Sunday, July 30, 2006

On the raising of boychildren, who, inexplicably, often grow up to be men

Riffing off a conversation here: "Breaking the Cycle."

I can't tell you how many times I've witnessed a scene like this:

little boy, well under ten years old, crying; parent (sometimes dad but, I gotta say it, also sometimes mom) dragging him along by the arm, all the while scolding:

"Stop crying! What are you, some kind of -girl-?"

...or words to that effect.


In a bookstore. Older woman browsing the kids' section, catty-corner to where I'm browsing. picks up, I think it was, "Olivia Saves The Circus." cartoon, right? the woman's clearly torn by doubt; as people sometimes do, she starts sharing her thought processes with me, the stranger: basically, she needs to get a present for a little boy, but, oh dear, she can't get this, can she; it's for girls.

I say, no, just because it's got a girl as the hero doesn't mean it can't be for boys. that's supposed to be a good one. get it for him, why not?

more nervous laughs, sets it aside, heads away, no doubt in the section for "Teenage Mutant Ninja Testeroblobs Kill The Bad Guys" or something.

more recently, a similar encounter, Dad and little boy; little boy wants some book, Dad is adamantly (and rather harshly) trying to talk the kid out of even wanting it; that's "for girls."

i mean jesus fuck, you people. yes, we all know that too much tenderness or pink or sparkly things or (heaven-forbid) girl-positive stuff can make a boy a big ol' homo ("if I give yer mum the wool, will she make me one too?"); and, as we know, this is a fate worse than death.

but I mean. shame your boy for having any feelings except anger. refuse to get him anything that might allow him to identify with a girl. repeatedly say things that lead him to believe that being a girl is really shameful and icky, treat him harshly and even violently when he cries or shows weakness, thus showing that being vulnerable just gets you smacked, and deserved, too...

and then, when Sonny Boy grows up and is being hauled to court for abuse of the girlfriend, wring your hands, cast your eyes to the sky and wonder, why o why? where could he possibly have learned such behavior? he was such a good boy.



A White Bear said...

Ugh. The other day I was on the train behind a woman who kept screaming at her 3-year-old daughter: "Oh my GOD! Stop it! Stop that right now!"

3yod: But what am I doing wrong, mommy? I'm just sitting here!
Mom: Stop it! Oh my God, stop being... such a little BOY!
3yod: What am I doing wrong, mommy?
Mom: UGH! UGH! You are SO on my nerves. Why can't you be a little girl?
3yod: I am a little girl, mommy! What am I doing wrong?

etc. etc.

The weirdest part of living in NY for me is watching all these people who in other parts of the US would merely emotionally abuse their children in the privacy of their own home doing it in public in front of everyone.

belledame222 said...

I don't think it's just NY, based on my memories of the hometown supermarket, anyway.

how are you, btw?

Popess Lilith said...

It is awful, although I am still, decades later, enjoying the irony that all those who said I was acting like a girl or a pussy had no idea that I'd wind up living as a woman. :)

But can you imagine how brutal the honesty would be if a parent didn't simplify the issue? "Son, I'm not saying that you cannot enjoy reading about girls who save the day, and I'm not saying that you must play sports and pretend to blow things up. But you're going to get so teased about it...!"

belledame222 said...

Or even, for that matter,

"Never mind the haters. Go on, my son; we're behind you."

that, and intriducing the notion that girls and "girlie" types can, and perhaps should, on occasion, kick ass.

fastlad said...

when i was a boy in ireland it was the deeply disturbing first communion rituals that first tipped me off to this poisonous blue/pink fuckwittery: suddenly I was knee-deep in jon benets kitted out in their elaborate preteen wedding dresses (and just what the fuck was going on there exactly?)

i remember that they gave me the suit and tie of a middle aged accounts executive. I felt like I’d been shackled in irons. in every one of the photographs my expression suggests that i'm wearing a hair shirt.

i had enough smarts by the age of twelve to secure a gorgeously deep purple velvet frock coat for the ritual of confirmation; and in that way I finally announced my arrival, on my own terms, no one else’s.

belledame222 said...

damn, now I want a deep purple velvet frock coat

CrackerLilo said...

It really does get to me that little girls can read about little boys, but not vice versa.

It also gets to me how some people treat their children, in general.

belledame222 said...

Yeah. Even when it's not overtly abusive or anything; way too often, the kid is like a little sponge or wastebasket for all the parents' baggage. "Oh, thank goodness, a safe place to unload all this frustration and anger and impotence; they can't fight back uh I mean they need discipline. yes. discipline."

The Goldfish said...

My partner worked in a model shop, place that sold kits you build into stuff, mostly vehicles and stuff. A mother came in,

"I am looking for something like a tank or something similarly boyish for my lad. I am very worried about him lately, he's not interested in boys things. All he is interested in are wizards! He keeps wanting to dress up as one and everything."

Wizards for crying out loud. Clearly a deviant.

belledame222 said...


"I don't want you playing with that Harry Potter anymore, son; I think he plays for the pink team. And I don't like the sound of this "imagination." Here: play with a big square-y thing that represents war and death. And someday, maybe you'll grow up to be President."

Dan L-K said...

The frightening thing to me is how you don't have to be a complete asshat to be utterly stupid about this stuff; I've known several people who were otherwise more-or-less together with their lefty politics who would FLIP THE FUCK OUT if their wee infant son picked up a purse or a lace scarf, lest he get The Cooties all over him.

belledame222 said...

yeah, exactly.

or even how freaked out some people get if you god forbid mistake their weeks-old infant for the wrong gender. gender identity is so crucial at the preverbal, pre sitting-up stage, after all.

"Of course, she's a girl!? What's wrong with you? Behold her little lacy mittens, the elastic ribbon around her squishy head!"

Dan L-K said...

...And, by the way, how *facepalm* is it that something rooted so firmly in the tradition of boys' school literature is assumed to have the Girl Cooties?

Well, fantasy, I guess. Silly poofy unicorns-and-fairies stuff. Plus girls like to read them, and mighty Zeus forbid you ever find anything in common with them.

This world is stupid. Can I get another one?

belledame222 said...

Sure, I'll go halvesies with you. I hear Saturn is nice this time of year...

Alon Levy said...

I imagine if enough girls start liking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, parents will suddenly decide that their boys ought to play with Barbies more.

The most depressing thing is that it's nigh impossible to escape that even with parents who do have their shit together. I absorbed the boys-don't-cry crap pretty easily, even though I don't think I got it from my parents (at least my dad denies it...).

FoolishOwl said...

One of my most painful childhood memories is being told by my mother, repeatedly, that the reason bullies picked on me is that I screamed like a little girl, and that it made her so ashamed that she was tempted to hit me herself.

Most of my teachers, and the school administrators, kept asking why I didn't defend myself against the dozen or so older kids who would harass me daily. I learned to love libraries and librarians.

I wonder if part of my hangup about sexual relationships is that I both felt required to be masculine to be sexual, and yet associated masculinity with crude brutality that I rejected. The easiest way to deal with the contradiction was to avoid sexual relationships, much as I wanted them.

belledame222 said...

Thanks, FO. and you know, I don't know, but I'd bet that's not that uncommon among men, that damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't re "masculinity," or rather that particular pernicious cultural idea of what it's supposed to be.

Popess Lilith said...

My partner's mentioned the sad, sad day when my stepson came home from school and asked to swap his glorious long red hair for a buzz cut. When he moved out here and met my friend Selv, who has a long glorious mane of red hair, he was emboldened to grow it back out again. Now his paternal grandparents--in their 90s to provide some reference--are badgering him to cut his hair short again.

Oh, and he got "miss"-ed once, even though there's nothing in his demeanor or voice to suggest he's not male. True, he's not in the full grip of puberty yet, but he's got the posture and the vocal patterns down fairly well. If he were my FtM "daughter" I'd say he passes very well, and I'd be proud of him.

belledame222 said...

"Please adopt these broad cultural signifiers to make up for the fact that my observation skills are piss-poor."

emily said...

"Please adopt these broad cultural signifiers to make up for the fact that my observation skills are piss-poor."

Haha. It always amazes me how narrow and arbitary the boundaries of hereronormative masculinity are. For instance, black nailpolish = Goth, red = queer. Prior to beginning transitioning, tiny little things like wearing hairclips or bracelets meant the difference between strangers calling me faggot and not being fucked with at all. Of course, if a boy wears a skirt or dress and it is all over (unless it is clear by a performed desperate "hilarity" that this is a buck's night "prank")...

Txfeminist said...

been through this from both sides of the fence.... as a tomboy I got called Sonny all the time, and my son is a pretty-faced little boy who, while hasn't been called Miss, DOES like to dress up in his sister's purple Unicorn costume from time to time.... and/or her pink feather boa. Needless to say, I love that he is uninhibited and encourage both of them to play with whichever toys they want to: be it the erector set (no pun intended, har har) or the sparkleponies.

Seems to work out just fine. I don't know why parents get worked up about stuff like that.

Bitch | Lab said...

lord, it never, ever occured to me to say anthing remotely like tat to sonshine. I did often tell him to butch up, but i tell the same thing to the girls