Little boys

Feb. 4th, 2010 03:55 pm
lihtox: (Default)
[personal profile] lihtox
When I go with Miriam to play at the Montessori school, or at her daycare, I find myself paying extra attention to the little boys in the room. Part of the reason is that I've heard people insist that gender differences exist from this age, that boys are more this or girls are more that; as a feminist I'm somewhat doubtful of these claims, attributing most of the differences to the way the children are raised, and so I'm watching these little boys to see if they are fundamentally different from Miriam, thinking, "Miriam gets loud like that too, Miriam runs around, whatever." (Frankly, I haven't noticed any real difference.) A problem with this is that it starts to feel like I'm measuring Miriam up against the boys, which is a rather UNfeminist thing to do.

The other reason I pay attention is due to my theories about little boys, in that they are more constrained than little girls: constrained in what they wear, what they play with, who they can imitate. (As one person put it, a little girl in a Batman costume is cute; a little boy in a Wonder Woman costume is alarming.) That, combined with the fact that boys are supposed to be a little bit behind girls developmentally at this age, makes me see them as more fragile, somehow.

And so I look on these little male children almost as alien creatures, rather ironic given that I used to be one. (Ah, but I don't remember being 2 years old.)

It's a little disturbing to be so obsessed about gender in this case, when I'd much rather see young children raised in as gender-blind a manner as possible. Heck, I'm not even sure Miriam knows the difference between "boy" and "girl" yet (though she does know the words), and I've avoided the terms when it comes to adults; I'm not a "boy" but a man and Jen isn't a "girl" but a woman, and I normally refer to us and other adults as "big people": "there's a big person". I'm not insistent about it, I don't tell other people what to say, and she'll figure it all out in due time, but I'm hoping that I can delay gender awareness a little bit so that it isn't so ingrained in her thought processes. Maybe it's futile, I dunno. I think there are small biological differences which cannot (and should not?) be erased, but that doesn't mean they have to be enhanced via socialization.

Date: 2010-02-04 10:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I don't get how "feminist" = "insists that boys and girls are mostly the same". Feminism should celebrate the strengths and characteristics of women instead of fighting to insist that they're the same as men.

Date: 2010-02-05 01:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There are many flavors of "feminism", and feminism is actually a poor name for some of them; I use the word for lack of a better word that means "in favor of downplaying gender roles and gender stereotypes in society". Other branches of feminism, of course, do aim to celebrate the strengths of women: e.g. "grrl power", "women's pride", and so forth.

But what exactly are you celebrating? If you start listing the strengths and characteristics of women, you find that every item on your list (a) applies to some men as well, and (b) does not apply to some women. Same thing with celebrating the strengths of men, which is why we don't go around celebrating the strengths of men anymore-- women (rightfully) become disgruntled with the implication that women can't be strong or athletic or funny or brave or whatever else you might put on such a list. I think there are probably definite psychological differences between men and women, even without the socialization we use to enhance them, but I also believe that the variations within a gender are on par with the differences between genders, barring the few obvious ones, so that the distinction blurs. When we glorify gender roles, then too often we force people into pigeonholes they don't belong in.

I don't want to prevent Miriam from realizing and celebrating her femaleness; I know that she will, as every portion of society will point it out to her all the time. But I want to forestall it a bit, so that maybe her gender won't be such an integral part of her self-identity (as it so often is in childhood, boys vs girls and all that), and that it is more a matter of choice on her part.

Date: 2010-02-05 02:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Your second paragraph there rocks.

Date: 2010-02-05 04:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
"I don't want to prevent Miriam from realizing and celebrating her femaleness; I know that she will, as every portion of society will point it out to her all the time."

This is the issue I have with your viewpoint. You seem to have decided that it's nigh-strictly causal - that most of a person's gender is environmental. You keep mentioning that there are psychological differences, and obviously there are substantial physiological differences, but for whatever reason, you've seen fit to mostly-dismiss them, largely (it seems) because you'd rather they not matter. It feels as if you're pressing your worldview on the issue, then drawing a conclusion from it, which is begging the question in a big way.

Also, re: paragraph 2, yes, there's always a spectrum, and there's always overlap. That's commonly used to leap to the second half of your paragraph. Just because there aren't clear-cut lines - that doesn't prove anything about tendencies. Nobody in their right mind claims that men and women always act differently along demonstrable lines - I guess I just don't grasp why you're trying to disprove that point. It's a straw man.

I also don't recall glorifying gender roles. There's a false dichotomy at work here: the idea that you can either glorify gender roles, or try to obliterate them in the name of sameness/overlap. There's plenty of middle ground, and most people, in my experience, tend to stomp around thereabouts rather than fleeing to those posited extremes.

One final point: I don't see, at all, that "we don't go around celebrating the strengths of men anymore". If that were true, there'd be no female fans of any of the major (male) professional sports leagues, war/action/superhero movies would flop in the theater, and Seabiscuit would have been a small-release art film. People do still celebrate the strengths of men, on a *very* widespread basis, and I don't see how it'd be possible to claim otherwise.

Date: 2010-02-05 04:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
K, maybe not so much on the Seabiscuit.

Date: 2010-02-05 04:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Let's just say that if some aspects of gender are biological, then by definition they will be there no matter what I do, so I don't worry about it. I'm not on some crusade to wipe out masculinity and femininity here. What I'm saying is that gender differentiation is enhanced, in some case ridiculously enhanced, by the culture we're immersed in. If we can just turn that down a bit, give people a little more breathing room to be who they are (which, in most cases, will be identifiably male or female, but not always), then that's a good thing for everyone.

I'm not trying to convince you of anything, mind you; it's just the way I feel about it.

Date: 2010-02-05 06:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Sure, that's fair, and I think there's merit to having people not pressured into a set character. I guess I disagree more on the vehemence and the degree than the overall mindset. Wanting a child to grow up with less obvious gender pressure is one thing - going far afield to be gender-avoidant seems, to me, another.

Date: 2010-02-06 12:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You're probably just overestimating my vehemence; I make small adjustments to the language I use, and I try to keep her wardrobe under 50% pink, but you probably wouldn't even notice. I just hate when people take a baby girl and drown her in pink and lace and princesses and all that...for goodness sake, give her a break! Why rush it?

I will also confess a fondness for tomboys, so this isn't entirely high-minded on my part. Naturally, I expect her to enter a princess phase in about a year or so. :P


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