Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Gift that Keeps Giving

They say mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery. When my son points his finger in my face and sternly tells me, "That's enough. And don't do that again," I should be flattered, yes? Likewise, when Owen tells Joel to "Stop squealing like a little girl," Paul should feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

I don't think there's anything wrong with squealing like a little girl. I've done it once or twice. Paul, however, does not like it when Owen's shrieks send dogs a 'howling. Hence, the slightly misogynistic admonishment to avoid shrieking like the aforementioned "little girl." And now, the torch has been passed, and Owen has passed on the message to Joel that being a little girl is a bad thing.

Way to go, Paul.

There is, I suppose, a reason that feminists have earned a reputation as humorless. I should just blow this off, instead of taking the time to think and write about the topic. But, as the only woman in this family ship, I feel the need to stay vigilant, heading off any misconceptions about gender roles before they become cemented into fact.

I know the real work comes not in words, but in actions. If I want the boys to see women as equal partners in a relationship, Paul and I need to show that partnership. I think we do a good job in that respect---Paul watches the boys when I go to work, and when we're both home, we're both changing diapers, preparing meals, wiping floors, and playing with the kids.

More importantly, though, we speak kindly to each other. We try to see the other perspective. We remember that words and body language matter.

The bottom line is, the boys don't give a rip about either of our careers, our dreams, or our aspirations. They just want us to be around and present for them. Yet, if we model the way that men and women should treat each other, we're giving them more than our time---we're giving a gift to them, our future daughter-in-laws, and our future grandchildren.

It doesn't hurt to make Owen do some traditional "woman's work," either:

Those walls can get filthy. Good thing Owen is able to vacuum them. Do I get bonus points for the toy kitchen? Laundry: The Gift That Keeps Giving...And, he does windows, too!


Paul said...

A small distinction here. Based on what you've said, I don't think Paul is telling your boys that being a girl is a bad thing. I would join you in decrying that. What he's telling your boys is that it is not appropriate for them to act like girls. I agree completely with this effort. Boys should act like boys. There are different behavioral standards for boys and girls.

Now the topic becomes whether or not a particular behavior is a) truly gender-based, and b)undesirable simply because of the gender stereotypes associated with it.

I've probably told my sons not to scream like girls. More accurately, what I meant to say was that screaming makes Daddy want to break some or all of the child abuse laws. Please stop. Immediately. For. Your. Own. Good.Likewise, I'm sure I have or will tell my daughter that she shouldn't be rude or overly rough or insensitive like her brothers. Again, the argument can be made that this particular example is more about behavior in general, not just gender-stereotyped behavior. At another level though, my rational is based on experience in gender differences.

I believe that boys and girls are hard-wired differently. I believe that this difference informs our assumptions and stereotypes (both the good ones and the bad ones), not visa versa. Boys will be boys. Girls will be girls. Gender matters in fundamental ways that we aren't even close to understanding, and that some folks refuse to accept.

Nancy Campbell said...

It warms my heart to know that the blog is being read, and that it hits a nerve, one way or the other.

I agree with much of what you say. Joel is not even a year old, and yet he delights in wrestling with his brother, laughs when he toots, and is hard-wired to be rough and tumble. My grandma would call it "all boy."

I guess my sticking point is that Paul was attempting to shame Owen by telling him that he was behaving like a little girl. Yes, the behavior was the issue, but the implied insult was "like a girl."

Throughout my childhood, I was admonished to "act like a lady," but I was never told to "Stop hitting like a little boy," or something of that ilk. Have you said something along those lines to Mika?

Exception: I was once told by my softball coach, that I "Threw as good as a boy." That, of course, was a compliment.

What I'm trying to say is that in a world that is traditionally run by men (and I'm not debating the good or bad of that), the threat of being "like a little boy," does not carry the same emotional baggage as being a "little girl," or a "sissy," for a boy.

Of course, this is just my experience. I welcome your thoughts, and the thoughts of others.

The bottom line, and I hope the key point of the blog is this: parents have the responsibility to model mutual respect between men and women by having healthy marriages.

Paul said...

Hi Nancy - always glad to engage in thought-provoking discussions!

The implied insult is not actually "like a girl", meaning that a girl is a bad thing. But the implied insult (or explicit) has to do with acting inappropriately for one's gender. A girl acting like a girl is perfectly fine. However, a boy acting like a girl is another matter.

Interesting how you didn't encounter the reverse growing up (or at least remember it!). Perhaps that's more a reflection on your personality and 'genderfication'. In other words, were you a 'tomboy' (a good example of how girls are discouraged from acting overly boy-like)? Or were you more feminine? Softball? Hmmm.

I think girls have traditionally been dissuaded from being too boy-like or man-like. Being called a 'tomboy' is one such example - girls aren't traditionally expected to like the dirty, reckless, sweat-inducing fun of little boys. However, this has changed somewhat over the past 40 years (not accidentally, either). Women have been admonished to avoid the man's world of working outside the home - at least until people figured out that there was more money to be made if women ignored this advice. One of the things I find most painfully ironic about the whole feminist movement is that the result was the further glorification of traditionally male-oriented occupations and realms, and the further disparagement of traditional female roles. Only this time, the disparagement comes from women themselves. Talk about a crappy deal!

All this being said, I agree with your overall point. Mothers and Fathers have an immense duty in demonstrating the proper treatment of one another. I am confident this is one of the primary reasons why God structured family the way He has. Which leads to a whole raft of other, less-directly-related-but-equally-fascinating-conversations.

Thanks for humoring one of your readers ;-)

Nancy Campbell said...

Okay, so you totally nailed that I was a overall-wearing, softball playing product of the Seventies. I still identify with Scout from __To Kill a Mockingbird___ more than any other literary character.

I also agree that my generation has seen how our mothers (not mine, specifically, but metaphorically speaking) attempted to do it all---work, home, etc.----only to be emotionally and physically depleted. Many of us reject that notion. I know I do.

I hope that it can be seen as a deeply feminist act to consider options and make the choice that is best for one's circumstances. In my case, primarily staying at home, with writing and teaching outlets, works for me.

Of course, Paul and I have made some tough decisions to make that reality work for us.

I could go on, because you raise many interesting points, but I'll stop here. Thanks for the dialogue.

Paul said...

Oooohhh...the tantalizing prospect of more meaty conversation! I'm salivating already - but I'll behave (and grab a napkin).

I'm all for equality - but my definition of equality between men and women is centered not on what we do, but rather on who we are as sons and daughters of the King. It is our status as created beings that makes us equal and valuable - not what we do with our lives. Our Founding Fathers were wise enough to state this fact in the Declaration of Independence. The Christian understanding that it is our created nature that gives us worth and equality is the basis of our nation's assertions about human rights. Pretty amazing, since we're a 'non-Christian nation' - to paraphrase one or more of our currently elected officials. Hmph.

It is more than deeply feminist to know oneself - it is deeply human. I pray that more women and more men lead examined lives that better help them understand not only who they are, but whose they are!

And yes, it's certainly easier to make these sorts of arguments (though not necessarily any less true!) when we have been afforded the ability to make choices. I pray for those who don't have such choices.