Thursday, April 20, 2006

All boy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how incredibly often I do things I SWORE, pre-parenthood that I would never do. Some of these things were fantasies destined to die an early death: I’ll never give him formula, I’ll never sit him in a bouncy chair just so I can check email, I’ll never let him eat the crap that gets stuck to the high chair cushion, I’ll never let him play with inappropriate/disgusting/potentially dangerous objects (tube of sunscreen, bottle with a small cap, the gross and ancient tub plug, etc.). These, as most parents know, are what people think they will or won’t do before they actually have children (and if you actually have children and enforce these kinds of rules, good for you. I’m sorry we can’t be friends anymore, but still—good for you.) As far as I’m concerned, once the baby comes, all bets are off.

But these are more physical-care type oaths that I swore. I swore other oaths, ones that were more a matter of principle or life-ethics, which, at the time, I felt were more important and less likely to completely fall by the wayside than these other, more arbitrary rules about, you know, cleanliness and safety. I’m compelled to try and revive some of these more moral-type oaths now, but I am also very tired and not sure it’s worth trying to fight the vast societal tide that keeps pulling me under.

Let me explain. One of the things I swore as a feminist mom was that I would try really hard not to genderize my offspring. I would buy dolls for a boy. I would teach a girl to play football. That kind of thing. I didn’t freak over but rather joked about D’s early love of horrid, sparkly-furred, Barbie-accessorizing toys. I was pleased when he decided he loved beads and scarves and hairbrushes above most other toys. His lambie is referred toas “she,” and his baby doll is actually an anatomically correct little boy.

But insidiously, the gendering is creeping in. On a semi-weekly basis, people say to me, “Well, he’s just all boy, isn’t he?” when they see him climbing everything in sight, scaling the playground stairs or filling a dump truck with rocks. They remark on his activity level, assume he’s interested in playing with balls and trucks (which, I admit, he is), laugh at his burps and farts (which I do, too, just because he thinks he’s so funny) and insist that we need to get him a dog (which we probably will one day, if only because our Cat occasionally needs backup). But the reason people comment on these things, I think, is because they feel it makes him more “boy.” If he avoided the sandbox, they’d say “Oh, look, he can’t sit still long enough to be bothered with the sand!” But they say things to girls like “Oh, look, she doesn’t want to get dirty; she’s avoiding the sand.”

I don’t get this, and I don’t know how to deal with it. I know it’s not my problem that other people aren’t okay with the fact that my little man isn’t always such a man, but I feel I should speak up—if for no other reason than to make people think for one second about the gender-norming we’re all doing all the time. Is this my responsibility? Is it enough that I remark on girls being good climbers, assume they want to play with the trucks as much as my son and encourage the boys to play dress-up and feed their baby dolls, or do I have an obligation to address the issue in more overt ways?

Oh, and don’t get me wrong: if D ends up being The Man’s Man and doing everything society associates with masculinity (whatever THAT is—burping the alphabet? Collecting posters of scantily clad twins? Wearing baseball hats to every public function he attends?), I will be fine with it. He’ll always have the option to play with dolls, but if he doesn’t take in lieu of some other activity, I’m cool with that. I just don’t want him to do “boy stuff” because someone else brainwashed him into thinking that’s what he should be doing.