Saturday, February 09, 2008

Calling for an Overhaul of Boyhood

FoxyJ sent me another good article from the New York Times tonight. In the article, "Girls Will Be Girls," Peggy Orenstein discusses two recent books targeted at girls (and their moms) and reflects on what these books, together with a similar book targeted at boys, say about gender roles. She points out that the girls' books emphasize the fact that girls can have the best of both worlds--"to be able to paint their nails and break them too"--while boys seem to be stuck in conceptions of masculinity forged at least a century ago and reinforced most recently by The Dangerous Book for Boys.
Whether girlie or girlist, girls, because they’re allowed more latitude in their identities, can still be girls: Boys, on the other hand, must be boys — unless no one is watching. In another study of younger children, Cherney and London found that if ushered alone into a room and told they could play with anything, nearly half the boys chose “feminine” toys as often as “masculine” ones, provided they believed nobody, especially their fathers, would find out. That made me question whether any more expansive vision of girlhood can survive without a similar overhaul of boyhood, which, apparently, is not in the offing. Learning to “create an amazing dance routine” (as suggested by [The Girls’ Book: How to Be the Best at Everything]) is still far more Dangerous for boys than, as their own volume suggests, learning to juggle.
While I believe it's hugely important to teach my daughter a healthy sense of her own identity as a girl, the most important thing I can do to ensure she lives in a world where those ideals I teach her match up with reality is to teach my son a healthy sense of his identity as a boy. And "healthy" in the latter case has no more to do with trucks, guns, and football than it does with lipstick, dolls, and cookbooks in the former. Or rather, a healthy identity for girls and boys potentially incorporates all of those things--except guns, which are evil tools of Satan no matter your gender.

17 comments:

Th. said...

.

We let the Big O breastfeed his turtle. Beat that.

Mr. Fob said...

I don't think I can ever beat that, but it's certainly something to shoot for.

FoxyJ said...

We do let Little Dude read Pinkalicious over and over again. And watch Dora.

Mr. Fob said...

And wear tiaras and headbands.

Th. said...

.

That's competitive.

Mr. Fob said...

We try.

C. L. Hanson said...

That's a good point. I praised the idea that girls' role models should allow for both "girly" and less-girly activities in my article (coincidentally named) Girls Will Be Girls, yet the same thing doesn't seem to apply to boys (as I learned in But that's a girl phone!).

It's weird, too, given that men today take such an active role in parenting. When I see a young parent wlaking down the street with a stroller, it seems like it's as likely to be a man as a woman (though quite often it's both). So it would be reasonable for boys to be allowed to play with dolls...

[kɹeɪ̯g̊] said...

That's so sad.

Whenever I went to my cousin's house, I would play with the barbies, even though I knew it was a disapproved activity.

I've always wondered why its socially acceptable for women to wear pants but not for men to wear dresses.

Mr. Fob said...

Chanson: I see more and more men actively involved in parenting too, and what's more, it seems like most little boys like playing with dolls, so long as nobody tells them they're not supposed to. Foxy commented last night that we have an advantage over people who have only boys, because it's only natural that Little Dude will play with his big sister's toys, and it's easier for us to just let him do so than it would be for us to go out and intentionally buy "girl toys" for him.

Craig: When I was little my older sisters would dress me up in dresses and pink leotards, then take pictures. My brother used those pictures to blackmail me in elementary school. All that trauma could have been avoided if men would just catch up to women in the gender equality movement. (And, as a friend of mine likes to end every story he tells, "...and then I turned out to be gay.")

Scot said...

Attention Mr. Fob’s Brother:

My email address may be found in my profile. Please send to me the photos mentioned above as soon as possible.

Thank you.

Mr. Fob said...

Careful, Scot. I have pictures of you and Rob in matching pink shirts.

Rebecca said...

My brother, who I believe you've met, used to play My Little Ponies with me - provided I'd play transformers with him. His wife got a pink iPod mini hoping it would deter him from using it, then said, "What was I thinking? It's Spencer." He wrote me on his mission using pink gel pens and stationery with pictures of little girls holding flowers (okay, true, I provided him with the stationery and gel pens...). I love that he just doesn't care if people think something is for boys or for girls - if he likes it, he does it. And he's also the ONLY (straight) male I've ever met who really gives me the impression that he doesn't think - even deep, deep down in his cultural consciousness - that men are better/stronger/smarter/whatever. Coincidence? Not likely.

Moral of the story: Only let your sons use pink gel pens.

Mr. Fob said...

Yes, as I recall, Spencer was wearing daisy dukes and a halter top when I met him. Quite the liberated straight man.

Earth Sign Mama said...

You know, I basically grew up as a boy--farm girl life and all that. I liked playing with dolls and cooking, but I also liked digging holes and branding cattle and riding horses. And I really disliked stupid girls who twittered and wouldn't dress for gym because "it was that time of the month"--try telling THAT to my dad at 5:30 A.M. as the reason why you weren't getting up to milk cows that day. But I really like earrings and long hair and toenail polish. I still dig holes, too.

Mr. Fob said...

I dig holes too, but mine are mostly metaphorical.

JB said...

One of my blogfriends' blogfriend recently wrote a post about her little boy wanting a glittery pink (toy) cell phone. She said he just had to have it so she got it for him and one of the boys at school stole it from him because it was too girlie. The mom took him back to buy another one and he picked the gender-neutral one this time.

If I ever have children (boys especially), I want them to feel that men and women can do all the same things and it's no big deal, but I'm not sure what to do with the fact that they may be teased on the playground. Do you warn them about that and make them feel somewhat ashamed of it in public? Do you let them get teased in school and find out for themselves that, though we want the real world to be that way, it isn't always? Probably the latter. And they'll always know that they can do what they want, with regard to gender stereotyped things, at home.

When boys can't do girlie things I think it hurts both boys and girls. It isn't fair to the boys that they can't play with dollies or play dress up or any of those things. But it isn't fair to girls that boys become ridiculous and can't be taken seriously when they do girly things—what does that say about women??

Mr. Fob said...

Yeah, I liked her post, too (from C.L. Hanson's blog, right?). It raises a lot of good questions like the ones you point out here.