1771341.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false
Most of all, to me as someone who actually identifies as gendervariant, the article felt like it mainly came from a cis perspective so I am honestly not surprised that physical sex, gender expression and gender identity were conflated. The person writing it seemed to be working it out in their mind still, and I imagine even those accepting parents just accept it and still don’t entirely understand it. It seemed to focus mainly on kids who don’t fit gender roles, which the article even says is era-specific, rather than on actual gender variant children.
The only reason I wasn’t bothered by the article saying “why would anyone want to be like the lesser gender” is because I took it as rhetorical or sarcastic. Maybe it wasn’t, but true enough, as sexism would have it, feminine-coded traits and behaviors are devalued, suggesting the “lesser gender.”
I’d also like to reply to this comment (if I may – it’s getting quite long again, but its’ a very difficult and important matter) – since it makes the potential conflict between gender-nonconforming women and men (that I was talking about) obvious. Of course we have the same problem with patriarchy since we escape from the roles that society wants us to live in. But that’s only one point. The other one is that extremely gender-nonconforming men have personality traits, feel attracted to clothes and prefer a kind of behavior that our patriarchic society labels inferior in general. In contradiction to that, extremely gender-nonconforming women have personality traits, dress and behave in a way that helps them gain power and status – according to the general values of our patriarchic society. (It may lead to being blamed or even bullied for not being feminine enough – sure – and many men and women refuse to accept women as powerful. But at least, in the tendency, women gain more power by occupying “male” privileges, whereas men loose power, status and social acceptence by behaving extremely gender-nonconforming. It is the most important aim of feminism to bring women to more power and status by occupying the “male” privileges. We must not forget that).
And I must repeat it once more: What patriarchy does to its victims can be broken down into two different aspects: FIRST creating gender segregation by creating different roles for women and men – and then, SECOND, calling THAT gender, behavior and personality traits inferior that got culturally associated with women – whereas anything that’s culturally associated with men is referred to as superior. That’s two rather different processes. The alleged superiority of the so-called “male” gender and the alleged inferiority of the so-called “female” gender, however, is not given by nature. The according evaluation does not exist independently from the context of our patriarchic culture. It’s a MAN made thing. And just as well as gender segregation, the different evaluation of gender also serves men and helps them to keep up their privileges.
Historically, there have been different feminist attempts to overcome patriarchic values. The first generation of feminists only(!) fought for women’s right to occupy the traditionally “male” role behavior and privileges. But they assumed that everything linked to the traditional “male” gender was a very general and universal privilege, independently from cultural context and patriarchic values. Thus they sometimes even supported the patriarchic idea that the traditionally “feminine” personality traits were inferior in general. This, however, has also lead to an indirect support of homophobia and transphobia, especially anti-gay-male homophobia and anti-male-to-female-transphobia. It has supported our society’s lack of understanding concerning ALL people who see “female” personality traits as a positive and valuable aspect of their very personal identity. Or in Ruth Padawers words, society says: “Why should anyone want to be what almost anybody in our society seems to regard as the lesser gender?” And even the (implicit, not explicit) attitude of the first generation feminists was: “Of course, we are thankful for ANY man who lives in the lesser gender, thus no longer competing with us in our struggle for social power and status. However, it would be ridiculous to think that there could be anything positive about living in a so-called rather ‘feminine’ role. It’s not a privilege, but a punishment – completely and without any exception. So we (feminists of the first generation) tend to see all those extremely gender-nonconforming men as people who make sacrifices. We love them for doing so – but if they claim that living in the traditional so-called ‘feminine’ role was a privilege they want to occupy, and that it had to to anything with self-actualization, that’s clearly wrong.” That’s, of course, nonsense – since many of the things that are stereotypically associated with women, e.g. raising up your children, being loving and caring or making you and your body look more beautiful, can also be an important part of personal self-actualization – and fortunately, more and more men (though still not very many) seem to understand that. In many non-Western (less narcissictic and more sociocentric) societies that’s absolutely clear for anybody: Self-actualization is also a social experience. So first-generation feminism also seems to be rather eurocentric in a way, when claiming that the superiority of the traditionally “male” gender was independent from culture. Doing what only men have done for thousands of years in OUR culture, leads to more power and status in OUR patriarchic culture. Other cultures may have much less patriarchic values. Gender segregation itself may often be even bigger there, sure – but so-called “feminine” behavior and personality traits are often more positively evaluated, in general. And sometimes “even” when they are expressed by men. Many people from non-Western cultures have the impression that Western people are in general obsessed with power, dominance and status.
Second generation feminism, then, the so-called differential feminists, tried to fight against the second aspect of patriarchic values, only – ignoring or even reproducing the first aspect. Differential feminists wanted to bring women to more social power and recognition by positively re-evaluating the so-called “female” personality traits and behavior. But unfortunately, they also regarded the so-called “female” gender as a constituting aspect of being born as a woman. That’s, of course, nonsense as well, and it also reprocues the values of patriarchy.
So modern, third generation feminism trys to combine both: First, they fight for the abolishment of gender segregation, but then, they also fight for a positive re-evaluation of the so-called “feminine” personality traits and behavior. This second aspect can no longer be ignored, since ignoring it would automatically lead to the discrimination and the exclusion of highly gender-nonconforming men (or people who were born as men). Completely overcoming patriarchy and its values is only possible if we abolish gender segregation AND also fight the view that the so-called “feminine” behavior and personality traits were inferior. However, if we want to reach the second aim, too, we HAVE to be able to refer to the traditionally “male” and “female” personality traits – we need words for them. If we ignore this second aspect of patriarchy (calling anything that is linked to the traditional “female” role inferior), we may succeed in abolishing gender segregation – but this would still mean that some gender identities would be regarded as inferior and others as superior, in general – independently from people’s sex. So we would only change biological patriarchy (the dominance of the male sex over the female sex) against some kind of gender patriarchy (the dominance of the former “male” gender over the former “female” gender, regardless of sex).
This, however, would automatically lead to an even extremer discrimination of ALL people (no matter what sex) whose identities come closer to the so-called “feminine” end of the spectrum. This would also reproduce anti-gay-homophobia and anti-man-to-woman-transphobia, as well, since many of these people feel rather (what society calls) “feminine”.
You (Brooke) wrote that some male-to-female transgenders would sometimes produce gender stereotypes by behaving in an extremely “feminine” rather than gender neutral way. I think that critisism has to be looked at closer. If a male-to-female-transgender person behaves in an extremely histrionic, over-stereotyped “feminine” way and makes a big show out of it, I agree with you. The message is: “Look, this is the way a woman feels and behaves”. What is relevant here is the fact that she consciously decides to behave this way and to make such a big show out of it. It seems obvious that this is not only the way that she naturally feels. Much of this behavior is artificially and consciously over-stereotyped. So your point seems to be true. On the other hand, first generation feminism (which is still rather influencial) has for quite a long time been indirectly supporting and producing anti-gay-male-homohobia and anti-male-to-female-transphobia, as I have shown above. (Of course, not all gay men feel rather “feminine”, but many of us really do.)
And in adition, if a male-to-female-transgender person just behaves in a very “feminine” way because she really IS and FEELS very “feminine”, and if that’s the way she just naturally is, it would be absurd and mean to blame her for not being more “gender neutral”. People are indviduals with individually different personality traits. People have queer identities, and this means that they aren’t (and don’t need to be) perfectly gender neutral. I want to live in an open society, not a normed one. Gender is to a large degree nothing we have consciously chosen, but something that has developped in us subconsciously. It is just a part of our identity that we cannot just give up by choosing to do so. The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community has always fought for the social acceptance of this fact. So simply blaming someone for the fact that her or his gender identity is not “neutral” enough, would just be a slap in the face for all these emancipatiory efforts and the people who fought for them.
I also wonder if you would blame many female-to-male-transgenders, too. One could also argue that some of them would produce gender stereotypes by behaving in a “too masculine” fashion, instead of being rather gender neutral. In any case, this complaint only makes sense if the person has had a free and conscious choice. So blaming someone for consciously over-expressing gender stereotypes in a very extreme way is OK. Blaming her/him for just being what she/he is, is just mean. That’s not how I understood you – but I think you should think about the difference.
And by the way, wearing a dress is just as “feminine” and just as gender neutral, as wearing a trouser is “masculine” or gender neutral. Our society clearly thinks that’s two completely different things – but why? Where have we once come from, about a hundred years ago? Trousers have ONCE been considered just as “masculine” as dresses are STILL considered “feminine”. Obviously, our society is much more tolerant with gender-nonconforming women than with gender-nonconformimg men (which does, of course, not mean that society is REALLY tolerant to gender-nonconforming women – often it isn’t. Society just tends to be MORE tolerant there, in relation). A big part of what has once been gender-nonconforming for women, has already become completely normal and accepted. That does, of course, not mean that girls who behave in a very gender-nonconforming way wouldn’t have any problems anymore. But I don’t think they will be as much ridiculized as boys are who wear pink princess dresses and paint their nails red. That’s due to society’s concepts of “masculinity” and “feminity”. A man who looses or gives up his “masculinity” is strongly being ashamed and ridiculized. Our society even refers to that as “castration”, whereas a woman who is not “feminine” enough is blamed and is not liked by many people – but at least she can gain power by slipping into a gender that our patriarchic society regards as the superior one. That many women want to be “more like men” (in the stereotypic sense) seems understandable – and it IS VERY understandable in the context of our society’s values. But some men also want to be “more like women” (in the same stereotypic sense) – and they are severely ridiculized for living in the alleged “lesser gender”.
So patriarchy produces victims in the following social groups:
1. Women who live in the traditional “female” gender – since they are prevented from gaining power and status (as “femininty” is considered inferior to “masculinity”, in general, in our patriarchic culture).
2. Gender neutral women and women who fight for coming closer to the traditional “male” privileges – in order to gain status in the cultural context of the society they live in – or just in order to live a broader sense of self-actualization. Patriarchy trys to reserve all these privileges for men.
3. Men who come closer to a gender-neutral or even anti-gender-conforming identity: They either just HAVE such a rather “feminine” identity (because they feel and appear more “feminine”, naturally) – or they choose such an identity, e.g. to live a broader concept of self-actualization. Or e.g., because they prefer the so-called “feminine” values, since very extreme forms of the so-called (traditionally) “masculine” values, such as dominance, have produced various aspects of social inequality and suppression, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, homo- and transphobia, capitalism, classisism, wars and genocides. These gender-fluid men are ridiculized by patriarchy – but they are sometimes also indirectly attacked by radical first generation feminists who suggest that no-one could ever find real self-actualization in aspects of a traditionally “feminine” gender identity. And they are also indirectldy attacked by second-generation feminists who claim that the character traits they identify with were constitutional for women, not men. Both (first and second generation feminism) reproduce patriarchic values. Both are therefore contra-effetive and reactionary. Both prevent billions of men worldwide from leaving their traditional roles.
By the way, there are almost twice as many male-to-female-transgenders who decide to change their biological sex by surgery, than the other way round (female-to-male with surgery). I believe this is due to the fact that a woman who has very strong so-called “masculine” tendencies can still be “a strong and powerful woman”. Maybe a very “masculine” woman, maybe a “lesbian” – but people don’t see such an urgent need to change her sex. And if a person born as a woman really feels she needs to change her sex, she must be very, very extremely “masculine”. On the other hand, being very “feminine” is regarded as much more incompatible with being a man. Maybe for that reson, (potential) male-to-female-transgender caindidates feel much more often they have to change their biological sex. What they feel like seems incompatible with being a man.
I’m sorry that I’m writing such long statements (this was my last one in this blog), but I think it’s a very complex problem that needs to be discussed from different standpoints. Mine is that of a gender-nonconforming gay man, who is not perfectly gender neutral either, but comes rather close to the so-called “feminine” traits. And I still think we have no choice but to use such stereotyped language if we want to explain what patriarchy does to its victims. Not only to women by excluding them from “male” privileges, but also to gender-nonconforming men (and rather “feminine” women) who are consequently suggested that they live in a “lesser gender”.
Language is our only way to defend ourselves. If we can no longer give stereotype-linked names (such as “masculine” or “feminine”) to the personality traits that make up our very personal identities – we cannot explain either that the ridiculization and negative evaluation of these so-called “feminine” aspects of gender result from patriarchic values. But we have to refer to this, as long as we live in a patriarchic society. That’s a conflict, indeed – so I use quotation marks, consequently, when using such expressions, in order not to reproduce gender segregation (too much) by talking about gender. But I think I can’t avoid it completely. On the other hand, no longer talking about the different evaluation of so-called “masculine” and “feminine” gender aspects and personality traits would prevent me from fighting against the discrimination that I suffer from (as a rather “feminine” man). Anyone could say to me then: “Why should you as a queer man suffer from patriarchy? You’re still a man, and your identity and personality has actually nothing to do with femininity”. So I just kind of choose the lesser evil. It’s just the same as the fact that the victims of racism have to talk about race in order to defend themselves. Otherwise white people could say: “Why should you be a victim? You don’t belong to another race than I do. Race is just an invention”. Yes, it is an invention. But the classification as belongig to a “race” that society considers to be “inferior” hurts very much. And that pain is very real.
In the end, I think it’s important to understand that we all fight against the same enemy: patriarchy. So my statement should not be misunderstood as bringing feminism and the emancipation of queers (or in this case: especially queer men or MTF-transgenders) into a conflict. We should rather try to look over the edge of our very personal problems (e.g. as a woman who fights for the occupation of “male” privileges – or as a queer man who fights for the positive evaluation of his gender identity), and we should try to understand our fight as a common fight against patriarchy. But this also means to include the interests of other victim groups into this fight. And to understand that patriarchy cannot be overcome as long as our society values the stereotypically “female” lesser than the stereotypically “male”. It’s not that in a post-patriarchic society, everyone would automatically be perfectly gender neutral in the (then) former sense of gender. People will still be indviduals, they will still be different, and that’s OK. So we won’t be clones, we will still have very different identities – but what we are would no longer be labelled as a gender. And if the conept “gender” would have vanished by then, but some personality traits would STILL be considered superior and others (e.g. loving and caring) would STILL be considered inferior, we would still have a problem.
This is something that also feminists need to understand. There is an increasing development into that direction, especially in the third, modern generation of feminism. But the ideas of the first generation are still rather dominant and influencial – especially the idea that all “male” privileges in our culture were privileges in a general and universal sense – and regardless of the cultural context and the values of our patriarchic society (which lead to a different evaluation and a different status of genders – as another, second consequence of patriarchy). From the queer perspective, this ignorance in the first generation of feminists is a problem – since it leads to the idea that queer men and male-to-female-transgenders lived in a universally “lesser gender”. It’s true that our society values the so-called “feminine” personality traits and behavior as the “lesser gender” – but we also have to critisize and to change that. Otherwise feminism would exclude queer men, all gender-nonconforming men and all women who are more sensitive and what is called “feminine”. That shouldn’t be our aim. Our aim should be to fully overcome patriarchy. Not only in relation to biological sex, but also to gender. So especially from a queer perspective, also a woman CAN be kind of a “gender patriarch” if she disrespects and ridiculizes “feminine” behavior.
But of course it’s just as important to bring women closer to the so-called traditionally “masculine” personality traits. That’s because – as long as our patriarchic society is what it is – that’s the only way for women to gain more power and status in the context of these patriarchic cultural values that still regard the so-called “masculine” traits as the superior ones. And because individuality and self-actualization are incompatible with pre-defined gender drawers, anyway. And this is, of course, also a queer thing. We shouldn’t forget, though, that our second aim should also be to overcome our society’s patriarchic idea that the so-called “masculine” is better than the “feminine”. It’s not better. For example, our children need love and caring, no matter if from a man or a woman. A world without anything so-called “feminine” (no matter what sex) would be a sick and cold world. And it’s not a contradiction to understand that patriarchy does both: gender segregation AND different gender evaluation. Patriarchy needs both to keep up male dominance. If the “female” gender was NOT consequently valued lesser than the “male” one, patriarchs would not have had a power benefit from gender segregation. It’s not that raising up children leads to a lesser social status automatically in any culture.
What Ruth Padawer can be critisized for is that she has not consequently shown that she does not share our society’s gender labels. For example by putting “male” and “female” into quotation marks, or by explaining the social construction of these categories. That’s true. But what she has perfectly shown is that our patriarchic society does not only create gender seperation, but also values the stereotypic “male” traits higher than the so-called “female” ones. And she has shown that this leads to the fact that hardly anyone (and many feminists neither) really understand what’s going on in a boy who rather wants to dress like many girls do. And that’s a perspective that many male-to-female transgenders are probably thankful for. I as a queer and gender-fluid man am thankful for that perspective, too, since it also refers to the pain that I have gone thru by allegedly “not being male enough” in the eyes of the society I live in. As a kid, I also wore dresses and used red lipstick in the privacy of our home. I’ve strongly been ridiculized by both men and women in my life, for being such a “soft” and sensitive boy, which I have always been. And I later sometimes had the feeling that even some feminist women didn’t really respect me, but rather found it quite amusing to see how sensitive and inferior even a man can be. Of course, most have just signalized this attitude between the lines – or showed it by giggling and laughing. Or by showing clearly that they felt much more superior and powerful than me.
That hurt’s – and no woman can understand how that hurts from the perspective of a man. Being told that one is “not male enough” is not the same thing as being told one is “not female enough”. It feels different, since the conepts of “masculinity” and “femininity” are different. So the alleged “deficit” that our society sees is different. And your feelings are different. As a rather “feminine” man, you tend to feel ashamed and ridiculized your whole life. In some cases that may even lead to an extreme social phobia. Lesbian women often complain that they are hardly perceived by public, quite different than gay men. That’s true – but why is that? Why is noone hardly interested in a lesbian woman’s coming out – and why is our society so obsessed with queer men? Is it because boys are much more afraid of being labelled “gay”, whereas even in my early ninety’s school time it was completely normal and accepted for girls to walk hand in hand or even to write love letters to each other? But why?
I dont’ say it’s easy for gender-nonconforming or lesbian girls, or even for female-to-male transgenders. But it still seems to be way easier than the other way round. “Masculinity” seems to be the highest status symbol in our patriarchic macho society. Lacking so-called “masculinity” may lead to powerlessness for women. Allegedly lacking “femininity” (of women) may lead to being disliked and blamed, e.g. for being a “bad mother”. But fully lacking “masculinity” as a man leads to your social death. It may have become a bit better during the recent decades, but the tendency is still very strong. And even gay men are often only accepted if they are not too “feminine”. Be it in our society as a whole, or be it even inside the gay scene. A woman who prefers “male” parfume and a rather male “fashion” style may often be sceptically looked at – but she can at least get a job with that. She can even lead an enterprise (though that’s still quite rare). If I as a man wore dresses, used red lipstick, painted my finger nails red, wore high-heels and used “Chanell No. 5”, noone would ever give me a job (except as a drag queen). And that’s the next thing: What has originally been gender-nonconforming for women (e.g. wearing trousers), is often today regarded as “gender neutral”. But when a man wears a dress, that’s still not considered gender neutral, but highly “feminine”. So when a male-to-female transgender behaves like a histrionic drama queen, she may indeed reproduce gender stereotypes. But when she just wears a dress and paints her finger nails and uses lipstick – why should exactly that produce gender stereotypes, whereas no one would ever get the idea to blame a cis-woman for doing the same thing? It even reduces gender stereotypes when a person who was born as man (or who maybe still is a man and doesn’t want to change that) is behaving as many women do – in a rather moderate way. (If you even perceive that as extreme, that may be due to your own implicit gender stereotypes.) It can only THEN reproduce gender stereotypes when a male-to-female transgender behaves in such an extremely “feminine” way that even no cis-woman would ever do that. That’s a problem then – but only then.
I really appologize for writing so much in your wonderful blog, Margot, but it’s “working” a lot inside me and I rarely have the opportunity to describe patriarchic structures (and my personal trauma resulting from these sructures) from my perspective as a queer and gender-fluid man. Maybe I should get my own blog – there’s a lot I’d want to say to people. The social discourse is dominated by women who occupy “male” privileges. If only you read it, that’s also worth the effort for me, since I think you might understand many of my points, though maybe not exactly sharing them.
Thank you very much for listening to me. Maybe you can accept the idea that our society values the stereotypically “male” higher than the stereotypically “female” attributes and behavior, in general, and to some degree even regardless of the biological sex. And that that’s also a consequence of patriarchy, and that it should be overcome. Maybe you want to include the perspective of gender-fluid men into your further articles, and maybe you understand that Ruth Padawer’s core message, though clearly expressed in a problematic way, is very important. It’s not that gender-nonconforming girls and women had it easy – it’s just that gender-nonconforming boys and men have it even worse. Especially in our narcissistic culture, where dominance seems to be the highest value, and the slightest touch of “feminity” can lead to the social death of a boy.
This was so awesome! I was linked to this from Superhero Princess. You are so insightful and smart and funny and savvy. I wish I had more friends like you in real life. My mom was a preschool teacher and ALWAYS noticed that adults talk to girls about their appearance. It’s so sick! I am a follower.
THANK YOU for calling out this shallow, fucked up and misogynist article. I have reblogged it in a few places; hope that’s OK.
Ha, thanks. Yes, reblog!
Have you seen this article?
link doesnt work?
Ugh, sorry – it’s this piece from mommyish:
wow, i may have to do another post! “girls who waltz into previously male-dominated arenas are almost uniformly applauded.”
DISAGREE and Jesus, I can’t belive we’re still at the place where so much effort is still put in only recognizing the sexism Saying “It’s there!” But even more than that, the last thing I want to do is reduce this into “what worse, a boy in dress or a girl in a Spider-Man T?” It’s all the SAME ISSUE about kids growing up in a fucked up, artificially gender-segregated world.
The article talks about barbies, princesses and make up not because the writer is trying to stereotype gender, but because this is what these boys choose are attracted to. End of story.
That implication is exactly the problem. BEGINNING of story, at the v. least.
Thank you for your insightful critique and commentary on the NYT cover article. I just finished reading the article, and your points about stereotyped comments in the article are well-taken. Frankly, though, as a psychologist and straight spouse of a MTF transgendered person, I’m just delighted to see these issues being addressed in a mainstream publication. Issues related to society’s pressure for conformity and binary expressions of gender continue to warrant further research and exploration. At least this article is a step forward in having that conversation, and provoking informed questioning and debate. I remember learning about a psychology experiment many years ago, in which adults were presented with infants wrapped in gender-neutral blankets and asked to interact with them. The adults became agitated and confused, suggesting that they were at a loss as to how to behave with these babies in the absence of pink-or-blue gender cues. I watched a wonderful documentary on PBS a few years ago about sexual diversity in the animal kingdom. The narrator made the powerful summary comment that: “Nature adores diversity, and society abhors it”. Amen.
Let the conversation, critique, and research continue.
I wish I could say I agree. Instead, I’m troubled that so many progressives applaud this article as a baby step. What if there was an article on how we need to recognize that kids can fall at all places on the “race spectrum,” some black kids can be passionate about reading and some white kids are great at sports. It would be fucked up. This article is just as fucked up.
The point is, there might be a remark about a girl wearing a Spider Man shirt, but the reaction is still not the same as a boy walking into preschool in a princess outfit. There are no special camps for girls who like to wear Spider Man shirts. She might be considered odd, but she is still considered within the pale. I don’t think her mother would have to send an email out to the parents, warning them of her fashion choice.
I agree with woolly, you seem to be objecting that this article is not a different article. It’s a shame you’ve taken such a narrow view of the writing, because it’s a pretty groundbreaking perspective (in a mainstream, popular newspaper, no less) on the subject.
As I wrote in response to a similar comment: yes, a girl can wear pants far more easily than a boy can wear a dress. But, sadly, many little kids (LITTLE KIDS) will call pants a “boy thing.” The gender pressure for girls is enormous, just more subtle. That doesn’t make it less insidious. In fact, it makes harder to call out and change. Unfortunately, this artiicle doesn’t help that any. I know this story appears grounbreaking in its subject matter, but if you scratch below the surface, it supports and reinforces all kinds of gender stereotypes. The reason this is such a problem is b/c kidworld is incredibly gendered right now. Without recognizing that, its impossible to have a real discussion on gender.
I have two girls and two boys aged 8, 11, 14 and 18 – a small sample to study. I have found the gender stereotyping just gets worse as they age and becomes more oppressive! Thanks for the article I discussed this with the children …
Hello Margot, I find that upon my reading of the article in question, I stand with Liv’s comments in their entirety – including recognizing the very salient points about today’s society and pervasive gender pressure that you have brought up.
However, I am slightly concerned by one thing – please correct me if I am wrong, but you seem to have attributed to Padawar quotes from emails that the parents referred to in the article have written to someone else. She used the content of those emails to illustrate the existing thoughts, ideas, and concerns about gender stereotypes that parents with gender-nonconforming children have.
Isn’t that somewhat ‘killing the messenger’? Or am I reading it wrong?
I read over that section several times because I kept thinking, “I she really saying that? No one would raise an eyebrow? Seriously?” And she is.
The first graph is about the email. The second graph is her reporting on the situation, her commentary on the email.
Read it here:
“The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).” They explained that Alex had recently become inconsolable about his parents’ ban on wearing dresses beyond dress-up time. After consulting their pediatrician, a psychologist and parents of other gender-nonconforming children, they concluded that “the important thing was to teach him not to be ashamed of who he feels he is.” Thus, the purple-pink-and-yellow-striped dress he would be wearing that next morning. For good measure, their e-mail included a link to information on gender-variant children.
When Alex was 4, he pronounced himself “a boy and a girl,” but in the two years since, he has been fairly clear that he is simply a boy who sometimes likes to dress and play in conventionally feminine ways. Some days at home he wears dresses, paints his fingernails and plays with dolls; other days, he roughhouses, rams his toys together or pretends to be Spider-Man. Even his movements ricochet between parodies of gender: on days he puts on a dress, he is graceful, almost dancerlike, and his sentences rise in pitch at the end. On days he opts for only “boy” wear, he heads off with a little swagger. Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.”
Thank you for the response, Margot. Unfortunately, I don’t still see it the way you do. Let me quote what you have written in your original post:
See, what you quote from ‘sentence #1’, and qualify later by saying, “Here, the writer, Ruth Padawer, sets up a series of stereotyped…” is not actually what Ruth Padawer said. Rather she was quoting the email from Susan and Rob (notice the quote-marks, even).
Am I reading your post incorrectly, then?
I, of course, see, and do agree with, your concern regarding the last part of the next paragraph, which does reflect Ruth Padawer’s own opinion – [I quote] “had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.” [End quote] But to me it seems that while your wide interpretation is certainly valid, Padawer had intended a more restricted and nuanced opinion. I am not American (I am Indian) and even in my culture, a young girl wishing to do more of what is considered “boy-like” in work or play is frowned upon (as you have pointed out), and yet, dress-wise, a female infant/toddler/youngster dressed like a boy draws less attention than a male infant/toddler/youngster dressed like a girl (as Liv pointed out).
I think, you and I agree with Ruth Padawer about the existence of uncouth and unwholesome gender stereotypes on the whole, but perhaps you are reading a bit more into the article than what Padawer intended?
I was pointing out that the writer begins the article setting up binary opposites that she never goes in the whole article to explore. There is a typo where the quote marks at the end are left off. Thanks for pointing that out and I will fix it.
I’m with Naomi Klein who has written about what matters and doesn’t matter in this struggle. __Things that don’t matter: “what we wear, whether we shake our fists or make peace signs. whether we can fit our dreams into a media sound bite. Things that do matter: “our courage, our moral compass, how we treat each other. Thank you MM for calling this NYT puff piece for what it is, shallow and false.
Thanks for NK’s quote which is beautiful and your own concise and perfect “calling this NYT puff piece for what it is, shallow and false.”
i’m the mother of a 3y/o girl who often wears a spiderman tshirt, and i’m constantly boggled by all adult humans’ inability to talk to her about anything not appearance-related.
sexism and gender expression issues clearly exist in tightly related spaces, but maybe also distinct. i have more thinking to do on all this. thank you for the interesting discussion in the main article, and in the comments too!
it wasn’t Padawar’s main focus, but i was disturbed by the passing quote from P.J. in which he states the predominant perception that “looking like a girl is bad.” that’s at the heart of the sexism part of this, isn’t it? girls may (or may not) have more space to dress or play or act “like boys” bc that is an homage to the ideal. boys are somehow degraded by dressing or being “like girls.”
YAY for your daughter. Now where is the Spiderwoman franchise?
And again, I think the way girls are punished for dressing “like boys” is more subtle but absolutely insidious. I cannot believe this journalist not only missed that, but basically reported that it doesn’t exist. WTF?
Yes, EXACTLY. You see, because girls are lesser than and icky and stupid and can’t do anything right. That message was clear to me from as early as I can remember. And it hurt, and it made me angry. It still does.
THANK YOU for this. That article pissed me off, and your post here does a great job of summing up exactly why it did.
Very insightful piece on your part, Margot! I think my transmen friends will be all over this.
I’ve held talks on this sort of thing for our local college classes many times as part of my “Transgender 101” discussion. Despite so much real evidence to the contrary, our culture still holds on doggedly to the idea that a person’s externally visible sex at birth immediately classifies their gender, and henceforth a lifelong map of “appropriate” behavior based in a strict “black or white” binary code. And it starts immediately from conception; what is the first thing nearly every parent (and their relatives and friends) wants to know about their baby? Boy or girl.
But when was the last time anybody was chromosome typed at birth? Most people are unabashedly amazed to hear that there are a wide variety of sex chromosomes possible besides XX or XY.
And the social mapping is most certainly about the prevailing power structure. Femininity is scapegoated as a detraction from and threat to masculinity. And it’s all sexualized quite early. The attitude that feminine boys will certainly be homosexual is still quite prevalent in medical and social circles. And goodness, wouldn’t that just be absolutely abhorrent?!
Witness the withering reaction to the parents of Storm Stocker, the child who’s parents are raising the child genderless. Punch in the child’s name to a search engine and stand by for some truly vitriolic, ugly people who insist on a glimpse into a child’s diaper.
thanks for the comment Putergirl
I think your criticisms of a patriarchal, image-obsessed society with heavily emphasised gendered expectations of people are absolutely valid in and of themselves. However, I’m afraid I disagree with your reading of Ruth Padawer’s article. Most significantly, you and the Miss Representation’s facebook page decontextualise the quotation about women being ‘the lesser gender’. The quotation in full is: ‘The shift, however, almost never goes the other way. That’s because girls gain status by moving into “boy” space, while boys are tainted by the slightest whiff of femininity. “There’s a lot more privilege to being a man in our society,” says Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who supports allowing children to be what she calls gender creative. “When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?”’ Here, Ehrensaft (and Padawer, by extension, as she uncritically quotes the psychologist) are not presenting being female as being of an innately ‘lesser gender’ but, rather, discussing the widespread perception of femaleness/femininity/being female as being ‘lesser’ in a patriarchal system or society. This is evidenced by Ehrensaft’s statement that ‘there’s a lot more privilege to being a man in our society’; she is in no way endorsing this state of affairs but, rather, acknowledging it. ‘Privilege’ is ‘a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people’, not an intrinsic superiority but an extrinsic advantage.
Another problem you seem to have with the article is that Padawer apparently is unquestioning of the social expectations of girls being feminine and boys being masculine (and what exactly these things entail). However, her constant use of the word ‘conventions’ when talking about gendered behaviour (e.g., ‘gender conventions’, ‘conventionally masculine ways’) demonstrates Padawer’s non-essentialist understanding of gender. That is, she does not in any way present gendered behaviours as a product of an essential part of being female/male (in fact, that is exactly what this whole article is considering and implicitly critiquing) but, rather, she (accurately) presents ‘expressions of masculinity and femininity [as] culturally and historically specific’.
I think the issue you’ve run into here is that you have conflated the author’s use of ‘femininity’ with ‘being female’ and, therefore, made the assumption that Padawer is uncritically attributing or even prescribing feminine traits to all girls. However, the point of the article is that there is no concrete link between your biological sex, your gender identity and your gender expression. Padawer is not endorsing gender stereotypes whereby femininity and masculinity correspond respectively with females and males (or, even, women and men) but, rather, giving us heartening examples to the contrary. She describes children who, whether because they feel on some level that they are not cisgender (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisgender) or because, like in the case of P.J., they just want to adopt certain elements of the “other sex’s” gender expression (he doesn’t want to be a girl, he ‘just want[s] to wear [conventionally] girl[y] stuff’, challenge a simplistic association between biological sex (male/female), gender identity (man/woman) and gender expression (feminine/masculine). (A great illustration of these distinctions is here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=323011707762365&set=a.323011591095710.75230.216393541757516&type=1&theater)
As a result of you seemingly not grasping Padawer’s distinctions between 1. sex, 2. gender and 3. gender expression, you seem to argue that when a person (child or adult) of one biological sex adopts the nominally opposite gender expressions (e.g., a boy wearing ‘feminine’ clothing) it could be unrelated to the gender issues. That is, you automatically seem to think that there is an association of feminine things with ‘being a girl’. This seems to be what you are arguing in relation to nail painting, for instance. However, this is obviously not true in, for example, the case of P.J. In this instance, Padawer presents a child who is male (sex), boy (gender) and feminine (gender expression). Other examples, such as those where the children are described taking hormone blockers, present cases where they are male (sex), possibly girls (gender) and maybe feminine (gender expression). Therefore, there is no absolute link drawn by Padawer between the three states.
Even if there, your objection to the idea of children acting in certain ways as a product of their genders (and the subsequent expectations and pressures they are surrounded with) ignores your own examples in relation to girls doing masculine things and almost all the examples in the original NYTimes piece. These instances all demonstrate, in their descriptions of other children’s, parents’ and teachers’ responses, that children’s adoption of unusual behaviour for their gender is inevitably a product of and exists within their social context. Although a child may not be particularly conscious of the complex socio-political issues and intellectual debate surrounding sex and gender, they will necessarily have un/subconsciously absorbed a large amount of gender stereotypes and expectations and so their choice to use stereotypical signifiers of the “opposite” gender expression is not just their enjoyment of an ‘un-gendered’ past-time (such as nail painting as a form of ‘art’) or item of clothing that is fun to wear. It seems more likely, rather, that they have seen (in the example of nail painting) women around them (their mothers, sisters, girl friends, women on tv and in movies, women in advertisements, etc) doing this thing and so associated it with that gender. And even if a child initially adopted an unusual behaviour for their gender (again, e.g., a boy painting their nails), the responses they meet with are so explicitly about gender (such as in the examples you give) that these children will eventually realise they are behaving in an atypical manner for their gender. Therefore, if they persist then they are not only enjoying a gender-neutral activity (“nail painting as an art activity”) but intentionally bucking the expectations of their gender.
I think the massive variety in LGBTQ people’s gender expressions (butch and femme lesbians, highly ‘feminised’ trans MTF, androgynous individuals, etc) demonstrates how the examples Padawer gives of male-born children’s feminine expressions, which all seem to follow cliché patterns of femininity, are quite probably the product of youth and a small selection of case studies. At an age when children are unlikely to be able to comprehend or articulate a sophisticated understanding of sex/gender/sexuality, their gender expression is far more likely to fall into stereotypes and extremes.
The narrow range of examples that Padawer looks at is another criticism you seem to lodge with the article. You give the examples of girls being targeted for masculine things (playing “boys’” sports and having “boy things”) seemingly to argue against her statements that girls can more easily act in masculine ways than boys can in feminine ones. But the article isn’t exploring boys being targeted for owning or doing singular, discrete feminine things. Rather, it is looking at the point at which people (whether it be the child in question, their peers, their families or psychology professionals) believe that a child’s adoption of the gender expression of the “opposite” gender indicates non-normative gender status. The stats Padawer offers demonstrate that, as an average girl, adoption of masculine things must be done to a far greater extent before you are taken to a psychology/gender specialist, whilst boys can adopt seemingly tiny and discrete instances of feminine things and be identified as non-normative. This isn’t disregarding the sexism that girls suffer when they want to engage in masculine things but, rather, pointing out the truth that it is now more socially conventional for a girl to do quite a range of masculine things than it is for a boy to do a range of feminine things.
You appear to argue that the article’s emphasis on young males identifying as female/girls/feminine discounts the significant amount of suffering that young females suffer in reverse situations. I think we must keep in mind that sexism and (more pertinently, as it is the actual topic of Padawer’s article) transphobia affect people of all sexes and genders and that an emphasis, in the case of this article, on male/boys’ problems is not a sexist neglect of women but simply an acknowledgement that, in the case of trans issues, MTF (male-to-female) has more cultural purchase. Padawer attributes this to the fact that MTF transgenders receive more negative notice and she argues this on the basis of Ehrensaft’s analysis and the point that female adoption of masculine things is more pervasive. Frankly, she’s pretty much spot on about women more commonly being able to adopt masculine traits than men are able to adopt feminine ones because most of the progress of feminism/social change in the last century and a half has been about women moving into typically masculine domains – of dress, employment, earning, emancipation, etc – rather than a more radical attempt to simultaneously have men adopt feminine things to the same extent. Padawer is not neglecting or demeaning women in her focus on MTF examples because her focus is not on the suffering of the female sex or women but, rather, on young trans individuals and the most notable and numerous examples of this group are, as she says and as I have now reiterated far too many times, MTF.
I’ll concede that the article could well have benefited from some examples of the (far rarer) cases of FTM trans children but I think you miss the point when you start reading it through the lens of feminism vs. sexism. The article is, rather, centred on issues of the trans community.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
This quote, the full one, reflects the problem I have with the whole piece:
‘The shift, however, almost never goes the other way. That’s because girls gain status by moving into “boy” space, while boys are tainted by the slightest whiff of femininity. “There’s a lot more privilege to being a man in our society,” says Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who supports allowing children to be what she calls gender creative. “When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?”’
It does go the other way! It doesn’t matter if its the “lesser sex.” It’s about keeping the kids in their box. Girls are punished and ostracized all the time for doing “boy” things. It amazes me that Padawer seems to have no idea about this.
I don’t think that the Padawer’s use of the word “conventions” excuses her from going any deeper into the issue.
More later, I’m putting my kids to bed.
“This isn’t disregarding the sexism that girls suffer when they want to engage in masculine things but, rather, pointing out the truth that it is now more socially conventional for a girl to do quite a range of masculine things than it is for a boy to do a range of feminine things.”
Disagree with that it is now more socially conventional for a girl to do quite a range of masculine things than it is for a boy to do a range of feminine things.”
I get what you are saying: a girl can wear pants and not be mocked; a boy cannot wear a dress. But seriously– got to any pre-school and girls are in pink and in dresses. If a three year old wears pants, she says its like a boy. The gender segregation is so intense, that’s the whole reason I started this blog. I have 3 young daughters and they see on TV, on clothing, in the media that girls look a certain way and they emulate that. Maybe the gender pressure is more subtle but it doesn’t make it not as bad, it makes it more insiduous and harder to point out and change.
And this from your comment:
“Frankly, she’s pretty much spot on about women more commonly being able to adopt masculine traits than men are able to adopt feminine ones because most of the progress of feminism/social change in the last century and a half has been about women moving into typically masculine domains – of dress, employment, earning, emancipation, etc – rather than a more radical attempt to simultaneously have men adopt feminine things to the same extent. ”
This really gets me because its calling something like the right to vote, the right to work and earn a fair wage “typically masculine domain.” While wearing nail polish or pink or playing beauty shop is typically feminine domain. The former is a human right. All humans want and deserve these things. A good job, a wage, voting is not some place on the gender spectrum!
Thanks for an interesting post and discussion – I have to say though that I’m siding with Liv on this. It seems to me that you’re largely criticising the article for not being a different article on a different subject, rather than for not dealing with its actual subject. However as Liv has already made that case very well, I’m not going to rehash it.
I did just want to say that my own three-year-old has gone to two different preschools and at both, the girls wear trousers more often than dresses. They’re encouraged to, because it’s better for play. (Maybe this is a US vs UK, or more localised, difference?) There’s a fair chance of seeing at least some pink, but it doesn’t dominate. None of the girls I’ve seen there are strikingly “boyish”, but many of them aren’t especially girly, either. Unsurprisingly, though, I’ve not seen any of the boys wearing pink, much less a skirt. So in this neighbourhood at least, it’s certainly true that it’s easier – or more common – for girls to cross over into “boy” territory than the other way around.
(My own kid? She loves sparkle, nailpolish, dresses… not sure it’s for the “attention” though, since she’s as likely to be complimented on cute shorts as a cute skirt. She just likes dress-up. It’s certainly been fascinating, and sometimes baffling, to watch her develop a sense of gendered dress/colours and so on. Her favourite colour seems to be turquoise, but she responds with excitement to anything that is pink. But this is all personal and rather irrelevant.)
I get that sexism is not the main issue of this piece, but that doesn’t excuse the journalist writing:
“no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.”
That’s just not true.The whole piece subtly and not so subtly, perpetuates stereotypes about girls and I think that is irresponsible journalism for a piece on gender.
That’s great about your daughter wearing trousers, though as far as her excitement for anything pink, that’s likely to be a response to marketing.
Thanks for your comment.
I agree that those kinds of statements are hyperbolic. Even in New Zealand, where children’s clothing etc isn’t as gendered as it appears to be on other places a girl would be remarked on for wearing a spider man t-shirt. Play is becoming very gendered here now.