April 6, 2015
One of the main goals of my Intro Sociology class at Portland State was to get students to develop an understanding of what feminism is really about. I would start with a riddle;
“OK, imagine a father hasn’t seen his son in 5 years. They are reunited and spend the day together. They go to a ballgame and out for burgers. On the way home there is a horrible crash and the father is killed. Barely alive and in need of surgery, the boy is rushed to the hospital. In the ER, the doctor rushes up and, with a shocked look, says, ‘I can’t operate on this child. He’s my son!’
So who is the doctor?”
In a room of 100 students there is almost always dead quiet. When I first heard this my mind went to SoapOperaLand. Maybe they were switched at birth and the doctor thinks this is his child.
The answer is much more simple. The doctor is the boy’s mother. But in a patriarchal culture we are taught to assume the male. It’s called normative maleness. “Female” is the default position. Actors (and actresses), poets (and poetesses). Even with animals we assume the dog is a “he” even if we haven’t checked underneath to be sure.
It happens everyday. Cozy has plenty of pink but most of her clothes are not. She wears lots of clothes that were mine 50 years ago. We were at the videostore yesterday and a young clerk looked at her and Cozy gave him the “Whatchu lookin’ at, Willis?” stare. The kid said, “Man, that dude has intense eyes!” Yeah, it’s a girl, young brother. I did it just this morning. I got a note that a child of Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander, Holland Zander, might be interested in talking about my Dream Police novel. I immediately replied, “Please email him!” Turns out Holland is a she (and Robin is a he, a very awesome he). In the 2000s, whenever I would see a news headline that read something like, “Clinton headed to China,” I would think, “Oh, Bill’s taking a trip!” It was always Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Always.
So I lecture on normative maleness and how it serves to make females fade from view. It’s even in our politics. There are political issues and then “women’s issues,” like health care and education. All the women in the class, whether they call themselves feminists or not, get it. A lot of the guys have sort of a “so what” look on their faces, but I get 10 weeks in a quarter to work my magic. There’s a similar situation of normative whiteness, how we assume a person is white unless we are told otherwise. What’s the picture in your head when you hear the term, “All-American kid”? It’s probably not a girl named Fatima.
Having a baby is a good place to see this play out on a daily basis. Since gender is socially constructed, babies start out genderless. We horseshoe them into pink or blue realities from Day 1. (Now we can start before they are even born!). But, in reality, babies don’t look much like boys or girls. They look like babies.
We were out at the coast yesterday, a nice Easter road trip to Lincoln City. Cozy was in awe of the Pacific. I love seeing her see things for the first time. I snapped a picture of her. As soon as I looked at it I realized that my baby looks like comedian Patton Oswalt! When I posted it on Facebook, a friend commented that all babies look like Patton Oswalt. Whew. Love the guy but my projection on my daughter, as it turns out, is more gendered than I thought. If she’s going into comedy, I see her as more of a Cecily Strong an Amy Schumer. (Although, Patton Oswalt seems like a perfectly happy person, so I’ll take him.)
I’m a bit off point here. It’s just very telling how many people think Cozy is a boy when she is wearing her green sweater or sucking on her blue binky. In this “genderless” moment she is completely free. I love her gender transgressions and I hope it sows the seeds of not feeling trapped in the “girl box.” She’s Cozy Fucking Blazak! She can construct her own definition of gender.
This Dar Williams song makes me think about the time she has to be genderless.