Monday, November 23, 2015

Feeling All the Feelings

My woman brain won't let me write a post. Okay, I'm sort of kidding, but after reading two books that insist that women's brains are inherently different from men's--wired for emotions, wired for caution--I think I'm starting to believe it.

Seriously, though, I haven't been able to finish a post to put on this blog. I missed my deadline yesterday, and now, here I am typing a placeholder post, just so I don't feel like a complete failure.

I got stuck for a few reasons. One, I read two books that were so full of gender nonsense that my brain got scrambled. Two, I read a great first-person article on Vox that got me thinking about race and gender and the intersection of the two and the fact that I have an interracial marriage and an interracial child, which is something I rarely think about, and, wait, why don't I think about it more? Three, I started to really doubt my ability to say anything meaningful, a feeling that only made me wonder if I really do have a stupid female brain that is keeping me from succeeding by constantly undermining me with self-doubt.

Obviously, I've got a lot of stuff going on. I'm a thinker. I'm an overthinker. So, at least now you know what you're getting into if you follow this blog. I will think stuff to death. But I'll try to do it on my own time and only give you the edited version.

I'll leave you with a quote from that Vox article, "I Never Noticed How Racist So Many Children's Books Are Until I Started Reading to My Kids" by Leigh Anderson:

The YA writer Shannon Hale notes that when she speaks at school assemblies, the administrations often will grant girls permission to attend her lectures, but not boys. For male authors writing books with male protagonists, the school will allow both boys and girls to attend. Hale writes: "[T]he idea that girls should read about and understand boys but that boys don't have to read about girls, that boys aren't expected to understand and empathize with the female population of the world...this belief leads directly to rape culture." It's not a far leap to imagine that white children reading only about white children will stunt their empathy for people of other races.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Zero Things I've Learned from Raising One Three-Year-Old Child with a Penis

It seems every few weeks an article titled something like "11 Things Only Parents of Boys Understand" pops up in my Facebook feed. These articles are often written by otherwise progressive people who for some reason don't see the problem with attributing their children's actions to their genitalia.

And, inevitably, I read these articles (why?!) only to find that I can relate to, at most, one or two items on the list. Yes, Jack loves Star Wars (mostly because I taught him to). But no, he doesn't give better hugs than girls (and why is that a competition, anyway?) or constantly want to wrestle. He loves to sit still and read one book after another--even chapter books--and he's only three. He loves to draw, sometimes for half an hour or more without stopping. Maybe he's the exception. Or maybe the world is full of exceptions and we should stop trying to make rules.

Raising one child (or even two or three) of one sex does not give anyone any special knowledge about all children of that sex. Jack is one special, wonderful little person, but he is an individual, and I have learned nothing from raising him that I can apply to all boys. If I based all my knowledge of boys on Jack, I would think they were all picky eaters who like to sing songs full of nonsense words and sleep on the wrong end of the bed. 

I think people feel compelled to write these articles for a couple of reasons (assuming they are not really into maintaining traditional gender roles for the sake of humanity). First, they are a little surprised when their children fit so well into the stereotypes they were once reluctant to accept. Second, when the parents are women who really wanted a girl or men who really wanted a boy, they feel the need to convince themselves that having the opposite of what they wanted is actually great--or even better than what they originally dreamed of.

I understand these urges. I'll admit, when I imagined having a baby, I always imagined having a girl. I felt like I understood girls better than boys. And why not? I used to be a little girl. But what I found was that Jack ended up being so much like me in temperament and personality that I had little trouble understanding him. It didn't matter that he was a boy.

Being in school has introduced Jack to the idea that he belongs to a certain gender called "boy," and he is very enthusiastic about identifying with this group. It's an instinct we all have--we gravitate toward the people that we understand to be most like us. It always surprises me, though, how many adults have not learned to move past this basic instinct. They automatically put Jack into a category because he has a penis, even though he doesn't fit into that category very well. I can't stop them from doing it. The best I can do is keep teaching Jack that he can love dancing and reading and art and Star Wars and soccer and dinosaurs and those things don't belong to either gender. They belong to everyone.

Coming up: Will I finish Strong Mothers, Strong Sons before it sucks the life force out of me? Will I manage to post more than one thing next week? Find out next time on Oh, The Iron Man.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

That's Just Super

The best way to begin is with superheroes. They saturate a little boy's life from birth. My son, Jack, knew superheroes' names before he knew their stories or watched or read about them. They were on his clothes, in his toy box, on our bookshelves. So when my husband said jokingly, about something or other, "Oh, the irony!" Jack looked at him quizzically. "Oh, the Iron Man?" Barely three, and he had already been indoctrinated.

The superhero tales that inspire huge nerd followings have story lines and illustrations filled with sex and violence. Female characters are all cleavage and half-exposed butt cheeks. Every wrong is righted with bloody (or weirdly bloodless) revenge. These are not the lessons my 3-year-old son needs to learn, and they are not the lessons I want to teach him. The problem is, I love superheroes and so does my husband. Everything from Ant-Man to X-Men is part of our pop culture lexicon. We could hardly wait to share these things with Jack because they mean so much to us. So how do I let my kiddo act out superhero stories without acting out (too much) violence, without learning the wrong things about women, without becoming one of those guys?

When Jack was about two, we started letting him watch a little TV. We stuck to PBS, because it was educational and appropriate. Right around that time, PBS premiered a show called Peg + Cat. The show's main character is a little girl named Peg who loves math, singing, and her hilarious sidekick, Cat. In some episodes, Peg becomes Super Peg, and along with Cat Guy, she protects the city of Mathtropolis from the Arch Villain, Triangulo, and other math-themed supervillains. I saw in this the superhero lessons I wanted Jack to learn: kindness, fairness, imagination, empowerment, fun. If only all superhero stories could be so toddler appropriate.

From there, it got harder. Now I spend a lot of time reminding him that we don't shoot people, or hurt people, or kill people. What I've realized, especially now that we're expecting our second child, is that I need to figure out how to raise Jack in a world that, for the most part, still wants boys to be something very different from what I want Jack to be.

Coming up on Oh, The Iron Man: I will stress about raising my little feminist so you don't have to (or don't have to as much). I'll spend all my time scouring the world of comic books and story books for little-kid-appropriate stories, preferably with strong female lead characters. And I'll read books I would never voluntarily read so I can better understand what I'm facing--for example, Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Lessons Mothers Need to Raise Extraordinary Men. If the title of that book makes you want to throw up, this is the blog for you.