Guest Post By Sarah MacLaughlin, Author of the Award-winning Amazon bestseller, What Not To Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children
These days, depending on where you live, a metro-sexual, gender non-conforming male is commonplace. Even here in Maine, I see men with two earrings, for example, or eyeliner on a semi-regular basis. I even catch a glimpse of some nail polish from time to time. It doesn’t bother me at all. In fact it makes me smile. But is everyone comfortable with this? No. And why is that? No one worries when girls play with trucks, wear blue jeans, (seems “normal” now, doesn’t it?) or have short hair and play sports.
Here’s my one word answer: HOMOPHOBIA. In our generally misogynistic culture, it is more respected for women to express masculine traits than it is for men to present in any way as feminine. I have to think it has something to do with the fact that in our society women, femaleness, and femininity are just less valued. Our culture’s disregard of the “women’s work” of parenting continues to manifest in our total lack of paid parental leave. According to this article from Reuters, “Of the 190 countries studied in the report, 178 guaranteed paid leave for new mothers and nine were unclear about their maternity policies. Just three countries clearly offer no legal guarantee of paid maternity leave — Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the United States.” That is a truly sad standing for U.S. families.
A couple of years ago 1.5 million people clicked on blogger Nerdy Apple Bottom’s post, “My Son is Gay.” The article, about her five-year-old son dressing as Scooby-Doo’s Daphne for Halloween, made national news. As someone who wants to raise an emotionally literate, open-minded, feminist son, I read with rapt attention. You can read the post online here. The upshot of the post was that the boy’s costume was balked at upon his arrival at preschool for the annual parade. His attire was not called into question by the other kids, as had been his worry. No, it was the other moms who clucked their tongues and asked, “You let him wear that?”
All of this begs the question: Why are we so afraid? I am not worried by the possibility of my son being gay, with one exception: some people are so intolerant of homosexuality that because of this they would purposefully harm him. Even when we aren’t homophobic because we are afraid of homosexuality itself, we are homophobic because we are afraid of the discrimination, bias and downright hate it could bring.
Why do we continue to perpetuate the stereotypes that require our little boys to “suck it up” and “be a man”? If a child is gay, asking them to hide feelings will not make them any less gay. Don’t we want our children to be at ease with themselves? I am comfortable with my son’s honest expression of emotion. I want him to be fluent in the full range of human feelings.
When he was a toddler, my son discovered a pair of my grandmother’s old clip-on earrings. He was so excited to be able to actually try on a pair. I watched him shake his head back and forth, delighting in the sensation as they swung back and forth on his little ears. Even though they pinched a little, he refused to take them off until naptime. When he awoke, he asked to put them back on right away.
But before we headed into the grocery store, I told him that dress-up time was over. I soothed my own cowardice with a story about how I wouldn’t let a little girl wear such grown-up earrings in public either. The truth was I didn’t want him to get any dirty looks, or have some overbearing person say something to him about how boys don’t wear earrings. I guess I thought he was too little at the time to understand this—that it would be too hard to explain other people’s beliefs in a way that he would get it.
A couple of years later, a friend innocently posted a photo of her three-year old daughter’s freshly polished toenails. They shone bright pink above the caption, “Mother-Daughter Pedicures.” Oh Facebook, what a pot-stirrer you can be. This adorable photo (it was undeniably adorable) got me thinking. My son loves to dress-up, to wear play tattoos, to adorn. He has been known to cover himself from head-to-toe with washable markers. I just knew he would love nail polish. I went and bought a bottle of non-toxic blue polish at Whole Foods. (Was I chickening out again by getting blue? Maybe.)
After his fingers and toes were shimmering in “Mermaid Blue,” I casually told him, “You know, I don’t think so, but some people think that nail polish is only for girls and women.” When he asked me why, I told him I didn’t know—I might have said something about them being silly and misinformed.
Peggy Orenstein in her great book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, talks about informing kids of gender-biased marketing and broadening their perspectives about what it is to be a boy or a girl. She also tells a hilarious story about a child growing up in the 70s who was teased I his preschool classroom for wearing barrettes. The story goes that a boy repeated, “Barrettes are for girls,” and this proud barrette-wearing child informed him numerous times that he was –despite the barrettes— a boy, not a girl. Finally, because the teasing child would not be swayed, he pulled down his pants and hollered, “See, I’m a boy, I have a penis!” I’m hoping it won’t come to that with my son and the nail polish.
How do you fight gender bias and homophobia in your home? Please comment below!
Please comment on this post about gender bias and homophobia in your home. Your comment enters you in the eBook Giveaway — to win an ebook copy of What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children, in the format of your choice: PDF, epub, or Kindle format. Sarah will be giving away one copy at each blog stop and will announce it on the comments of this post tomorrow. Be sure to leave your email so we can contact you in case you’re the winner!
Other stops and opportunities to win during this Blog Tour are listed on Sarah’s blog here: http://sarahsbalancingact.blogspot.com/p/blog-tour.html.
Also, you can enter at Sarah’s site for the Grand Prize Giveaway: a Kindle Touch. Winner will be announced at the end of the tour after July 15th. Go here to enter: http://sarahsbalancingact.blogspot.com/p/blog-tour.html
About The Author
Sarah MacLaughlin has worked with children and families for over twenty years. With a background in early childhood education, she has previously been both a preschool teacher and nanny. Sarah is currently a licensed social worker at The Opportunity Alliance in South Portland, Maine, and works as the resource coordinator in therapeutic foster care. She serves on the board of Birth Roots, and writes the “Parenting Toolbox” column for a local parenting newspaper, Parent & Family. Sarah teachesclasses and workshops locally, and consults with families everywhere. She considers it her life’s work to to promote happy, well-adjusted people in the future by increasing awareness of how children are spoken to today. She is mom to a young son who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice about What Not to Say. More information about Sarah and her work can be found at her site: http://www.saramaclaughlin.com/ and her blog: http://sarahsbalancingact.blogspot.com.