Gender – Nature vs. Nurture 6: Fierce fashionista for a fiercer world

June 22, 2016

Having a terrible two year-old is now less than two months away. Cozy has gone from a baby blob to a Munchkin who is off to join the Lollipop Gang. We finally got her birth video this week and it seems like another lifetime ago that she came flying out of mom’s hoo-haw with a look on her face that said, “What the hell is this reality you’ve pulled me into?” Now it seems like this character we lovingly call Bug has always been here.

Part of the idea of this blog was to have a place to chart the evolution of my daughter in a patriarchal world that has a very clear place for “sugar and spice” girls. As someone who used to assign Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, I know that gender is a performance that we learn to perform it differently at different times and in different places. If Cozy had been born in Chad, Africa or in Portland, Oregon in 1914, her idea of how girls act (act being the key word) would be very different. People can say, “girls are just different,” but they are different because they are taught to be different from day one. That’s the sociological party-line and I’m sticking to it.

Cozyshops

So, here we are at 22 months and this girl, with her working mom and stay-at-home dad, is still, to me, is without gender. But it’s funny how much of her behavior could be assigned gender. For example, she loves to play with blocks, scream, knock things down, build forts in her crib, and chase the cat. If she had a penis, we’d be told, “Well Cozy is just being a boy. Boys are different.” But she’s just being Cozy. She likes to shop but goes for gender-neutral belts and hats. She hasn’t learned that “her” clothes are in a different section of the store.

Boots

Similarly, on occasion she gets into Mom’s make up and clothes and has a mean obsession with shoes that could be written as “feminine” if there weren’t endless stories of little boys who did the same thing. (I’m sure a toddler Bruno Magli was a shoe hound as well). Cozy is now starting to pick out outfits that tend toward the post-modern clash. The Minnie Mouse dress with the rubber Wellies are go-to daywear. Maybe that’s the influence of her old punk dad. But she’s not leaving her room unless she’s got her fake pearls on. That might be a bit of the Old South creeping in.

She has a baby doll that came from somewhere and she never bothers with it. Elmo, Baby Elmo, and Bunny are her constant companions. The damn baby can raise itself. She parades around the house with her blanket like Linus, looking for her red monster. “The Elmo!” she yells. Then we bounce the soccer ball and dance to Queen Latifah CDs.

So much of early gender socialization is just attribution to the popular gender norms of the time. “Oh, he’s acting like a boy! Good! Do more of that!” The converse is, “Oh, he’s acting like a girl. You better put the breaks on that shit!” Girls get a bit more freedom in the early days until they hit double digits and start to get slammed with the message that their primary objective is supposed to be attracting boys. Everybody sing, “Someday my Prince will come…” But it’s always struck me as funny that we give little girls baby dolls to start the mom training and we don’t think little boys might need one for some dad training. Cozy is more interested in art than babies. (But she will say “hi” to every baby she meets.)

Minnie

It’s not hard to raise a child as a child instead of as a “boy” or a “girl.” (Those quotation marks carry a lot of sociological weight.) But at some point the outside world will have a lot more sway than Mom and Dad. She might start wondering where that baby doll is hiding.

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 5: Elmo is queer

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 4: She’s gotta be free

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 3: How babies queer gender

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture 2: Ain’t I a black girl?

GENDER – Nature vs. Nurture: Round 1

Message in a Bottle: Watching the Wheels Turns One!

November 24, 2015

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This blog turns a year old today. It is officially a toddler. It’s definitely developed an attitude and occasionally runs away from me, leaving a trail of destruction. Since I started this little experiment, articles have been accessed over 280,000 times from nearly every country on earth. (I don’t know what’s the problem with Chad and Turkmenistan.) It’s been an opportunity to talk about things as micro as gender socialization of our daughter and as macro as immigration and refugee issues. I’ve tried to keep the theme of feminism in the forefront as it’s the paradigm that best helps me make sense of the world.

1 year

A year ago Andrea was starting her job at Planned Parenthood, I was on parental leave from Portland State and Cozy was just a cooing infant. That first blog post was about channeling John Lennon to embrace being a stay-at-home dad. Now Andrea is working at an amazing law firm in downtown Portland, I’m on permanent leave from PSU and Cozy is throwing all sorts of shade about not eating her chicken dinner. In that year we’ve taken Cozy to Canada, Mexico, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.

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For the last year I have been writing like my life depended on it. We fully funded The Dream Police book and I’m wrapping up the seventh of nine chapters. My short story, “Elvis is My Rider,” was published in a great collection called A Matter of Words, and I try to get at least one blog post out a week, linking the big bad world to the tiny act of raising a baby girl.

Writing almost makes up for not teaching. It’s an inward act instead of an outward one, but it’s still about connecting the dots so you can connect people to each other.  The writer who is turning my first novel, The Mission of the Sacred Heart, into a screenplay, Elizabeth Carlton Chase, suggested that I try my own hand at screenwriting and that I enter the Short Screenplay Challenge that she won in 2006. I thought, “More writing! Let’s go!” The challenge is a series of five page screenplays. They give you the genre, the setting and a prop. Oh, and 48 hours to finish.

I didn’t even know where to start. I had to Google what a page of screenplay looked like. My first round assignment was a drama on a toxic river with a doll. I wrote a little play called “Letting Go,” about a couple in southern Georgia who live downstream from a paper mill and lose their daughter to leukemia. It was an exhilarating experience. If it wins its heat, I go on to the next round in December. Winning it all gets your foot in the door in a big way.

All this writing keeps me grounded but it’s also a lifeline out of this mess. Like messages in bottles, I throw each page out into the world and hope something reaches somebody who says, “This is really good. Let’s give this guy some money so he can write more.” Like a musician sending dozens of demos out into the universe in hopes one lands in the ears of a major label A&R person having a good day, I write my lottery tickets. Then the story can be told of how the big break came from a funny blog post or a convincing Amazon review.

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When Mission first came out, I went down to LA to push it everywhere I could think of. I snuck copies on to the New Release shelf at Book Soup in West Hollywood and left a copy in the men’s room of the Directors Guild of America office on Sunset with the inscription, “This book will change your life.” It seemed like it would make a good story. I could hear Wes Anderson on Jimmy Kimmel saying, “There was just no good material out there and then I found this book about Portland in the bathroom of the Urth Caffé on Melrose…” And there’s Cozy strolling down the red carpet. A boy can dream, right?

I know my stuff is good on some level. I’m certainly no David Foster Wallace, but I’m also not overly tortured to the point of suicide. Having an author that you connect with can be such a rush. Every positive reader review I’ve had has been a dream realized. I want to do what my favorites did for me. My favorite writer is Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and the fact that we both have books for sale at Powell’s is really enough. I’m just happy that there are still plenty of people who want to read something longer than a tweet and some of them seem to really like reading my musings. It’s an honor really, that anyone would spend any of their time with something that started out for me as a blank page. (If you’ve read this far, snap your fingers two times.)

So a year after this blog started (and went completely viral with the help of a full blown fascist named Donald John Trump), I’m still writing away. After The Dream Police is done, it’s time for a non-fiction book about feminist fatherhood. I don’t have a title yet, maybe Sit Down and Pee, but I’m doing a lot of research. I write because I have to and if someone wants to give me some money at some point, I promise I won’t lose my hunger.