Thursday, March 31, 2011

Masculinism in Parenting

The masculinist movement seeks to support the status of men when it is not equal to the status of women. Patriarchy hurts everyone. I think feminism is larger because the disproportionate treatment of women is easier to see in a patriarchal society. But men don't fair well either.

Our first "masculinist" parenting act was actually non-action: the non-action of circumcision. Just like keeping Margaret's genitals intact at birth, we kept Isaac's intact. Isaac's penis deserves the same respect as Margaret's vulva.

Since then, I've run into a few other masculinist teaching opportunities for Isaac.

The first couple were at church. While our ward is pretty good with equality in gender issues, it's still a patriarchal church. We can't avoid that at this point in time, and I pray that it'll change. But until then, I end up whispering to Isaac the little things I want him to hear.

The first was in a class where the lesson was about the priesthood. In standard Mormon apologetics, someone mentioned the "men need the priesthood because women are naturally more spiritual" nonsense. I understand where it's coming from: the desire to say, "I'm not left out, in fact I'm better than that and don't need it." It's very validating. But it's not true. I'm not better than McKay and he's not better than me. Isaac was sitting in my lap during this lesson and I turned him towards me and said, "Isaac, you do not need the priesthood because you were born less spiritual. You are just as spiritual as Margaret, as Daddy, as me. You are not spiritually deficient. Don't ever believe that you are." And at the ripe old age of 3 months, I hope he got some of that.

More recently he has been with me in my sunbeam class because he still nurses often. During Primary opening exercises one day, they were discussing scripture stories and suddenly someone said, "boy stories." "Boy" scripture stories are the violent ones: the ones with people being beheaded, de-armed, killed, raped, pillaged. Again, I turned Isaac to me and said, "You can love the stories of Jesus healing the people. You can love the stories of blessings and faith. There are no 'boy' stories."

This isn't limited to church, though. Last week in my de-cluttering spree, I got rid of all of Isaac's "camo" clothing. I honor and respect the men and women in our armed forces. It's a hard and unfortunate reality of being part of this nation. But I do not think that glamorizing violence and dressing our children (mainly boys) in war-centered clothing is respectful of those men and women, and it's not something that I want to promote. Pacifism knows no gender-bounds. So just like I try not to stereotype Margaret in her clothing choices, I try to do the same for Isaac.

I once wondered, as I put a blue shirt on Margaret, "It's so easy to be gender-neutral with a girl: put them in "boy" colors and give them "boy" toys. But would I do the same for a boy? Put him in "girl" colors and "girl" toys?"

Oh, yes.

 It's amazingly hard to find a picture where we actually see Isaac's diaper, but here are a couple which show his awesome pink diapers. And I have plans for making him a doll for his birthday this year.  He's worn skirts before, but I don't have any pictures of those.


  1. Wow, a lot of interesting things to think about. I've never heard the term masculinism before. But I know that boys deserve the same amount of respect as girls. And that we often hear the whole, "That's such a guy thing to do" or "Boys will be boys". (I sometimes find myself saying things like that.) It never did sit right with me either, about telling men that they get the priesthood because they need the extra help. And I guess we chose to keep our boys intact for similar reasons, too. The other day we had to get Bug some new Sunday shoes. He saw some pink Dora flip flops and immediately took them out and started putting them on. We had to tell him no, because we were there for Sunday shoes, and he had to try those on. But I asked my husband if he would be ok with our son wearing "girl" shoes. He wasn't sure. But I thought it was kind of cute. I'd like to think I wouldn't mind him wearing Dora flip flops in public.

  2. I just want to throw in a comment about gender stereotypes, particularly in regard to camo. I do my best to not push my kids into one type of toy or another, or one type of clothing or another... however, my kids seem drawn toward certain items. Perhaps it's culture, and perhaps it's something inborn, but I go ahead and get camo for my boys who love camo. My husband's mom never let him have camo anything, and he was always kinda bummed about it. It's one thing to not get it unless they ask for it, it's another thing to deny it to them if they do ask for it, you know? So we focus on military from Moroni's perspective--in defense of our families, faith, home, etc. We talk about the law of the jungle (kill only to eat or to protect your own life). I do think we are pacifists, but we're not anti-military or anti-camo either. ;)

  3. Jenni- I don't think it'll be completely forbidden if either of the kids ask for it, but while I get to be the maindresser, I think I'll avoid it. I definitely remember how unfair it was when my parents made certain rules about our clothing that seemed like they were rules just to have rules. Blech!

  4. I've been meaning to write a post about my fascination with the Men's Right's Movement but haven't had the time.

    I confess--I am totally okay with not ever dressing any of my kids in pink or letting them play with store bought dolls (I would definitely buy MamaAmor dolls for kids of any gender: ). But I worry sometimes that I'm being anti-feminine.

  5. Jamie8:58 PM

    Is it okay if I beg to differ just a little?

    I'm 110% on board with not circumcising, and I agree with the whole Priesthood thing. Men and women/boys and girls are equal, but DIFFERENT.

    I have a hard time wrapping my head around dressing a boy in girl's clothing. I think the feminine and masculine differences in appearance are a good thing. I think it's a problem that the line between male and female is getting thinner and thinner. OF COURSE I believe in equal rights but we were created differently for good reason.

    I have a 4 year old son and a 2 year old daughter. I can tell you without hesitation that they both naturally gravitated to the typical "male" and "female" toys, without any pushing from me either way. My daughter has had full access to all of her brother's toys, but always chooses the baby dolls and even loves to "nurse" them. Maybe they just see the natural roles of mom and dad and gravitate to that? I don't know.

    Maybe I misunderstood what you were trying to say, I don't know. I do see some of the points you were trying to make but I also think it's okay to raise little girls as such, and little boys as such.

  6. I don't know if I agree with one aspect of this post.

    "While our ward is pretty good with equality in gender issues, it's still a patriarchal church. We can't avoid that at this point in time, and I pray that it'll change."

    I think the church's organization is set up the way the Lord wants it to be set up. I don't think it will change because the world gets more progressive or awesome-feminisimy. Does that make sense? While I am not anti-feminism, I take feminism with a skewed eyeball because so much of it is focused on bringing down men. And also, The Proclamation for the Family does give specific assignments for gender, and I think that's okay. I think it's okay that Nate changes diapers and plays with Toby, but I also think that it's mostly my job to nurture him. Actually what I want to say is "mother him" because mothering is a verb.

    anyway, I roll my eyes at the whole" yay Ammon chopped arms off!" type stories. Do you think Ammon felt awesome about chopping off arms? Do you think he thought it was cool to kill people? Do you think Moroni did? No, of course not. They did what they did because they had to defend xyz. I'm certain they didn't rejoice or revel in violence. I try to point that out, but Toby hasn't really brought up that kind of stuff yet :) I think if he ever does, we will focus on "yes, Ammon did have to do some things he otherwise wouldn't have done, but look what else he did and all his missionary work missionary work missionary work."

    I do cringe sometimes when he's around other boys because THEY are violent sometimes. I don't want my son to be violent because it's cool or the boy thing to do. Hmph.

    I don't allow Toby to wear camo or sports-related clothing/clothing with sporty things. That's always been a rule in our house. It started out because I hate sports and Nate hates sports, but it's become a thing where it ticks me off that most baby boy things are all about being "daddy's little slugger" or "#1 quarterback" blah blah gag me. Ooo it irks me. The other thing that pisses me off (strong language because I FEEL STRONGLY ABOUT IT) is all the STUPID skull things on boy's clothes. I can't stand it. It really, really, really makes me mad. My kid can dress in skulls when he's 18 (or 16 if he's buying the clothes. maybe.) But when *I* am dressing him and he's a sweet and innocent..ish...little boy, he is NOT WEARING SKULLS. RAAAAWR!!!

    Oh I also tried to keep cars away from him because "all boys play with cars!" etc etc. Yeah that didn't work. He's obsessed with cars. Dangit.

  7. Jamie- I guess I want my children to first define themselves by who they are inside and not consider stereotypes in that decision. If they fall on current gender-lines, then they fall on current gender lines, but if not, then they don't. Both of my kids have dolls and tools and cars and all that.

    I probably wasn't clear about "gender." "Gender" to me is a social construct. I do believe in male and female physical differences (hormones, body structure, etc), but as for things like preferences, personality traits, etc., I consider those not related to the physical make up of the body and so those are influenced by culture.

    Kestrel- I just figure, "Never say never" for the Church. There has been a lot of changes that no one thought would ever happen (polygamy, black and the priesthood as the two big ones). :)

    I wonder about violence- how much of it is hormones and testosterone and how much of it is the cultural acceptance of "boys will be boys?" Unfortunately, even in studies, you can't take years of cultural conditioning out and have a control group.

  8. This is great. We often dress our little girl in "boy" clothes and I've thought the same thing about it being easier because people don't question it. Diapers and toys are easy, but as enlightened as I think I am, putting "girl" clothes on a boy will be tough for me.

    As for all the other messages boys get, things like no crying, being tough, etc. We will be working very hard to counter those messages.

  9. Kestrel, I just want to correct the view that "feminism is focused on bringing men down". This is not true. Focusing on equal rights/treatment of women, on bringing an end towards sexism does not bring men down. The men who feel that way are vested in keeping the patriarchy going (or are afraid of what their role will be if the patriarchy dies). As, TopHat said, the patriarchy hurts men too by limiting their role in society to be being a "manly man".

    When we raise our children I believe it's important not to perpetuate gender stereotypes to them. Many children will gravitate to traditional "girls" or "boys" toys and activities, but it up to us to be mindful that we don't purposely steer them in that direction based on their sex. And, if we have a child who goes in the opposite direction, we give him/her the freedom to do so.

  10. Jamie7:29 AM

    Okay, I think I may be starting to understand the gender thing. But I still have one more issue/question. I don't understand the dressing in girl's clothing. Does your husband wear skirts, dresses, and other typically "female" clothing? Do you think it would be okay if we all walked around looking non-gendered other than our body types? (I am genuinely asking these - not trying to be snarky, I promise). I just see this a little differently and want to understand your viewpoint completely. :)

  11. Actually the couple of times he's worn a skirt were at Margaret's insistence and I didn't think it would do any harm. He also has a nice kilt for church; it makes diaper changes way easier! And because Margaret wore a lot of gender-neutral clothing there have been a lot of times when he's worn an exact outfit Margaret had: usually something like a blue ones and some leggings I made out of women's socks.

  12. Love the post and the comments are interesting. I actually stopped bringing Connor to Nursery after one of the Sisters in nursery gasped when he picked up a purse, took it away and tried to give him a truck instead. I very gnetly explained to her that his favorite color was pink and he had a baby doll at home and she looked at me like I had just used the F word.

    Pink used to be used for boys because it was considered strong and light blue was used for girls because it was considered weak. Polynesian male church members wear lava lavas to church. Kilts are masculine. My dad wore a pale pink button up shirt with a tie as an attorney. Ideas about what is masculine and what is feminine change all the time and are different in other cultures. I think it is more important to support my son's love of different colors and desire to carry his doll like daddy carries the baby. Who knows what will count as manly or not 20 years from now?

    My son knows that mommies and daddies have different roles just by watching that mom births the baby and only mom's breasts make the milk for the baby. Those issues have nothing to do with what he wears or the toys he chooses.

  13. I do not think camo clothing is war centered. My husband is in the army reserves and he has the same uniform state side during peace time as he wore during his two tours in Iraq. In my family will all wear camo clothing, I can hardly resist anything that I see in a camo print whether for me, my son or either of my two daughters. I want my children to know that when their daddy has had to leave them for periods it was a sacrifice he made to serve others, and it was noble and good. My husband is a good man, he is valiant, not violent, and I believe that is what camo print represents.

    You will excuse me for thinking that you don't seem like you honor men and women in the military when you would strongly discourage your children (male or female) from emulating them.

  14. Thank you for your comment, Laurel. I really didn't mean offense. I really do respect our soldiers and service people and I'm glad they do what they do and sacrifice so much of their time and lives. I know they aren't violent individuals and love their families and country very much.

  15. One issue I've run into, which you (hopefully) probably haven't come up against yet, is the reluctance people have to accept boys nursing full-term, as opposed to girls. I've heard of people saying things like, "Shouldn't you wean him by now ... I mean, considering he's a boy ...?" Luckily no one's ever said it to me ... yet.

    Nursing is for all kids, boys and girls, at whatever age they still need it. If it were "sexual" in any way, it would be wrong for both boys and girls, but since it's NOT, it doesn't matter! I think it's best for boys to nurse a nice long time so they don't get this weird hang-up about "forbidden" breasts like so many men seem to have.

  16. My son turned two yesterday and I made a doll for him and I made the doll matching jammies. He had the most audible reaction to the doll, he was so excited. I think it is important for boys to practice being good dads.

  17. I really appreciate this post, and the thoughtfulness you've brought into parenting a boy and talking him through the patriarchal messages he encounters. I've been somewhat dismayed and somewhat amused to see Mikko become so consumed as a three-year-old with gender distinctions; I know it's part of his developmental growth, but I can't help but wonder where he's picked up all these cues. (Everywhere, obviously!) I'm hoping our words and our actions will eventually speak through to him as he grows.

    When he was a toddler, I indulged his desires to wear pink and skirts and ballet dresses as they came up, but I always felt a little off about it. And now that he staunchly refuses to wear "girl" colors or even draw with pink markers, I feel off about that.

    Also, I totally get what you're saying with the camo thing. I didn't get rid of it all, but I do feel conflicted. My dad and brother were both in the Army (I grew up a military kid), and I do feel somewhat like we're aping them in a disrespectful way when we take it so casually. Not quite the same thing, I feel, as when my son wears his firefighter rain jacket, for instance.


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