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Misogyny/Misandry in Threes

merging_gender.jpgI usually sit on the sidelines when it comes to gender politics. And yet, sometimes things get under my skin. In the last few days, three things have prompted a sensitive reaction from me.

[1] Last night I was reminded of the rather common viewpoint that young girls with special needs are "victims" who "can't help it" whereas the boys are "bullies" who "need to be taught to behave."

I've talked about this before, typically when connected to age of diagnosis. After all, a meek female who is quietly suffering in the back of a classroom because of stimuli sensitivity isn't going to garner the same attention as a young boy who lashes out physically because of the same sensitivity. The boy is a problem, whereas the girl is not. Schools will eliminate the problem that is most disruptive to the class rather than also identifying kids who need assistance because they are silent and withdrawn.

Ultimately, this ends up hurting both: it hurts the boy because his behavior is being seen as being completely in his control, and it hurts the girl because she doesn't get the help she needs until she is much older.

I have plenty of other thoughts about how the parents of such boys are viewed versus the parents of the "poor females," but I'm sure you can guess them. Ditto on the whole fine line between excuses ("can't help it") versus high expectations. Each child - male or female - is different, and it does a disservice to think otherwise.

Last night's reminder of the gender differences in special needs was surrounding a much more minor issue than usual on this front, and I'm not "in the middle" of it, but it opened up an old wound.

[2] My son had his hair cut short yesterday.

A few years ago, my oldest son decided that he wasn't comfortable showing his ears. He grew out his hair over his ears, and then wanted to continue growing it. He didn't want bangs. Every so often, I'd trim it for him, but he was always very sensitive about having me not cut off "too much." He wanted to make sure his ears were covered, and he enjoyed having the hair touch his neck. I'd ask him if he wanted it shorter, but never pressured him. I told him that we'd do what he was most comfortable with.

Meanwhile, other people did pressure him. Relatives talked about how he needed to get a "proper boy's haircut" as if it would be a complete tragedy if anyone possibly thought he was - gasp! - a girl! One person actually sent me money with the request that I use the money to get him a decent haircut. Not only was this insulting from a financial perspective (no, not getting a short haircut wasn't because we are poor - and/or was this a bribe?) but also because it effectively told my son that he wasn't accepted for his appearance. I sent the money back.

[If I had a daughter with long hair, would my relatives pay me to have her cut her hair? If I had a daughter with short hair, would my relatives complain and insist she grow it long? Or, would her hairstyle choice be seen as her choice?]

I remember all of the controversy last year about the family keeping their child Storm's gender a secret. Many people thoughtfully considered how the family would react if Storm leans towards his or her stereotypical gender role. Indeed, it is an interesting consideration, since ultimately being respectful of choices includes if that person wishes to pursue societal norms.

By that logic, I should be okay with my son having long hair, and I should be okay with my son having short hair. And so, for three years when he wanted it long, I supported him. And when he decided recently that he was ready to go back to having short hair, I supported him in that decision, too.

I'm frustrated that to be a "strong woman" essentially means to be more masculine, and yet even showing male characteristics isn't accepted completely. I dislike how "men can be assertive" while if a woman behaves in a similar manner, she is seen as "bitchy" or "aggressive." I've had firsthand experience where I've done something exactly like a male colleague only to get reprimanded while the colleague was seen as a bold risk-taker.

Relevant here is that it is considered OK for a woman to wear pants or have short hair because they are "trading up" to the "more powerful" gender, while it is not OK for a man to wear a dress or to have long hair because "why would someone want to be perceived as weaker?" Every time someone criticized my son's choice of hairstyle, they were criticizing him and they were essentially criticizing women. (Many also criticized me, as if I was forcing him to have long hair, which I was not. Showing support is different than forcing values on someone else.)

All my life I've gone through phases with my appearance: combat boots versus dainty sandals, flannel shirts versus frilly blouses, long blonde hair versus short red hair. Why should it be different for my boys? I want them to be comfortable with who they are and how they choose to present themselves to the world appearance-wise.

[3] Over the weekend, my boys made it clear that because I am a woman, I am expected to be the one who cleans, while it is OK for males to be messy.

I've tried to teach my boys to pick up after themselves, but they aren't perfect, mainly because they are still kids who get easily distracted. My older son is better at cleaning up than my younger son is, but when I addressed them about being even more vigilant, they gave me a gender excuse, citing their father's messiness as proof that it was okay for them to not pick up after themselves.

Other stereotypical roles have come to light recently, too - such as the teacher who was horrified because she believed I had gone back to work so couldn't volunteer in the classroom (I had always been working, even when I took the time to do school duty.) Why the assumption that the women should volunteer? Why the assumption that it is the mother who helps with homework?

And last night when I watched my DVR'ed Dance Moms, of course I cringed when dance director Abby Lee Miller reprimanded a woman for daring to be at work rather than attend her daughter's dance rehearsal.

Why are men not similarly chastised if they cannot juggle all the balls of extra-curricular activities, volunteering in class, and so forth? (And oh yeah, why is it the mom who must have been lax about discipline to cause the problem in [1] or whose pressure must have been the reason a boy didn't get a haircut in [2]? Why are the fathers considered innocent bystanders in all this?) In fact, men who volunteer are put on a pedestal, and are seen as being saints for "babysitting" their own children to "allow" the [selfish, lazy] women to have a "girls' night out," while it is perfectly acceptable for guys to go out and do their thing even with children at home.

[I give credit to a teacher who recently addressed both me and my husband instead of just me. It made me feel happy that he was treating us both as parents.]

I don't rant about this gender stuff often, but when I do, it hits deep.

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[Above graphic from an interesting color study by realitypod]

Comments (3)

Nicole:

Where's the photo of the short hair? :) Great points. I have to admit I sometimes enjoy when people think the kid scoring all the goals on Keegan's soccer team is a gril :) It was really funny yesterday, though, when he saw a picture of the back of his hair and was surprised how long it was. He's a smart kid, never cuts it, but for some reason expected it to remain about shoulder length :)

Yes, yes, and yes. This stuff is ingrained so damn deep.

Yep. That kind of thing drives me nuts - and there are even dads out there who have told me that they're "babysitting" tonight - their own kids!

Ridiculous.

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