My first two notes about the intsersection of parenting and gender revealed that I was typing out of my depth. I would like to try one more time, having read all of the comments and thought some more about it, if only to try, try again.
After my first post, there was a commenting consensus that I needed help. Some commenters believed that my writing intentionally obscured my thoughts because of my insecure ignorance of gender theory. Some commenters believed that my writing intentionally obscured my thoughts because I was a self-justifying misogynist. The truth is, I am a well-meaning boy feminist who wrote with insecure, inarticulate ignorance because he feared that being more explicit would, indeed, sound worse. How wrong I was! So I’d like to return, optimistically.
I am committed to women having full, substantive, equal social status with men. Politically, economically, socially. But moreso, I believe that there are very few if any traits that are essential to biological male and female as social beings. That is, I believe that concepts of gender, of man and woman, are socially constructed. That is, people and power relations made it up. I want to raise a family with a partner who also believes these things.
When I think about raising children with this partner, I am hopeful we will raise our children according to these commitments. Yet I also wonder and worry. I admit to a certain nostalgia for parenting images in my head – the games of dress-up, the playing with make-up, the braiding of hair, those Tonka trucks and little faces covered in shaving cream with pretend-beards. I am skeptical of this nostalgia, and attracted to it. Perhaps there is a reason for parents to know how to do certain things, to be able to teach these things – with the proper, problematized, distance. Perhaps there is a reason for me to want a partner who can do the “girl things” that I cannot do.
I still do not know most things. And some parents after those two early posts have told me I’ll be so busy keeping my children safe and healthy that I’d be lucky to have the luxury of worrying about this stuff. But I think I believe that some of those images are worth recreating – if the child, in a self-directed and authentic way, wants to recreate them – while teaching them that about gender and that they can be the person they truly are. And it is not – should not be – sex-specific. So I’ll learn to braid hair, even as I’m hopeful my partner can help me out. That’s what partners are for. And if my daughter wants to learn how to tie a tie, I can teach her. And if my son wants to learn about make-up – I hope I can be fluent in make-up, too.
A postscript – I’m reminded of this article in the NY Times – Supporting Boys or Girls When the Line Isn’t Clear. And Jill’s comments, here at Feministe.
A postscript – Increasingly, it feels like all of these concerns are with beauty norms – with boys looking like boys and girls with girls. Hence the illuminating discussion in the previous comments.
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