The best way to start my follow-up to my previous post, “One Good Reason,” is to show you one of the search phrases that just showed up on my stats page this week:
how to tell my boyfriend he acts too feminine
It was probably the text from all of your comments that allowed this particular collection of words to lead someone to my site, and it expresses a sentiment that rankles more than a few of you:
“One thing that nobody has mentioned is that ‘masculinity’ is acceptable for both genders, whereas femininity is not. There are a great many women who were ‘tomboys’ as children, and might still be ‘masculine’ in their mode of dress, their interactions with other people, their business transactions, etc. etc. Somehow, it’s OK for a woman to be this way, even an adult. However, when a man exhibits a ‘girly’ side, it’s incredibly important that he look ‘masculine.'”
” . . . the big fear that a guy not being ‘manly’ means that he is/will be gay has always struck me as one of the stupidest things around. I know more straight guys with feminine traits than gay ones (as percentages). What is the general opinion: is the fear just that they don’t want a son who has ‘girly’ traits, or that the ‘girly’ traits will be taken as a sign that said son is gay?”
Madonna, our Patron Saint of Pop and Sexuality, was after the same thing in the introduction to her song, “What it Feels Like for a Girl”:
“Girls can wear jeans, cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots, because it’s okay to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, because you think that being a girl is degrading.”
The expression of underlying fears is what I was after in my earlier post. We all have gender expectations, whether or not we are aware of them. Even the most liberal and open-minded of us have boxes in our minds for male and female, gay and straight. Many of you were courageous enough to admit to those expectations in yourselves:
“I was in a store with my son and my daughter and there were some pink, slippery, silky nighties on display which he was interested in and I think actually said he wanted . . . This particular thing challenged my openmindedness and my picture of my son and what I imagined for him and his future and his manhood. It was an instantaneous, gut response. Had he insisted, I would have affirmed his right to wear what he wanted to be himself, whatever that was, but there was that moment of fear and shame.”
“I am a mother of a 1 year old boy. I knit. My friend gave me a onesie that says ‘someone teach me to knit!’ When I showed it to my husband he said, ‘you’re not going to let him wear that are you?’ . . . He couldn’t really answer me as to why he wasn’t comfortable with our son wearing that outfit. But I knew. He didn�t want people to think our son was a girl.”
“We want our children to be accepted. I want that for my kids too. If my son wants to knit, I am here waiting to teach him. If my daughter or my son turn out to be gay, it won’t be because of the knitting or lack thereof. Again, I will still love them. Do I want them to be gay, no, I don’t. If they turn out to be gay, I won’t reject them and I will love them no less. Isn’t that what the fear is here, that our kids will be gay?”
This last one is the most volatile, because the commenter admitted to being uncomfortable with the idea of a gay child. While this is something no liberal-minded person wants to hear (including myself) it is precisely the kind of honesty I was hoping for, and it’s no accident that the remarks above come from parents. I don’t have a child yet myself, but it’s obvious from observing my peers with their children (and thinking back on my own parents’ methods) that raising a child bumps you up against all of your feelings about gender, religion, sexual orientation, and a million other things that I’m sure I can’t imagine (yet). The impulse to prevent your kid from getting beat up on the playground probably contradicts even the most open-minded beliefs about how to raise your kid, and parents have to walk this line inside themselves every day. For example:
“last week I was wearing a skirt, and when my toddler asked me if he could have a skirt to wear too, I said no. There are certain lines that I will not cross. He’s only 2-1/2. He doesn�t know that he�s asking to dress like a girl. He just sees that my skirt is cool and that I can twirl around in it, and he thinks that might be fun. Because he doesn’t know what he’s asking, I can’t honor the request, because he’s my little guy to train up to be a man, and for now, I need to make the decisions for him.”
“While it may feel uncomfortable to allow our sons and daughters to move beyond the mainstream because it feels easier to conform, it is necessary to allow non-conformity for positive change.”
I can imagine that parents, confronted with a boy who wants to participate in a traditionally female activity, might feel both of these things——even at the same time. I’m not really willing to judge either of these perspectives, even though my politics land me firmly with the second one.
There’s a lot more to be said on this issue, but this post is getting long. Feel free to keep the comments coming, of course. And for those of you who are sick of the politics and just want to see some knitting, there’s some on the way in the next post.