Having kids has made me super sensitive to the things people say and do. The word “retarded,” for example, grates my nerves worse than ever now. I know Anya’s apraxia isn’t exactly a huge developmental delay, and her speech is getting better all the time, but the fact is I’ve spent the past few years getting funny looks from strangers because my daughter is big for her age yet has the speech capabilities of a younger child. I want to slap people who use “retarded” to describe a long line or an irritating coworker or a new sitcom. Words can hurt.
I’m not innocent of the casual slurs, either. I tend to cast aspersions on the size of a man’s genitalia based on the speed with which he departs from an intersection, and I have said “because he’s a man” in response to questions about why my partner/my father/some random male acts against a woman’s wishes. I’m trying hard to clean up my language.*
And yes, there are differences between men and women. Duh. But there is a difference between noting these differences and male bashing. Just as I am even more of a feminist since I gave birth to a daughter, I am ever sensitive to negative male stereotypes since I gave birth to a son.
I am not one for strict gender stereotypes, obviously. I am the breadwinner and the major decision maker in my household. My partner has long hair, and his favorite article of clothing is a skirt — a manly skirt, but a skirt. So, you know, we’re not all he-man/girly girl around here.
But I’m not sure how he (or the rest of the males in our family) will like the fact that I bought his son a doll for Christmas.
Look, the boy loves dolls. And his sister is not sharing hers. Most of her dolls are for ages 2+, anyway. So when he found a doll for babies while we were shopping for his sister, I bought it. It’s cute — a soft-bodied doll with a rattle in it. It’s even kind of unisex — instead of being dressed in pink, it’s “wearing” an orange sleeper. And when he saw it, his little face lit up. So Santa got it for him, and anyone who can’t deal with that can just take it up with Mama Bear here.
I am not planning on wearing a different parenting hat for my son than I do for my daughter. My goal is to raise children who are kind, honest, responsible people who are proud of who they are and who never feel ashamed to come to me about anything. That’s a pretty universal message, I think — no need for color coding. I do not believe that “boys will be boys” is a viable excuse for obnoxious, immoral, or dangerous behavior. The only thing I think not having a penis truly prevents my daughter from doing is writing her name in the snow without messing up her shoes. Sexual consent is not a lesson that only my daughter needs to learn; I don’t want either of my children to rape or be raped.
And there’s more. Always more. A million little assumptions and stereotypes and prejudices that make up our everyday experience. Each day I uncover another one.
I expect my son to do more around the house than earn a paycheck and do yard work. And if he provides me with grandchildren, I fully expect him to do his fair share of child care. Dolls allow children to pretend to care for a baby. So why shouldn’t my son play with one?
If I don’t teach my children to buy in to the sexist rhetoric I grew up with, perhaps they will have the chance to overcome it.
At the very least, if I can deal gracefully with the blowback from making unpopular decisions, I will be providing them an example of how to be true to themselves in the face of adversity.
*I am, in fact, far more concerned about slips like this than I am the occasional (or not so occasional) f-bomb. If the worst thing to come out of my child’s mouth is the word “fuck,” well, I’ll take that as a sign that I win as a mother.