I don't often think about feminism or gender stereotypes unless confronted with news on either front. Today however, I was perusing facebook and saw a post that really got me thinking. Here is part of the post from my friend Sarah on feminism:
Reading her post brought up my own internal dialogue on feminism that I've been processing for years. What resonates for me right now as a mother of a pre-teen boy is that feminism shouldn't just be about female empowerment anymore. As Sarah points out, it's much more about tearing down harmful gender-assigned values.
However, before I point our finger at our flawed society, I think it's important to acknowledge that there is something to gender. You wouldn't have found me making this argument before I became a mother. My experience has left me irretrievably convinced that gender is in fact more than just a societal construct.
Eleven years ago when I discovered that I was going to have a boy, I was terrified. I was a single mom and knew nothing about what boys needed. I had no idea what to expect.
In college I had taken classes in which we debated the influence of nature vs nurture, and I had come to the conclusion that gender was a completely nurture based social construct. I was sure of it.
I was sure of it that is, until my son taught me differently. Oh, I was going to give him every opportunity to be his gender neutral self - I dressed him in gender neutral clothing, provided him with gender neutral toys, and played with him in a gender neutral fashion. Before he was old enough to protest or know the difference, I even snuck him into a mother-daughter tea by dressing him up as a girl. I kept him away from all media, and none of the other caregivers he had in his life pushed him towards boy things.
And yet, from the moment he could control his limbs he propelled himself towards all things boy. He liked balls and trucks and trains. He seemed to care briefly for his baby doll, but was riveted for hours playing with tigers, dinosaurs and cars.
To put the final nail in the coffin, when my son was eight months old my sister had a little girl. My sister didn't dress her little girl in pink or embrace any of the stereotypical girly nonsense. And yet, just as my son gravitated towards all things boy, so my niece gravitated towards all things girl. Before long I had to admit that my theory was wrong. Gender wasn't just a societal construct after all.
It's been interesting to see my son enjoy and embrace his masculine nature as he's grown up. As he naturally gravitates towards stereotypical masculine pursuits, I've received a big lesson in acceptance and tolerance.
To deny my son his exuberant boyness would be just as cruel as denying an effeminate boy his tenderness.
Which is not to say that my son does not have tenderness, or that a more effeminate boy does not have boyness.
And in this lies the true lesson for all of us as we evolve past the dark ages of sexism into a new realm of acceptance.
Nobody is all masculine or all feminine. We all hold traits of both, just in varying degrees. Accepting this yin-yang nature of our gender is the key to becoming whole, both as individuals and as a society.
I have often thought that the problem with feminism is that there was no corresponding counterpart for men. Men are not supposed to wear skirts or makeup, are teased for being vulnerable, and generally pushed to only embrace the masculine aspect of their nature.
I've also observed that women are increasingly being pushed to become more masculine. They are expected to be career-focused, discouraged from being too emotional, and more and more female media characters are strong, brawny warrior types.
It may be that the new wave of feminism will be less about pushing for women to have the right to be equal to men, and more about embracing femininity in both men and women.
And I hope that there will also be a corresponding movement for embracing the masculine. I'm not sure if this exists already, and if it does if there is a term for it. Masculism perhaps? And at first this might look a lot like feminism did, with men fighting for the right to be feminine. But eventually I hope that the two will come together and that we will all feel completely comfortable with both the masculine and feminine inside all of us.
7/1/2014 06:03:49 am
oh my gosh that picture of C. and L. is ADORABLE.
7/1/2014 06:38:35 am
Thank you Maggie! I think parenting is so eye opening. I am constantly learning new lessons, the primary one being to be humble about what I think I know. :)
7/1/2014 06:31:33 am
I wanted to respond to a comment I received on facebook from a woman who read this post and was obviously upset by it. She said, "Just because your kids chose things that are traditionally male (in the case of your son) and female (in the case of your niece) does not equal that gender is not a construct."
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Since becoming a mom to a little boy with Trisomy 21 I have written a lot about Down syndrome and disabilities. I am a storyteller, wife and mom to a teen and a toddler. Life is busy!