Discourse on the intersections of politics, feminism, and motherhood.

Monday, June 26

A New Masculinity

This week has been extremely busy as evidence of my neglect of this blog. Nevertheless, it was a productive week so I can't really complain. We hung ceiling fans, installed dimmers, hung a porch swing, layed down fire-ant killer in the yard, cut two more teeth, bumped our head a number of times pulling up on furniture, worked on feeding ourselves with cheerios, found the catfood, discovered the fireplace exists, and offended a family member who purchased a particular book for my child. Actually, there were two books and though I'm all for books I screen each and every book my child comes into contact with. One book was about firemen which sounds all gender appropriate and all (which is a second battle), but the book only had white men as the firemen. The other book was more subtle. Animals in the jungle; now how could that perpetuate gender bias and give kids a lesson on appropriate gender behavior? Well, all the typically aggressive animals or carnivores are referred to as 'he' like the tiger, lion, crocodile, monkey, gorilla, and rhino, and the more typically less assertive animals are referred to as 'she' such as the elephant, giraffe, fish, and hippo with the frog, butterflies, snake, and zebra having no referrence to either. When the masculine pronoun is used the phrase goes like this; "Gorilla beats his chest. He is king of the apes." or "Tiger hides in the long grass. He's ready to pounce." When the feminine pronoun is used the phrase goes like this; "Giraffe uses her long neck to reach the leafy green treetops." or "Hippo chills out, she wallows in the cool river." Call me crazy but there are some significant issues here. The family member in question does not see how things like this strengthen gender stereotypes and teach children appropriate gender behavior. Let us re-phrase; the family member in question does not believe appropriate gender behavior is a negitive aspect of a child's life. Thus, the family member in question subscribes to tradional gender roles. This family member freaked out because of a clothing incident where little brother decided to try on big sister's Tinkerbell halloween costume and run around the house with a spatula. Clearly, something like that could potentially tarnish the child's masculine potential. That's rational thinking for you. Interesting that if the gender roles were reversed there most likely would not have been a 'crisis'. That's all fine but I, with the stress on 'I', do not subscribe to traditional gender roles and my husband does not either. We do disagree on the boyscout thing of which I think is a bit problematic but overall we do not believe kids should be 'molded' into little appropriate men and women. I don't allow people to say sissy, or crybaby and I don't allow people to use derogatory language in front of him. Clearly, you can not keep your child away from the world or from seeing television but you can parent and hope your child internalizes the knowledge you have put forth and shared with them allowing them to form their own ways of seeing. There are of course no guarantees. Boys are molded so aggressively and have less fluidity than girls. We have since changed our expectations of what's deemed appropriate for girls and that should remain in constant consideration, but I don't think many have attributed the same way of thinking to boys. The rules and regulations for appropriate masculine behavior are still going strong. Until we change both sides of the coin the machine will still function quite productively.

"Shattering Stereotypes: Courageous Girls, Ballet-Loving Boys"

"Gender and Culture in Picture Books"

"Gender Representation in Notable Children's Picture Books: 1995-1999"

Shamen Drum Bookshop, Ann Arbor, Michigan


At 5:53 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

Wow- that's pretty subtle in the case of the jungle animals. Too bad too-- you know that the author must have been aware of it, as well as the publisher. I'm trying now to remember my favorite childhood books and see if there was anything fishy in them... Morris' Disappearing Bag was fun, as it was a fun story and everyone got to play with the various "gender-appropriate" toys in the end. I know I didn't pick up on those things as a kid, but I do now. Makes you wonder how much you absorb as a child.

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