Friday, 29 July 2011

Feminist Friday: things I am not proud of

I was almost relieved when the Bat turned out to be a girl. Not because of any particular quality that I believe girls have, but because I think this way I have a better idea of how to be a feminist parent. I know some of what she'll encounter as she grows up to be a woman (assuming she does turn out to be a woman, which is a whole other post), and it breaks my heart - but at least I know. And while there's not always much social support for teaching girls that they can be and do whatever they want, I believe there's even less support for teaching boys the same thing. For all that we've achieved, we still idolise the traditionally masculine end of the behavioural spectrum and treat the traditionally feminine as second-best (that goes within the feminist community, too. I've never felt so dismissed by some other feminists than since I became an at-home mother).

It's more socially accepted for a little girl to wear rugged trousers and climb trees than it is for a little boy to wear dresses and play with Barbie. In the last couple of months I've decided that I probably do want another baby in the future, and it pains me to realise that if my next child were a boy, I'd feel odd about putting him in some of the Bat's hand-me-down clothes. She has plenty of stuff from the boys' section and plenty from the girls', and I have no qualms about that whatsoever. I feel like I'm offering her more freedom. But when I think of my hypothetical future son looking through his baby photos and seeing himself in pink and frills, an irrational part of me feels that instead of offering him equal freedom of choice, I'd be imposing something on him. If he chose those things for himself when he was older, I'd be delighted, but I feel inhibited from putting him in them before he's able to decide. Because masculinity is the default, right? And for a man to deviate from that is not currently seen as just another personal choice, but rather a statement. I worry that he'd look back and feel that I crossed boundaries in some way, forced him into an identity that he didn't want, even though I've no earthly way of knowing what his identity and presentation would ultimately prove to be. I hate that I think like this. I hate even more the real possibility that I might be right.

I see boys learning that there is only one way to be, that they are not free to choose to be "unmanly" (whatever that even means), that such a choice is so extreme that their whole identity must be at stake before they even think of going there. I see them learning lessons about sexuality that scare the hell out of me - learning that as a guy they must always want sex and that missing an opportunity to get laid is weak and shameful, even if it means pestering a woman who really doesn't want to be pestered (or worse). I don't know where it comes from or how to counter it effectively - and given my unexpected qualms about baby clothes, for god's sake, I don't even know how much of it would unintentionally come from me.

Don't get me wrong, if I ever have a son then I'll be over the moon and love him to pieces, and I'll raise him according to my ideals. But the task is still a little scarier for me to contemplate.

See everyone else's Feminist Friday posts over at Transatlantic Blonde.


  1. Parenting is tough! A really interesting post. It seems Mummy Guilt is with ladies forever.

  2. I feel like feminists who judge other feminists for being a mother, staying at home or even dressing in a typically feminine matter are not REALLY feminists.

    My peers often wouldn't take my voice seriously in class because I've got long blonde hair and wear makeup; notice I said peers and not professors--my professors, real feminists, found my voice valid and valued.

    Blondie Boy wears pink shirts and if one day he asked to wear a princess dress I'd let him. I won't let gender stereotypes control his life but I don't aspire to raise him gender neutral either.

    Thanks for taking part!

  3. My older son loves and wears pink and is study enough to bat away the comments people make. It also helps that he is absolutely huge for his age, I think. I hated the fact that boys' clothes I was given were always covered w branded 'stickers' (e.g. Lego shirts, Tigger shirts). I have struggled to find clothes over the years that didn't squash them into someone's preconceived idea about what boys should LOOK like (let alone act like). I think my feminism probably comes through in my determination to have them be treated as equals, and for me that means giving them broad choices in terms of clothes, music, friends...but maybe that's just a humanist position. I have let my kids wear dresses (they need wanted to away from home), and always had an overflowing dress up box when I taught preschool. I never stopped the boys from playing with Barbies or wearing tutus, and it doesn't sound like you would either....

  4. Oh no, I'd never ever stop them from choosing dresses or Barbies or anything else - and I would offer a range of toys and clothes (biggest pet peeve for me is why every single item of boys' clothing has to have a vehicle on it. I know lots of kids like trucks and trains, but seriously?). I once knew someone who recounted a story about her two grandsons playing dress-up with her fancy hats, and how she took them away so that the boys wouldn't "get confused". I was and still am horrified by that. What a lesson to teach a little boy. :(