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Gender

Other parents like to tell me about the differences between girls and boys, and they like to insist that these differences are somehow innate.  “We treat them exactly the same – the boys are just different from the girls,” they say.  They tell me that I don’t understand, since I just have boys.

I am declaring shenanigans on that shit.

Before I had my son (when I was single and childless and therefore had no right to an opinion on such things), I could see the difference in how people treated boys and girls.  At the same party, I witnessed these two scenes within a half hour:

Scene 1 – Three little girls on those little toy cars that you sit on and push with your feet, rolling around on the wooden deck.  Two of the girls bumped into each other lightly with the cars, with big smiles on their faces, obviously thinking this was fun.  Not just one, but two women jumped up from their chairs, with alarmed looks on their faces and panicky voices.  “No, no.  No running into each other.  Play nice.  Are you okay?”  The girls went back to just rolling around, carefully not bumping each other.  The adult females had made it very clear that bumping little plastic cars into each other at about a tenth of a mile an hour could result in Horrific Bodily Injury and most likely instant DEATH.

Scene 2 (less than a half hour later, on the same deck at the same party) – Two little boys riding on the same toy cars crash into each other.  Not a single woman stops it, stands up, looks disapproving or frightened, or says a word to the boys.  One woman smiles at me and says “Boys!  What can you do?”

Well, not too long after that party, I met the man who is now my husband and his then six-year-old son…  and very soon after that, I popped out another son for us.  And for seven years now, I’ve listened to people tell me that I don’t understand girls because I just have boys (ignoring the fact that I grew up as a girl so I think I understand at least a little bit about at least some of them).

Our youngest son is now in second grade.  For about the last two years, he has kept his hair long.  This has led to many people mistaking him for a girl.  Which means that I’ve had the perfect opportunity to observe how people treat him, depending on which sex they think he is.

And it’s crazy.  People’s voices deepen significantly the moment they realize that he’s a boy.  They will say things like “What beautiful hair” and then literally APOLOGIZE when they realize he’s a boy.  They will look alarmed if he falls at the playground, and then just laugh it off when they realize he’s a boy.

The other night a woman sort of bumped into him a little in a crowded room and said “Oh!  I’m sorry, dear.”  Then she looked at him again, and then looked at me and said “Oops – I’m sorry.”  I said “Huh?  For what?” and she said “I called him ‘dear’ – I usually call boys ‘buddy’.”

Seriously, people don’t even know how to interact with a child unless they can first determine the child’s sex.  They are lost and confused, and it’s not simply a pronoun problem.  They don’t know whether to use that silly little high-pitched voice and say things like “sweetheart” and “pretty” and compliment his shoes, or to belt out “Hey, there, little buddy!” and high-five him and ask what his favorite sport is.

And still people insist that they don’t treat the sexes any differently.

Not only do people use different words, actions, and vocal tones when speaking to a child they think is a boy and one they think is a girl…  they apply different rules to boys and girls.  DIFFERENT RULES.  Isn’t that sexism?  Isn’t that something that we enlightened 21st century Americans are supposed to be against?

Alex came home from school today and said that there was a herd (his word) of girls running around the playground today *hitting* boys and laughing and saying “Girls can hit boys, but YOU CAN’T HIT US BACK!  Ha, ha!”  He said a bunch of the boys ducked and ran away, and one boy just curled up in a ball on the ground.

What the holy hell?!?

Hey.  I am a female.  I used to be a girl, you know.  It was 40 years ago, and I remember that some people tried to tell me that I couldn’t do certain things because I was a girl.  You know what?  Being told that I couldn’t do something made me more determined than ever to DO IT, and to do it WELL.

So I completely understand Alex’s response to the herd of girls today.  He told me that he really wants to hit one of the girls, just to show them that he CAN.  Of course, I told him not to hit anyone at school unless he is really in danger.  But I also told him that of course he CAN hit a girl…  however because of sexism he would probably get in more trouble than if he hit a boy.  Because people think that girls are weaker than boys.

Heck, even *I* want to go hang out at the school at lunchtime, watch for these girls and their totally inappropriate behavior, and then crack their heads together.  I told Alex that I want to do that.  Wanting to do that is completely understandable.

And then Alex and I sang a few lines adapted from the very first song he ever learned –

“You can’t always do what you wa-a-ant,

You can’t always hit who you wa-a-ant”

This ridiculous society-endorsed (and enforced!) sexual dimorphism leads to so much trouble.  I believe it leads girls to think they are weak but at the same time strangely protected, to think their power lies in passive-aggressive manipulation and sexuality, and to think that their looks are more important than their usefulness.

And today it led an otherwise generally sweet little boy to want to punch girls in the face.

Can we just treat each other like decent human beings, whatever dangly or foldy bits we have between our legs, please?

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I’m so sick of people saying that to me.  It happens surprisingly often.  It’s always when someone is talking about being worried about their daughter:  Usually about her safety – protecting her from other people, sometimes other adults but often also her peers.

It’s worries about her going out in the world, being away from them and with other people.  Worries about her growing up.  Getting hurt.  Being negatively influenced by other kids.  And of course, that ultimate daughter-worry, getting pregnant.

Fine, worry about your daughters.  Comes with being a parent, I suppose.  But please DON”T tell me that I don’t understand because I have boys. 

Boys get hurt. 

Boys get raped.

Boys get beat up – often, and with less chance of someone stepping in to protect them.  And you can add in the fact that if you DO step in to protect them, you may be making it more likely that they will get beat up more aggressively the next time you are not there.

Boys get negatively influenced by other kids and other adults – possibly one of the worst influences being the attitude that “boys will be boys” and thus they are allowed to do shit that should be nipped in the bud.

And if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty…  the Big Scary…  PREGNANCY – I’ve got news for you: 

If my sons are the responsible people we are trying to raise them to be, and one of them sleeps with one of your daughters, and your daughter ends up pregnant…  THE BALL IS TOTALLY IN YOUR DAUGHTER’S COURT.  Not in my son’s.  He does not get to decide what happens.  SHE gets to decide whether to have an abortion, put the baby up for adoption, or keep the baby.  SHE gets to decide whether she wants to work after she has the baby, or stay home with it and make my son pay for everything.  This is her right, as it is her body – I do not begrudge her that, but I do begrudge you the right to tell me that all of the danger and worry is on your side.

Yes, there are irresponsible males who will run away (and their families who will actually HELP them to shirk the responsibility – shame on them).  I do not plan on my boys being like that.  And do keep in mind that there are also plenty of irresponsible females out there – who will forget to take their birth control pills for days at a time and not mention it, or who will actually want to get pregnant so someone will take care of them (I know it’s not PC to say so, but females like this do exist, and they are often very pretty…).

I’ll make a deal with you:

  • Teach your daughters to make people earn their trust, not just give it to everyone who smiles at them.  I will teach my sons the same. 
  • Teach your daughters to use birth control (AND protect themselves from STD’s).  I will teach my sons the same (and hope that research into male birth control gains momentum). 
  • Teach your daughters to not accept abusive or deceitful relationships (as friendships or romances).  I will teach my sons the same.
  • Teach your daughters to protect the boys and girls in their lives from danger.  I will teach my sons the same.
  • Teach your daughters to take care of themselves, to use their judgement, to be honest with their partners and friends.  I will teach my sons the same. 

And please, think before you condescendingly tell me that I don’t understand – like I don’t care about my boys, like they are somehow immune to danger and hurt and “bad people”. 

Our worries are two sides of the exact same coin.

Recently my husband was espousing my competence (thank you, Hon), and a young woman asked him “Does that make you feel like less of a man or anything?” Which I take to be another way of asking “Will men like me if I am too competent?”

Wow, are young women still asking that question?!?

Allow me to answer it for you:

Some men won’t like you, some men will.  Duh.

When I was, shall we say, “looking for a man” (uggh, that sounds so bad), sure I met a lot of men who wanted to play the knight in shining armor opposite some chick’s damsel in distress.  They were not the least bit interested in me when I told them that I can take care of myself, don’t need saving, and even carry most of the heavy objects in my life by myself.  They were not interested in me – but nor was I in them.

Do I care if someone who I am not attracted to is not attracted to me?  No.  Actually, it’s better if he is not.

Young, competent women, listen to this:

Yes, you want to “find a man” (I know, I’m being heterosexist here, replace it with “woman” if you want – but I’m not sure that quite the same stereotypical worries figure in there…).  There’s really nothing wrong with that.  Most people do want a life partner, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  But you don’t have to be attractive to all men…  nor to most men…  not even to a lot of men to find yourself a man.  There are men out there who will like you for the competent woman you are.  For every man who finds you interesting and attractive, there may be twenty, or fifty, or a hundred men who find you difficult/unattractive/weird/scary/whatever – who cares about them?  They are not the men you want.

The hard part may be finding a man who appreciates your competence and has his own to match it.  If you don’t want to be the one handling everything, if you want someone equal, you may find that you have to weed through some guys who think “cool, she can take care of everything – she’s tough.  I’ll just cruise along looking pretty.”

If you find someone else who is able to do things, handle things, accomplish things, and doesn’t mind you doing the same…  hopefully your abilities compliment each other nicely, and between the two of you, you will be able to tackle most anything.

Of course, occasionally you will  have to hire a professional.

I have a weird relationship with marriage.

I’m not very fond of it, as an institution.  While I personally like the idea of staying with one person and growing old together, I am certain of two things – lifelong monogamy is just not everyone’s cup of tea, and for those who do want it the chances of actually finding a compatible lifelong partner are fairly slim.  Therefore, I don’t understand the common assumption that everyone should get married. It’s strange to me that it is so universally expected.  So much so that if you’re over 35 years old and you say you are getting married, instead of people saying “oh, congratulations, that’s great” they are more likely to say “it’s about time!”  Seriously?!?  Like you should have done it earlier?  Whether you were ready to or not, whether you had met the right person or not?

That’s ridiculous.  It causes people to get their priorities all mixed up.  Instead of meeting people and living life and doing things and being pleasantly surprised if they meet someone who they want to marry, so many people seem to want to get married and THEN go looking to find someone to marry.  That’s backwards, if you ask me.

Then there is the fact that the government is invested in people getting married.  Tax incentives – really?  Why?  Two people together sharing space and belongings live more cheaply than the two people would living by themselves – so why do they need a tax break for it?  I guess it’s like tax incentives for solar panels – supposed to be better for the country as a whole if people get them, so tax breaks are an incentive.  But there are two problems with that when it comes to marriage, as far as I can see:  one is that the government can set rules on who can get married (while they don’t tell you who can get solar panels), and the other is that so many problems are caused by the dissolution of marriages that should never have happened in the first place.

Instead of all this assumption that everyone should get married (unless they are gay, in which case people for some bizarre reason think they should NOT), and incentives for doing so…  shouldn’t we be thinking that the idea of pledging to spend THE REST OF YOUR FRIKKIN’ LIFE with someone is a REALLY BIG DEAL and maybe not for everyone?  Also maybe none of the government’s business?

So anyway, long and short of it is I have never put a lot of stock in marriage, personally.  I always figured I could live with someone my whole life without getting married and it would be fine with me.

But here I am, married.  You’re wondering why, I suppose.  Well, my live-in boyfriend, father of my son, man who I love, co-owner of my house got laid off and needed health insurance – so we walked over to the courthouse.  Two weeks later when he got a job with health coverage, I asked him if he wanted a divorce, and he said it wasn’t necessary.

We’re so romantic.

As someone who doesn’t care a lot about marriage, I also could generally not give a flying fig about engagement/wedding RINGS.  I’m not a jewelry type person in general.  Diamonds are shiny rocks – basically expensive sequins to my mind.  I do not understand the fascination exhibited by so many female humans for these trinkets, the magnitude of the world trade in shiny rocks, and the monetary value placed on them.

So combine my feelings about marriage with my feelings about diamond rings, and you can see that it is really hard for me to drum up the expected squealing response when a woman holds our her hand to show off her new engagement ring.  About all I can manage is something along the lines of “Well, that certainly is shiny.  I hope you will be very happy.”

Engagement rings are bizarre to me because [1] they can be given years before the people want to actually get married, [2] in heterosexual couples, only the woman wears one, which strikes me as odd in so many ways, [3] they are “given” by the man to the woman and yet, if I understand correctly, the woman often picks it out or exchanges it for one she really wants (how rude!), [4] they are a promise to make a promise, which makes no sense (“I swear that I will swear to love you forever… later” – WTF?), and finally [5] they are flashier than the actual wedding ring, what’s up with that?

Then there’s the wedding ring, the symbol of your undying love.  Which in movies is forever being thrown back at people, taken off in bars, lost down drains to great wailing and gnashing of teeth, and used as a sign of being “unavailable”.  I have always cringed at the idea of wearing one myself – always preferred the idea of a tattoo on my ass instead.  A more personal expression of my intention of being in love forever.

So, what happened yesterday?  After being legally married for a couple of years?

I was given an engagement ring.  By my mother.

She had given me her wedding ring a couple of years ago, when I told her of my aforementioned courthouse nuptials.  I never wore it, partly because of my general “eh” feelings about wedding rings, partly because it’s a little on the large side and I didn’t want to lose it and never got around to taking it in to be resized.

Now she gave me the engagement ring that my late father gave her in 1956.

It is very pretty.  Very shiny.  Makes a nice flash in the sun.  Makes my hand look weird, like someone else’s – some woman who holds her hand out to show off her rings.

I’m wearing it, and the wedding band, on my middle finger.  Partly because they are still a little too big for my ring finger.

Partly because I am a ornery woman who wants people to be confused when they see the rings – to think “they look like engagement and wedding rings, but they are on the wrong finger – what does it MEAN?”

I showed the engagement ring to my boy Alex, and I told him that some day when he’s a man if he wants to marry someone, he can give her this ring and ask her to marry him.  I told him that he doesn’t ever have to get married at all, though, of course.

My son, who has apparently inherited his parents’ overly romantic nature, said “Well, after you’re dead, I can keep it around, in case I change my mind and want to get married.”

As someone who sits in front of a computer for a large part of her day, and has cute kids, I enjoy Facebook.  I can brag about my kids with a few clicks of a button, whenever I want to.

I also see a lot of posts and comments that annoy the livin’ bejeezuz out of me.  Facebook posts mostly fall into several broad categories: cute animals, inspirational quotes, dirty jokes, political blurbs, bragging/complaining about kids and/or spouse, complaining about job, description of dinner plans, and the ever-popular “women are so fucking wonderful” memes.

Did you get the idea that I don’t like that last category much?  Very observant of you.

“But- But- But you’re a woman!” you gasp.

[Well, according to a bunch of sayings that get passed around Facebook, I’m not a real one.  According to pretty much every post that starts with “A real woman…” or “A real man…”, my husband and I fail the test.]

Here is the number one “woman power [sic]” post that gets my goat, in its many variations:

“I am a woman.  I have mood swings, I cry, I get PMS, I need chocolate, I am sensitive, I can be a real bitch, I’ll scream at you and you won’t know why, some days I can’t get out of bed, [etc, etc.]….  If you can’t handle me at my WORST, you don’t deserve me at my BEST.”

Wow.  Really?  That’s what you want to put out there about yourself?  You do realize that it’s not a flattering portrayal, don’t you?  And saying that it’s because you’re a woman implies things about all women.  No thanks.  You can stop speaking for me now.  Please.

When I see these “if you can’t handle me” posts, the first question that comes to my mind is “pray tell, what exactly do you mean by ‘handle’?”

I will admit (note the difference, that I admit it rather than being proud of it) that I have my bad moments.  Sometimes I’m just grumpy for no obvious reason.  Sometimes I get frustrated and cry.  Sometimes I get my feelings unnecessarily hurt.  Sometimes I lash out in unjustified anger.

My husband can handle me at those times.  But I don’t think the women who share those posts would approve of the way he “handles” me.  He tells me to knock it off.  He tells me to grow a pair (in slightly nicer terms, but that’s what he means).  He tells me that I’m being unreasonable.  He goes out to his shop and leaves me to pout by myself.  Or he lashes right back at me – he’s what’s called a “tit for tatter”.

Basically, he treats me the way he would treat any male friend of his who was being a dick.

I don’t think that’s what women mean when they say “if you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best”.

Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

I believe what is meant by “handle” in the posts is that the woman expects a man to accept her bad behaviors, not confront her about them, not defend himself, just let her be that way and act like it’s reasonable.

So she expects to be allowed to act completely at the mercy of her emotions, but her man is supposed to not react emotionally toward her in return – he is supposed to be calm and rational, comfort her and appease her, and be glad when the emotional outburst is over.

Not lose his temper, not call her on her shit, but give her chocolates and let her curl up with her teddy bear or something?

In other words, he’s supposed to act like a modern PC father does when his child is being bratty.

Yeah, that’s equality for you.

Sometimes my husband calls me a hererosexual lesbian.  What does that make him??

A few weeks back I went to a gathering wearing jeans and a green-and-purple plaid flannel shirt.  A friend said to me, “You are such a lesbian in that shirt”.  And the woman who said that is married to a woman.

Yes, I have a lot of men’s clothes – Carhartt jeans, flannel shirts, men’s wallets and belts and socks.  You know why?  Men’s clothes are simply better made than women’s.  If you want clothes that last a long time, fit comfortably, and have lots of deep pockets, you’ve pretty much got to shop in the men’s department.  Not to mention, men’s clothes are usually less expensive than their weaker counterparts in the women’s department.

Underneath my man-pants, I’ve got unshaven legs.  Oh, I’ve shaved them from time to time.  I suck at it.  End up with razor burn and little cuts everywhere.  I suppose practice would improve my technique, but to be honest I don’t give enough of a damn to practice shaving.  I only practice things I think are important.  When I want to look “ladylike”, I put on a dress with boots and leggings and that gets me close enough.

Then, to top things off, while I let my body hair grow, I usually cut the hair on my head really short.  I would love to have long, beautiful hair.  Every few years, I let mine grow, thinking how nice it will be.  But the fact is that when my hair gets longer than five or six inches, it just hangs there like greasy threads glued to my head.  Doesn’t matter how often I shampoo it – it’s just limp sucky hair.  I suppose with some professional help it could be made to curl or wave or have some sort of body and style – but that’s more effort than I feel like putting into it.  So I cut it off.  A few times in my life I’ve gotten a little carried away and shaved it off.

That went over well with Carhartt’s, flannel shirts, and hairy legs, let me tell you.

I’m not a lesbian.  I’m just super practical.  And lucky that I found my husband, who is also super practical.  We both care more about how something works than how it looks.

Although once he did ask me if wearing my “Marriage is so gay” T-shirt with my Carhartt’s was perhaps a little much.

I remember when I was pregnant, some woman I met at a party told me that when I had my baby, I wouldn’t trust my husband to do anything with it.  When I tried to tell her differently, she cut me off and said “You say that now, but wait and see.”

Well, when I met my husband, he already had a six year old boy.  He had been Danny’s primary caregiver since he was just a little baby, because his mom had been gone a lot.  Danny was well socialized, confident, smart, healthy, with all of his digits and no visible scars.  He was missing a front tooth that he knocked out when he was three, but that had happened at preschool.

I knew that my husband could take care of a baby.

During my pregnancy, I did not bond with any other pregnant women, and it had been a few years since any women I knew had given birth.  I didn’t have what I think people call a “mommy group”.  My mom visited from time to time, but since she knows me so well she never gave me advice.  The only advice I got about mothering came from my husband when I needed it.

His advice was extraordinarily helpful to me.  I will share some nuggets of wisdom with you now:

1) When your baby wakes you up crying during the night, do not jump out of bed to attend to him.  Instead, look at the clock.  Wait a full five minutes, and if the baby is still crying then, go take care of him.  I believe this bit of advice saved me a lot of sleepless hours and created a child who learned to sleep through the night fairly early.  Five minutes can seem like an eternity when your baby is crying.  If you had not looked at the clock, you would swear it had been a half hour.  But stick it out, keep your head on that pillow.  You know what usually happened?  I would watch two minutes go by, then three…  and then the next thing I knew, it was magically morning.  What happened during minutes four and five?  I don’t know and I don’t care.  Either the baby stopped crying or I fell asleep – either way, now it was morning and everything was fine.  If I loved my husband for nothing else, I would love him for teaching me this trick.

2) What about those times when your baby seems inconsolable?  Crying and crying.  Doesn’t want milk, diaper is clean, not bleeding anywhere, cries the same whether you are carrying him or he’s lying down.  Well, not much else you can do, right?  Maybe it’s colic, maybe it’s possession, who knows?  Once again, this is a clock trick.  Put the baby in his crib, look at the clock, walk away, shut the door, and do something you like doing – preferably something that makes a lot of noise so you don’t have to hear the baby (anything involving an air compressor and a nail gun is perfect).  In fifteen minutes, go back and check the baby.  Want milk?  Dirty diaper?  Want to be held?  No – still crying?  Repeat above steps.  The basic theory being that if there is nothing that you can do to make the baby feel better, why should you stay there listening to the crying and feeling bad?  Do you think it’s good for your soul?  Luckily, my baby was seldom like this, but when he was this trick kept me from banging my head against the walls.

3) You ever go to someone’s house and when they open the front door, the first thing they say is “Shhh – the baby’s sleeping”?  Sometimes they won’t even let you in (yes, I’m talking about you, Bill).  In our house, noise played a huge role during Alex’s first few months.  Loud noises like air compressors, power saws, or violent television shows not only drowned out the sound of a fussy baby, but actually seemed to lull the baby to sleep.  We were (well, still are five years later) remodelling our home, and Alex’s nap times were perfect opportunities for me to help my husband with the work, fire up power tools, or drag debris out of the house.  I think most kids Alex’s age sleep like the dead, but he can do it anywhere, under pretty much any circumstances.

As Alex gets older, I am still benefitting from his dad’s distinctly masculine view of child rearing.  I know it’s a stereotype and not true of everyone, but look around honestly and you’ll see this is a general trend:  women are usually more careful, fussy, and hovering with their kids than men are.  When it comes to taking care of kids, men generally don’t sweat the small stuff.  Left on their own with a kid, I don’t think most men would be trying to teach it baby signs, worrying about the future psychological effects of different toys, planning elaborate schedules for eating and napping and bathing, or reading magazine articles about discipline/reward methods. When you do see a man being really fussy about his baby, you know why he’s doing that?  Because he knows that if he doesn’t do everything exactly right, his wife will be mad at him.  She might want to know exactly what time the baby pooped, exactly how many ounces of milk it drank and when, and get bent out of shape if its little shirt is on backwards.

Men seem to often have a “looks okay to me” or “how bad could it be?” approach.  Most women seem to think that’s not good enough.  Like that woman I met at the party during my pregnancy, they think that men can’t do it.  Really, they don’t approve of the way men do it.  They won’t give them a chance to do it.  But then you hear women complain about having to “do it all”.

To you young women out there (or older ones – heck, I didn’t do this baby thing until I was 39) – marry a man who you think is competent, and then let him do things.  You don’t have to do it all, and there’s no one right way to do it.