Sunday, May 31, 2009
Today we went off to a birthday party lunch for a gayboy friend of ours, and in honour of the occasion I dressed Louis in a t-shirt that says, When I grow up I want to be a princess.
We had planned to go to a playground en route to burn off a bit of energy, and Lovergirl took his T-shirt off and tucked it in the nappy bag. 'It's okay with our friends, but I don't want him getting teased in the playground for our sense of humour,' she said.
In the end it was irrelevant because we were running late and didn't make it to the park, so the t-shirt went back on, but I'm turning it over in my head.
How much gender role playing do we do with and to our children? How much gender role indoctrination is appropriate? There's a line, I think. I want the children to be proud of their sex - it's good to be a boy, it's good to be a girl. I think it's okay, even important, to have 'boy's things' and 'girl's things' - I like the idea of the 'Dangerous book for boys' & 'Daring book for girls' although I haven't actually read them. But I don't want them to feel they have to conform to gender stereotypes.
Cruising around the internet, I was reading another lesbian mum blog which made me feel a bit sad. I'd be hard pressed to find it again, but they described their two children as "all boy" and "a hundred per cent girl". Maybe they didn't intend it, but it sounded defensive to me - look at our PERFECTLY NORMAL children! No traces of gay-training here! I wrote a couple of days ago about creating my own pressure to be a 'perfect family', to demonstrate that lesbian-headed families are completely valid. I keep coming back to gender roles - what I'm modelling, what I'm teaching them. If I was in a relationship with a man, would I think so much about whether it is okay to dress Louis in girl's clothes? Will people think we are ashamed of his sex? That lesbians hate men therefore we are trying to emasculate our boychild?
Naturally none of these issues come up when we dress Pearl in overalls and little red t-shirts with trucks on them. She just looks cute and tomboyish.
We have good friends whose son was crazy about pink, and frills, and sequins, and glitter, until he started kinder. Then the kindergarten teacher spoke to a psychologist about her concerns, and called in the mums, and said he had to wear more appropriate clothes to kinder. I don't know all the ins and outs of the mothers' decision making, but they approached it with him by saying he needed a kinder 'uniform' (he had a big sister who wore a school uniform so that was okay) but he could still wear anything he liked at home. In the end he gradually grew out of the pink frilly stuff all by himself.
As they develop, I find it eerie to see just how much gender-stereotypical play Pearl & Louis are starting to engage in. It could just be coincidence, as Suze pointed out some posts ago. And it's not all-encompassing - Louis is crazy about trains, buses and motorbikes, but also loves flowers and putting on necklaces (he's particularly fond of pearls, but any shiny beads will do). Pearl carries a stuffed toy with her everywhere, and chases after Louis, shoving bits of food in his mouth - Louis, on the other hand, never tries to feed Pearl. However Pearl is the more physically active of the two, rarely sitting still, and also much more bossy.
In a few years my children will be wandering through all sorts of situations unmediated by my presence. Children can be cruel little reflections of their parents' bigotries without the thin veil of social niceties that stops most adults acting on their own prejudices. I don't want my children to be teased or bullied. But I want them to avoid this by being resilient and confident, not by being conformist.
I don't want my boy to feel shame about wearing pink, or girls' clothes. If he feels shame about doing things associated with girls, what is that teaching him about girls? About the validity of being soft and gentle? But also, I don't want my children to suffer because of my beliefs about how society should be.
One of the maxims I keep in the back of my consciousness is, If you want to live in a world without homophobia, act as if you already do. For me this means being out about my family in any situation where I would normally talk about my spouse and kids. No evasive partner tactics, or avoiding pronouns. A world without homophobia would also allow men and boys to wear pink, and aspire to be princesses, or train drivers, or princess-train drivers.