Sunday, September 14, 2008

But I Like All Kinds of Colors!

Here's Jabber, riding his new bike. Yes, he's also wearing a motorcycle helmet, but that's just because we forgot the bike helmets at home.

So Jabber got a pink bike from his grandparents, actually two pink bikes, one in this size and one a size larger. Both perfectly nice bikes picked up for free at a rummage sale. And both pink. No big deal. Jabber didn't even bat an eye. And why would he? I'm always trying to combat the messages about gender roles that come rolling in from all directions, trying to curb and define my kids based on what? Their genitalia?

So when Papa said, "It's too bad it's pink, but that can be painted," I just shrugged.

"Pink is fine," I said. "Jabber likes pink."

Jabberwock spoke up. "Yeah, I really like pink. I like ALL kinds of colors!" He went on admiring his new bike, which is the only bike he has, since I somehow can't seem to make myself either go to garage sales or buy a brand new bicycle that is like one foot tall.

"Jabber knows that his manliness isn't made up of a color," I said, for good measure. I'm pretty sure the bike will be painted by the next time we see it.

I get so frustrated by gender roles and stereotypes, and I'd like to see my kiddos able to transcend them, or, if that's improbable, to at least have them meet these unwritten rules aware and critical. I sort of thought, before having kids, that I would be able to balance so-called masculine and feminine influences, that I could adjust for society and all its stupid expectations.

Alas, there are moments almost every day that challenge this notion. Several days ago, Jabber came in from outside playing and said, "Mom, next time I see Cutie Neighbor Girl, I'm going to protect her with my big strong arms." What?? Where does this come from?

"Oh," I said, thinking fast. "That's all right. Then you can play again, and she can protect you with her big strong arms."

"Okay," he said, agreeing whole-heartedly.

This is the kind of thing that makes me hopeful, but what of the rest? What about the obsession with cars and monster trucks? Does it really balance out simply because he also likes to carry a purse and keeps his chapstick ("chappy") in a darling little lipstick case with a mirror?

We were driving along on our way up north this weekend, and out of nowhere he shouts, "Whoa! Look at that awesome car!"

It's a Camaro, and sure enough, all three boys are instantly enthralled with the magic of this awesome car. I feel certain that if my husband got ecstatic about, say, a pair of high heels or a new knitting pattern, the boys would follow suit; they are his disciples, after all. If we had daughters would they be as excited about the car? Possibly. Does it all have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with role modeling? (Never mind that the role model has been trained up with gender expectations...) Still, I notice Jabber doesn't bring his purse to daycare as much anymore. Did the big boys explain to him that this is not the way of the boy?

There are just so many subtle ways that boys get reinforcement one way or the other about what it is to be boy, to become a man. (Oops, now I've got the Violent Femmes running through my head!)

The other night, Jabber asked me to get him some nail polish when I went shopping. The next morning I was showing him my sparkly purple nails, and he said, "Mom, I changed my mind. I don't want to wear nail polish. That's for girls."

And that bummed me out. I mean, I don't really care if he does or does not wear sparkly purple nail polish. I want him to be able to do his own thing. But it bugs me that he has absorbed enough of society's instructions on being a boy as to find himself too self-conscious in the light of day to wear it, at least to daycare.

A little later, though, he seriously cracked me up when his earnest little voice piped up from the back seat of the van. "Mom, I think I'll try it out a little when I go to college, okay? I'm just going to try things out then." Hahaha!


amy said...

My theory is, try not to let it worry you too much. It's awesome to raise him in as gender-free an environment as possible, but it's not the end of the world if he picks up some gendered habits at this age. I wore dresses every day when I was little, played unicorns and princess, thought boys had cooties, and none of it stopped me from being strident, anti-essentialist feminist when I grew up. ;) Childhood proclivities aren't destiny, any more than biology is.

BTW, anyone can see that a Camaro is a bitchin' car, you don't need a penis for that. :)

liss n kids said...

I've told you how sexy strident feminists are, right? ;)

Yeah, yeah, but when you're a parent you've gotta angst about something! :)

amy said...

Haha. I approve! I wish more parents made a concerted effort to correct for society's screwed up gender values. My siblings always point to their girls playing with dolls or their boys playing with legos and say, "see? it's biological. Nothing I can do." As if that somehow proves something!

In the meanwhile, they don't even notice the *highly* gendered messages they send these kids every day.


Catherine said...

I think it's cool that you're working against gender stereotyoing as a mom - sweet.

You can tell the jabber that my slave wears nail polish on the weekends, and during the week he wears polish on his toes, and he calls it his little secret, lol. (work wouldn't approve0

and he's a manly man in a man's body doing manly things like a man, a manly man, one of those. (his own words)

liss n kids said...

cat, of course then I'll have to explain about slaves... LOL

cowpops said...

I think as long as he's in a gender-free environment and that he knows that you don't have to be super macho or anything to get respect, you are TOTALLY doing you're job. Let him know it's not okay to make fun of people who really do have gender differences, and you are totally contributing to the cause.

go liss.


cowpops said...

And of course, I make a grammatical error in my big intelligent speech. -_-

liss n kids said...

cowpops, I only noticed it on the second read-through, after your comment. I must be slipping. LOL!