On the heels of my revelation about what it means to be a feminist mother, Nerdy Apple Bottom posts the most heartbreaking example of the principle in action. The short version (and I very strongly suggest that you read the piece if you hadn’t already) is that her five-year-old decides that he wants to be Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween and catches flak not from his friends at school, but from their parents.
Her experience is case in point that you don’t have to call a kid a fag and knock him down for him to get the message that his behavior or gender presentation is “inappropriate”: clucking about how cruelly other kids will mock him sends the message pretty clearly. Furthermore, it sends the tacit message to other kids that bullying and taunting are things that will naturally happen, and that the victim is responsible for provoking the bullies.
This is something that I have struggled with and still struggle with within my own family. When I was pregnant with my oldest son, I decided that I didn’t want to find out his sex. It was in part because I wanted it to be a surprise, and in part because I wanted to be able to literally shield him from the cruelty of binary gender with my body until the time he was born.
I know that that sounds very liberal-artsy to say, but gender was very difficult in my family. For much of my life, I was considered highly inappropriate because I just didn’t fit into my family’s vision of what a daughter should be. I consider myself lucky that I was a resilient kid; my brother had it a lot harder than I did. At least in my family, gender non-conformity was punished far more harshly in boys than in girls. So it was no surprise when my father went totally spastic: What will they do if people give them pink stuff and the baby is a boy?
Never mind that there is a whole spectrum of colors from which people can choose. No matter that a baby could not care less what it is wearing. The worst possible thing was that a person might think that a boy–who was not even born yet, and certainly had no idea that he was a boy–is a girl.
I know that some day I am going to have to teach my children to stand up to bullies on the playground. But first, I fear that I’m going to have to learn to stand up to the bullies at home.