Just so you know

All right. I have ideas. I think about stuff. So here is the spot for stuff I'm thinking about and want to be able to share more broadly and possibly promote. Like I have time for this.

Everything is provisional at this point and subject to change in the future - as far as the blog is concerned. In real life some things will remain unchanged.

Also, our children are not really named Lenny and Linus. We are not that cool.

Feel free to share, rant, disagree, but please remember that I'm an actual person who tries to be respectful. I'd love it if you are and do to.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Feminism and Sons: An introduction to My Journey

Not the bear with the offending glasses, but one very much like it.
There's no shortage of material on the internet about feminism.  Possibly there's even a glut.  More than any one person could process in a lifetime.  So now I will add my two cents to the conversation.  I'm on a journey and having started the post I realize that I'm not up to a good, systematic presentation right now.  So I'll just let you know where I started and try to give an idea of where I'm at right now.  Maybe I can even throw out a few conclusions that will help it make a little more sense.  Probably I will revisit the topic.

"They" (whoever they are) say that discussions on the internet don't change people's opinions.  Well, maybe I'm weird, or maybe I was headed in that direction anyway, but my ideas about feminism have changed substantially in the past....five years or so and much of what I think now has been influenced by reading blogs, news articles and more blogs.  Mostly I credit an "IRL" who likes to post links on Facebook and pin them on Pinterest.  Don't despair all you "sharers" with a cause.  Sometimes people pay attention.

So if you had asked me five years ago I probably would have said I was not a feminist.  I thought that people should be treated "fairly" and "equally" but I was OK with men and women having different roles.  (Especially in the church because doesn't the Bible say they should?)  I didn't think much about negative ways that gender roles impact society or individuals.  I had never heard of "rape culture."  I felt that valuing personal modesty was a positive way for me, as a woman, to interact with the world and that understanding the concept might help other women.

My views on all of this are different now.  I see feminism as a movement that promotes awareness of ways that gender roles have been used to limit and define people.  Not as an attempt to undermine or reject the value and beauty of motherhood or "traditional" family systems.  Rather it seems to be an attempt to recognize that a "one-size-fits-all" approach to how anyone of any gender should approach life is going to leave some people marginalized - alone and hurt.  Also, I see something about power dynamics.  But not the "women grabbing for power" that I might have assumed to be the driving motivation in the past.  More the "giving men and women the power to make healthy decisions about their own lives" kind of dynamic.  (I think the Bible says something different than I thought it did about this too, but that's a huge topic for another day.)

I'm still figuring lots of this out.  It seems fairly simple from the personal application end, though.  I don't need to go out and get a job to be a feminist.  I don't have to change how I dress or where I go.  I just need to embrace the idea that who we are is not determined by our gender.

But when it comes to interacting with my sons I feel.... confused..... unprepared... unsure of how to proceed.  Now before someone jumps on me for singling out sons I will say that I only have sons.  I can imagine that if I had daughters I would be facing a similar struggle.  But after some thought I have decided that it is important to say that my children are boys because society does send different messages to boys and girls.  They face different pressures.  The cost of personal expression is different for them and the consequences of not learning some of the lessons of feminism could be quite different.

So.  Why am I so confused?  Some examples:

Clothes.  Baby boys wear blue.  Everybody (it seems) wants to know if the baby is a boy or a girl and they want clothes to clearly tell them this.  I go right along with this demand.  I am not ready for my baby or toddler to deal with the confusion of hearing "Oh, she's so beautiful!"  This happened when Lenny was younger.  Even with what I thought were unambiguous clothing choices.  What can I say?  They were right about the beautiful part.

But why do I care?  It would not be bad if he was a girl.  People we happen to meet in public could interact with my babies and toddlers all day long without knowing their gender and it would not make one single ounce of difference - would it?  Should it?  What message am I sending to my boys by making sure their clothes fit the socially expected standards?

When Lenny got a little older he noticed that girls get the best clothes.  More variety.  More sparkles.  Just plain more.  I acknowledged this.  I get frustrated that retailers seem to totally ignore the fact that little boys might want to have some of the "costume" dressing options that little girls have.  But I do not take my little boy into the girl's clothing section and let him pick out items that he likes.  I am not ready to help him navigate that social swamp.  I would be up to my neck in no time.

On a related note:  grooming.  Lenny hates to have his fingernails cut.  He doesn't like the feeling of the exposed skin that was just covered by nail a few moments before.  We've had some epic battles about this, but now he tries to reason with me.  "You have long fingernails, why can't I?"  Sometimes I tell him that it's because he's little and doesn't always keep his hands clean and that germs can easily live under fingernails.  Other times I tell him the truth from a social point of view "Most people feel that it's OK for girls to have long fingernails, but not boys.  I don't know why.  They just like it better that way."

As a kindergartener Lenny is looking for these types of patterns.  He wants to know what defines girls and boys, women and men.  He wants to know how they relate to each other.  He brings home a picture he drew of a girl in his class who he's "falling in love with."  He tells me that he kissed another little boy in his class on the hand.   He says he wishes he could marry his baby brother.

Lenny has been working his way through a book I bought him - tracing letters, numbers, pictures.  He wants to get to the maze section at the back which looks like the most fun but he feels he should do all the other pages first.  He gets to a page with a cute little bear with glasses.  Somehow the picture communicates the fact that the bear is female.  He says, "I don't like this picture."

I ask, "Why not?"
"Because of the glasses," he tells me.
"What's wrong with the glasses?"
"She shouldn't be wearing glasses.  They aren't pretty."
"But Grammy wears glasses," I remind him.  "Isn't she pretty?"
"Yes," he says, struggling to articulate, "but we don't love her in that way."
"In what way?"
"You know..." He's frustrated.  I should get this.  "Because of being pretty."

It went something like that.  I don't remember exactly.  I was tired and just holding up my end of any conversation was work.  But that's a really normal part of parenting for me right now.  Most often I ask questions, try to find out what he's really thinking.  Sometimes I add more information or a different perspective.  This time I did not say, "People with glasses can be pretty."  Or "we should love people because of who they are, not what they look like."  I just let it go.  I hope that these are lessons that he will learn from watching my husband and I.  I know that what we do will be as important as what we say.

Other examples:  toys, activities, attitudes toward aggression.  Nobody has time to read what confuses me about these topics.  At least not all in one post.  

I feel that like most of parenting I'm probably getting some of this wrong.  I feel pretty confident about a few choices we've made as parents.
  • Like telling our sons that what Mommy does (staying home to take care of them) is just as important as the "work" that Daddy does (being a professional astronomer and university instructor).  
  • We try to accept our sons for who they are and give them opportunities to explore ideas and activities that are interesting to them.  
  • We treat each other with respect.  We are a team.  Sometimes one of us takes the lead, sometimes the other one does.  It depends on who knows more about a specific area - or who is stronger at that specific moment - or who is available.  
  • We have a motto, "Different people like/do different things."  It applies to preferences (like food), culture, and choices people make relating to gender.  

We have one fast rule that I hope will help my sons be men who can make the world a better place while at the same time making them safer:  If you touch someone and they ask you to stop, you have to stop.  All they have to do is ask.  If someone touches you and you want them to stop, they have to stop.  All you have to do is ask.  No reason or explanation is needed.  Just stop.  It seems to me to be part of the feminist message about respecting others and allowing them to decide what works for them.

It's a work in progress.  Society won't change overnight and I can't figure it all out at once.  I'm listening and thinking and reading, though.  If you have thoughts - constructive suggestions - I'd love to hear them. 


  1. I typed out a long comment and then it disappeared :(
    The gist:
    Making a girl pretty and getting attention from boys still involves taking off her glasses. I don't know where Lenny might have seen it specifically though.
    We put baby in pink. I hate how everything people give us is blue. It bothers some people. Strangers usually assume he is a girl, but he's too young to know the difference and being mistaken for a girl is not a bad thing. I worry about when he gets older and it drawing negative attention to him especially with his disabilities. I'm also afraid he'll never be able to pick out his own clothes so we'll always be the ones choosing how he displays himself to the world instead of him.
    You are much too hard on your parenting choices/abilities!!!

    1. Sorry about the comment thing. If I ever start making money with the blog the first thing I will do is pay to have a better website. For now I have to make due with the free one. Bonus though - no annoying ads. From what I've read I'd need more hits to make that worth it.

      Who knows is right on the glasses thing! I don't wear them so it's not like he's heard "well I'm dressing up so I'll put in contacts" from me.

      Yeah, I take myself too seriously. Hmmm....