Dad Love 10: We become gendered.

February 17, 2017

It seems like just seconds ago I was writing about Cozy turning two. We were on our sweltering Mexican island preparing for a birthday adventure in the Yucatan jungle. Now we’re in freezing damp Portland and this child seems like a completely different being. Those six months have been a tsunami of evolution. While the  whole country seems to have devolved, Cozy has become a person and also, dammit, a girl. She’s down for the cause, this girl. She marched in the Women’s March and met the mayor at the Portland United Against Hate rally. Have you met Cozy V. Blazak yet? The mayor has.

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I’ve been lecturing about gender socialization since the George HW Bush Administration (Remember him?), so I know you don’t raise kids in a vacuum. You can’t create your kid like an art project. Society sneaks in on the corners (and on the Disney Channel), but I was a little surprised how quickly my genderless baby became a full-fledged girly girl. I’ve written about her princess thing. The other day I was fixing something and asked her to hand me a long screwdriver. She correctly grabbed the flathead and I thought, “That’s my kid.” And then she raised it up in the air and proclaimed, “Elena of Avalor!”

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This two-and-a-half-year-old is infinitely fascinating. She loves to do the “woos” at the right places of “I Am the Walrus” and tell you the names of her friends in daycare. “The guys, Josie, Amelia….” As soon as she gets to “school,” she goes straight to work making art, just like her mama. She likes to jump off of things (“Daddy, watch this!”) and play hide and seek. And if you ask her what she wants to eat, it’s either mac & cheese, candy, or “ice cream chips.” Most of the time we can figure out what’s she’s trying to tell us and she gets frustrated when we can’t. All this happened is a space of six months. Boom.

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We are quickly leaving the phase when we can pick out her clothes. For me that was about sixth grade. I learned this lesson when I tried to put on the Falcons sweatshirt for Super Bowl Sunday that my dad bought her a year ago. Nope. She wanted to wear her Minnie Mouse dress. Sorry Grandpa. It’s either gotta have Minnie on it, be pink, or be a skirt. I didn’t even know they made skirts for toddlers, now I’m searching target.com for anything she might like. The girl stuff is like a magnet to her. It’s not like either of her parents wear pink. (Well, I do have this flouncy number from my New Romantic days.)

It makes me think of some of my LGBTQ friends who have said that they didn’t have that same experience. Little girls who never wanted dolls and little boys who wanted to wear skirts. It’s a great window into the nature/nurture debate about gender and sexual orientation. I don’t know if Cozy is gonna be a lesbian, but if she is, she’s gonna be a lipstick lesbian with the best skirt collection in town. Just a hunch.

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For now, I’m just loving this phase. I still spend too much time watching her sleep but I also will have endless fun doing puzzles, coloring, or teaching her how men do laundry and lay on the floor to listen to John Coltrane records. She pretends she has a trumpet and plays along. I guess she’s more of a Miles Davis.

She’s deeply empathic (“What’s wrong, Daddy?”) so she must know I’m more in love with her every passing day. I wonder if she knows that people respond to her in a totally unique way, like she’s a shaman onboard the Good Ship Lollipop. The world feels like a better place because she’s in it. I hope she uses this power she has in a meaningful way. How old do you have to be to run for mayor?

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Dad Love 9: I Become Winona Ryder in Stranger Things

The Princess Problem

Sept. 15, 2016

As a dad and a feminist, I don’t really know what to make of this princess thing. It’s a huge industry. (It would be ironic if it was just a “cottage” industry.) I didn’t notice it until I became a parent, but there a princesses freaking everywhere!  Want to take you daughter on a “Disney Princess Cruise?” Your son probably will skip that one for a roll in the mud. But there is a pushback against the “princess narrative,” so I’m trying to figure out how to fit my daughter into it and still keep a smile on her face.

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I know that I never played “prince” as a little boy and all the storybook princesses I knew just waited around to be rescued by Prince Charming. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your damn hair!” One might guess the Brothers Grimm didn’t know many bad-ass chicas who could escape the castle on their own. Or maybe stories of heroines just didn’t sell in the early 1800s. The Nazis really loved those Grimm fairy tales, so that should tell you something.

The Brothers Grimm published Cinderella in 1812 so you’d think 204 years later this princess thing would be played out, right? Au contraire mon frère, it’s bigger than ever. Just take a trip to the “pink” isle at any toy store or the Help Wanted ads at Disneyland. “Help wanted: An anorexic girl to dress as Sleeping Beauty and smile for 8 hours a day in the Anaheim sun. Previous princess threw herself under a pumpkin.”

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This gets a mention because suddenly one of my daughter’s precious vocabulary words is “princess.” I was hoping “theoretician” would come first, or even “OBG/GYN.” But there it is. “Princess!” with a squeal of delight. She has a CD from the Disney TV show Sofia the First and the good thing is that she learned how to work the CD player in her room so she could play it. (It’s playing as I write this and Cozy is dancing in her Minnie Mouse dress.) The bad news is these are the lyrics:

There are many things princesses do

Like hosting balls and dancing too

Or Wearing gowns of pink and blue

That’s what we like to do

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There are many things that princes like

Jousting polo and taking hikes

Suits of armour with lots of spikes

That’s what we really like

We do princess things

And we do princely things

And no-one crosses in between

We stick with our routine

Not very gender queer. To be fair, Sofia believes that anything can be a “princess thing,” but it’s an uphill battle, not a given that she’s already liberated from her princess routine.

The princess tales seem to fall into two categories, one is the girl born into royalty but the more common version is the peasant girl who is “lucky” enough to be launched into royalty. What’s better than being rich? And they are all hyper-heteronormative. How many little girls grew up singing, “Someday My Prince Will Come,” from Snow White, thinking the story ends when he (or a reasonable facsimile of Prince Charming) shows up. The fairy tale leaves out the part that after the “happily ever after” part when he’s banging the milkmaid and won’t even think about letting his “queen” take night classes at the kingdom’s community college.

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Little girls seem to think the life of a princess is all peach pudding and party dresses. Bud Light pitch girl Amy Schumer has a brilliant skit about the reality of the medieval princess forced into arranged marriages with cousins so she can get busy birthing male heirs to the throne. Every girl should see it before asking for a princess party for her next birthday.

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Earlier this week, Andrea and I were at the Disney Studios in Burbank visiting a good friend and pretending that Hollywood was ready for us. We stopped by the employee store to pick up some Minnie Mouse swag for Cozy. (It’s just too cute when she says, “Minnie Moush.”) When I saw all the princess dresses from all the Disney films I could just imagine our daughter exploding in screams. I resisted the urge to buy her a Belle dress and bought her an Incredible Hulk t-shirt instead. (Disney owns Marvel now.) But I know what she would really want.

Let me say Disney princesses have come a long way since Snow White. There are princesses of every shade these days, including Elena, the Latina princess. And Merida, from Brave, isn’t exactly a damsel in distress and didn’t even have a romance with a brutish boy. But if you survey the list of Disney princesses, they pretty much are all teenage girls who are awarded with a dominant male at the end of the tale. They are less passive than Sleeping Beauty but their goal is still to end up like a Mrs. Trump.  I’m going to encourage Cozy to avoid all that. The princesses tale is exactly what not to wish for.

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We’re not raising a demure princess in this house, looking for her Beast. She’s not a kitten who needs to be rescued from a tree. (As Ani DiFranco once sang, “Don’t you think every kitten figures out how to get down, whether or not you ever show up?”) If she wants to live in a palace, she can invent an app or something. But she can pretend to be whoever she wants to be. Who are we going to be today, Cozy? Ariel or Harriet Tubman? Oh, Princess Leia? We’re good.

 

Gender: Nature vs. Nurture 4: She’s gotta be free!

Cozy has made it to 14 months. I was a little nervous about the 13 month spread because of the Stevie Wonder thing. (“Thirteen month old baby, broke the looking glass…”) So we’re at a year and two months and still no clear gendered behavior. I’m going to knock on wood before she walks in here with a picture of Barbie that she has uploaded on my smartphone. She is still just a person. Hooray!

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It’s funny how we think about gender in terms of opposites; that there are opposite sexes. A local rock club posted a noticed that “Opposite genders” were not allowed in their bathrooms. (The note came down after some trans-sensitive folks had a word with the owner.) Genders have no opposite and men and women have more in common than we acknowledge. It’s not like boys walk on their feet and girls walk on their hands. This is not Dr. Seus-land.

But the gender binary is a powerful idea. We do construct the idea of gender in this culture, at this time, in terms of opposites (although less so than previous generations). Men are active and strong while women are passive and weak. Men are stoic and women are emotional. Men are earners and women are spenders, and on and on. Of course there are a zillion examples of how this is not true and the core of the liberal feminist agenda is that women can do anything men can do, including fight wars. (Radical feminists have a different take on that, as discussed in the post on Second Wave.) But patriarchy establishes that men assert the desired quality and then the opposite is relegated to the feminine. Men are brave heroes and women are crazy bitches.

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One of the characteristics of this gender dichotomy is the idea of autonomy. Men are supposed to be free to come and go. High plains drifter. Papa was a rolling stone. The world is there for men to explore, block by block, continent by continent. Chart your own course, dude. Make your own dreams, homeboy. Hit the road, Jack Kerouac. In contrast females have a thick rule book to play by and are not supposed to be autonomous. They are supposed to be dependent little princesses, sitting around in their parents’ castle, singing, “Someday My Prince Will Come.” In my mom’s generation, women typically said yes to the first man that proposed to them because it was the only way to get out of the parents’ house. This was long before Sex and the City.

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Of course, any single mom now would laugh at this simple dichotomy but there are still vestiges of it around. When I was in college, there were plenty of women who would joke that their major was “pre-wed,” and they were in college to get their “Mrs. Degree.” There’s a Bible college south of Portland where the female students are still fond of saying, “Ring by spring or your money back.” For those women I would  require a viewing Mona Lisa Smile, the 2003 Julia Roberts movie. If your life is dedicated to finding a husband to take care of you, you are in for a sad awakening at around age 29.

I want Cozy to be autonomous. I want her to roam free and drive her own car, not sit in the passenger seat (or the backseat with the other guy’s wife). She roams the house and has only fallen down the stairs once. (Please don’t tell anybody.) Of course, as a parent I keep a close eye on her, but if she wants to play with her blocks or look at books, she can. We are trying to instill a sense of her own independence while keeping her safe from falling down a well. (Little girls falling down wells was a big fad in the late 1980s.)

Baby’s are generally the opposite of autonomous. If she’s headed for the street, I’m going to pick her up. If she’s munching on spilled coffee grounds, I’m washing her mouth out. If she’s trying to turn on the TV and it’s not Sesame Street time, I’m going to shut it off. And I am always taking something out of her hands. Sorry, kid, grown ups are in charge. But at the same time, she has to discover her own freedom. She can be a rolling stone as long as the door to the basement is closed.

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Andrea and I went to go see Madonna’s big Rebel Heart concert last week. At 57, she is a great example of what a woman can do when left to her own devices (and a dumptruck full of Botox). Madonna couldn’t have happened in the 1950s. She needed the feminists of the 1960s and 1970s saying that a material girl has the right to her own life and dreams, so go for it. Be like Susan in Desperately Seeking Susan, not Roberta. Or be like Roberta in the end of that movie. But get an education so you don’t have to keep all your belongings in a Port Authority locker in a bus station. (OK, there’s been way too much Madonna in this house since the concert.)

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Parenting is such a balancing act. The challenge of raising an independent child who doesn’t get mowed down by a drunk driver at a parade. It seems like our society is always trying to strike a balance between our freedom and our safety. On top of that, I don’t want Cozy to think she is some princess who’s singular dream is the arrival of Mr. Right to think for her once she leaves the nest. It’s nice to see the rejection of the princess thing by so many parents and girls. We don’t live in fucking medieval Europe. Unless she’s the mother of dragons, we are looking forward, babe. A rolling stone with roots, that’s what we want, not Repunzel. Besides, Cozy has already decided she is going to be a soccer star or a contractor. She can hire Prince Charming to manage her payroll.

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