Great Gender Expectations

Wrong is relative: If you’re two and wearing rented ski boots, I’m betting there’s just not much difference in the left and the right.

From the back seat:

Mbot: “I saw a girl that looked like Gbot.”

Me: “What made her look like Gbot, Bug?”

Mbot: “She had hair that was long and had curls like Gbot. (Giggle) She looked just like a boy!”

Just the day before, I’d been reading writer/teacher/blogger Kate Hopper’s new book, Use Your Words:  A Writing Guide for Mothers, in which the mother of two–one born dangerously early–dispenses practical, invaluable, and hardwon advice on the craft of writing and the art of balancing writing and mothering. She includes superb excerpts from her own writing and that of many (m)others–the bibliography reads like the guest list of my dream toddler group; I’d had no idea the genre outside the blogosphere was so rich.

But the one that came to mind after Mbot’s comment was “Pretty Baby,” in which memoirist Catherine Newman introduces her son, a boy whose favorite color is bright pink, and whose favorite outfit “involves a floral-printed t-shirt with fuchsia velour sleeves, and the pants…from the magenta-striped terry cloth that Ben picked out from Jo-Ann Fabrics.” The essay is the most articulate, funny, searing argument I’ve read for abolishing the expected gender-specific appearances and behaviors that have a stranglehold on the majority of our society–and abolishing them from Day One. Because Day One is when children start to learn. And they learn from us.

Mbot’s observation from the back seat is proof enough for me that I have taught him–however inadvertantly–that long, curly hair is for boys. And now it’s my responsibility to teach him tolerance: that we don’t laugh at girls who have long blond curls like a boy.

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