This is part deux of a previous post I wrote about an ultra progressive couple in Toronto, Canada, who are making a concerted effort to raise their 3 children in androgyny. Their 5- and 2-year-old’s gender is male but only in biological terms. Their mother makes no excuses that their outward appearances are very much female. The boys are encouraged to choose their gender according to what they’re attracted to and the boys just so happen to have chosen the societal form of femininity, wearing dresses, braiding their long hair and wearing pink boas.
Their 3rd child, 4-month-old Storm, its gender will not be disclosed to anybody outside of their immediate family and friends. This experiment is apparently their way of proving to themselves and the world that gender is exclusively a state of mind.
The couple, David Stocker, 39, and wife, Kathy Witterick, 38, have been the recipients of a lot of criticism. Many people within the general public, including myself, feel that this is nothing but a social experiment which does a grave disservice to the child. Witterick wrote an email response in which she accused critics of being “judgmental.”
Recently, the parents of “Baby X” and their androgynous clan have spoken out against the backlash they’ve received. In the email that Witterick wrote which was obtained by MSNBC, that disclosing their 4-month-old’s gender to the world is “unhealthy.”
The infant, aptly named Storm, perhaps the parents anticipated the firestorm their anti-genital, gender bending ways would have on society. The mother contends that the infant’s gender is being kept private and not secret. However, if you want to keep such a thing private, why allow the media to blow it all up? They put their social experiment on display, now they have to live with opposing opinions.
She goes on to write this about her 5 year old son:
“Jazz has a strong sense of being a boy, and he understands that his choices to wear pink and have long hair are not always acceptable to his community.”
And this is where I really call bullshit. A 5-year-old little boy cannot possibly understand what it means to defy social norms. In other words, a 5-year-old, in my opinion, is unable to make a conscientious decision to thwart cultural norms. That is the act of adult deliberation not a Kindergartener.
She also wrote:
“An infant at four months is still learning to recognize himself or herself and it’s not appropriate to force a sex on them.”
First of all, you’re not forcing sex on them (Issues anyone?). Gender is not forcing sex on anybody. The gender you’re born with is a natural gift and it should be celebrated, not hidden in shame.
Lastly Witterick writes:
“The discussion that emerges not only “outs” people (in their rush to judge, they demonstrate the prevailing views), but also has the effect of health people examine whether they truly do believe the status quo to be the best that we can do. Is this the best that we can do to grow healthy, happy, kind, well adjusted children?”
What studies can this woman cite that recognizing one’s naturally born gender and being okay with it is “unhealthy?” If a boy is naturally attracted to what society sees as more feminine preferences, why can’t he be a boy with certain likes? Or a girl that gravitates towards boyish play and style? I was a tomboy as a child, but grew up quite a girly-girl, but I never denounced my natural gender either. In either of these situations, you are not ashamed of your gender.
A doctor at the Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Dr. Ken Zucker, tells MSNBC that the situation causes people anxiety in their own self examinations of how they became who they are.
I think this is totally condescending and elitist. I have no anxiety about who I am. I like who I am. I was born a female and have zero desire to change it. The cultural status quo is constantly being challenged by strong men and women who want to break out of the mold, and that is healthy for individuals, but there are clear differences between men and women which is not mutually exclusive to a superior gender, but the unique strengths, differences and similarities of each gender. Societal norms are not always a bad thing. For example, a 40-year-old man cannot marry a 5-year-old girl by way of societal expectations and standards, but that doesn’t mean that we should challenge that status quo, either.
We often hear about the victimization of women and young girls as the tragic recipients and victims of violence. We also hear about the suppression of women and the constant struggle for equal rights and equal opportunities. It has been a long battle to shorten the gap between social and political disparities between the genders while progress continues to be made with the aid of social activists and support networks.
But boys aren’t without challenges growing up in America today either and it is easy to take for granted that boys will fend for themselves. The stereotypes of boys is both a curse and burden as girls are warned of their intentions early on, “Don’t trust boys. Boys are only after one thing. Boys try to dominate. Boys suppress their feelings and keep healthy emotions bottled up. Boys are more violent. Boys are aggressive. Boys are…”, the list goes on.
In some ways, I actually think it’s harder to be a boy growing up in America today. When a mother of only boys introduces her children to a stranger, she is often met with eyes of sympathy. I am no exception when I think about my preconceived, ideal family make-up which always included a girl to dress up like a doll and plan a ginormous wedding for. Now that I have boys and am done having children, acceptance has prevailed and I have learned to love having the challenge, uniqueness and pleasure of having boys only. I have grown to appreciate them immensely. From the request for shaggy haircuts, torn jean fashions and maxin’ and relaxin’ to Drake and Josh, life is both amusing and sweet with boys in it.
I do worry about them though and the expectations on them in our society. Will a girl come along and break their hearts, will they be discouraged from exploring boyish wonders while society forces them to get real with their feminine sides? Will teachers, historically partial to girls anyway, treat them unfairly and will they be able to find a balance between sticking up for themselves and empathy? We want our boys to embrace our expectations when it benefits our society, like providing for their families or working in the coal mines or having the strength to lift a dead body to a gurney, yet we want them to go against their biological instincts and be more like women. Our society despises them as much as they expect from them. We expect our boys to fight on the front lines and risk their lives for us, yet society tries to constantly diminish their roles and contributions. What is a boy to do?
It breaks my heart when mothers are disappointed when they hear they’re having a boy. Of course, both genders would be ideal, but my point is that boys are not a punishment and I think they are sometimes perceived as such. While we need to raise our boys to be compassionate, responsible and kind, we should also celebrate the differences between boys and girls and not attribute values to one gender over another. Boys should be celebrated too and if one is lucky to have more than one or all boys, they should count themselves lucky to be initiated into the boys club.
A few years ago we went to an Eagle Scout Court of Honor for a young man in our boys’ scout troop. He hailed from an exceptionally traditional family and in this boy’s address to the gathered crowd, he expressed his thanks to his parents. He told of his gratitude for his father who sacrificed many weeknights and weekends to help lead the various campouts as well as sponsor merit badge classes. He extolled the virtues of his father’s gourmet cooking expertise and the many high adventure trips they had taken together. What did he say to his mother, you might wonder? He thanked her for sewing merit badges on his shirts…and for keeping them ironed.
I remember that moment as if it was yesterday because the feeling of wanting desperately to run amok, scream loudly–or to strangle someone was quite overwhelming. My middle son turned to look at me across the room and because he is the child most like me, he knew this was just the kind of thing that would make my head explode. His eyes pleaded with me not to say anything. And I didn’t…until we got in the car. After a moment of silence I turned to address everyone in the car, including my husband. I said: “If at the end of your scouting career you have been worthy enough to receive the Eagle Scout award and you feel the need to thank me for whatever role I’ve had in it, please feel free. However, if after six years in an organization that has required enormous sacrifices of family time, money and scheduling, if all you can credit me with are the creases in your scout shirts…please don’t bother.”
I still stand by that statement.
A friend who is a lawyer/ mother of four told me once that she didn’t believe that staying home with kids required her to also work as an unpaid maid who had to clean up everyone’s mess as part of her daily schedule. “When I’m dead, I don’t want them to get the wrong idea about why they miss having me around”, she said. “I have to have represented more to them than an afternoon snack, good-smelling bathroom towels and a clean kitchen floor. Maybe in some warped world that’s someone’s idea of a good wife, but it doesn’t make me a good mother.” I agree.
Despite the fact that living by this philosophy means that everyone’s shoes will stick to the subsequently filthy floor in the same way they might at…say…the public health clinic or the floor of a circus tent, I think the goal of getting your kids to see you as a person is worth attaining. God knows I’ve tried.
I started writing for money when our oldest two were babies and by the time the third was born and in pre-school I was free-lancing for three publications. Writing was really the only thing I ever wanted to do with my life and, despite an unfortunate seven-year detour teaching school, I found myself living my fantasy. Yes, I stayed at home with the little ones, but my previously unused brain was finally being utilized as a newspaper writer. I learned a little about myself during that time, too.
I learned that I liked staying home if it meant teaching my kids to read (which I did) or showing them how to make homemade Christmas wrapping paper or going to the museum to learn about dinosaurs. If it meant that I was supposed to shelve my full-time working status in order to bleach the bathtub or dust the furniture…um….not so much.
I learned that sitting down with my kids to make watercolor pictures or showing them how to hit a baseball in the vacant lot next door made me feel like I was accomplishing something. And if I spent their naptimes hammering out an article or doing research on an author…well…that made the day especially productive and it called for champagne. A day of nothing but cleaning house was positively mind-numbing and, even today, if such a thing is followed by one of my sons asking me what I did while he was at school, I don’t feel good about myself at all. What I want to do is to throw myself under a bus.
I also learned that keeping all those plates spinning simultaneously, like the guy on the old Ed Sullivan show, and maintaining the feeling that I had a real purpose on the planet, I had also hoped to illustrate how a true equal partnership in marriage worked, and I actually thought we were doing pretty well in that department. My sons had the benefit of a mom and a dad who shared cooking responsibilities and homework duty. Both of us served on PTA. Bryan remodeled houses, but he also changed diapers, read to his kids at night and volunteered for cafeteria duty at the elementary school where he helped his kids’ friends open their milk cartons and ketchup packets. I sponged out the refrigerator and vacuumed more often, but I also shingled many a roof for Habitat and had a byline in a newspaper.
I thought I was leaving them with a good impression…the BEST impression a parent could make, actually. But after all was said and done I found out in recent years that the kids were TOTALLY flummoxed when they discovered the filing cabinet in my office that contains all of my published work. Mom? A writer?? They never remembered me doing anything of the sort because I usually did it around their schedules while they were sleeping or at school. So much for impressions.
The final blow came this summer when I left home for a week to teach art at a pediatric cancer camp. They got another taste of what it’s like not to have me around for awhile. Sort of like my lawyer friend who wanted her kids to value her for more than the clean house. Oh…my kids missed me alright. They were quite dramatic in their retellings of what it was like when old mom wasn’t around. I was curious and just a little flattered. Was it my sense of humor? Was it the advice I offered or my help with a project? Our mother-son talks? No, it was none of those.
“Thank God you’re home, ” they chimed. “Dad never goes to the grocery store and there was NOTHING IN THE REFRIGERATOR THE WHOLE TIME YOU WERE GONE!!” All I’ve got to say is that if anyone mentions groceries in their Eagle Scout thank you speech, heads are going to roll. Word to your mother.
Today was toga day at our sons’ high school. Unlike the all-white styles I wore to college parties–or worse– the flowered yellow twin sheets snagged from my own dorm bed, today’s teens are looking to make a statement or to poke fun at themselves.
So it was my oldest son’s sincerest wish to show up at school today looking like “Animal House’s” Eric Stratton (“Damned glad to meet ya!”) in a toga fashioned from a Batman sheet. He considered, for about three seconds, wearing a “My Little Pony”-embossed bedsheet, though he changed his mind before I drove to Target to make the purchase. Had the middle son not been heavily influenced by friends who decided that toga-wearing wasn’t something they wanted to do, he would have shown up in a blue-flannel number festooned with the images of sock-monkeys watching television. Just the thought of a six-foot tall baseball player wearing something like that makes me giggle and make a dash for my camera.
As we were brainstorming about what would make for an entertaining ensemble, I wondered what lengths the female students would have to go to in order to elicit a laugh from fellow classmates. Interestingly enough, I don’t think the sight of a girl wearing a G.I. Joe costume or dressed as an NFL linebacker is much of a rib-tickler. Isn’t it just as humorous for a girl to wear something atypical for her gender as it is for a guy to do so?Someone once pointed out to me that a man dressing up as a woman was funny and that a woman dressing up as a man…well…wasn’t. Their reasoning was that, through the centuries, women dressed as men in order to partake of the rights and privileges denied them as females. To serve in a war or be part of a ship’s crew or, like the character in the movie “Yentl”, receive an education, required a disguise. A woman was “trading up” for a better life by wearing the clothes of her male counterparts.
Yet, when a man dons a dress and speaks in a high-pitched voice, he’s lowering his status. Picture the men of Monty Python and it all becomes rather clear, no? This phenomenon doesn’t make me angry, but it does make me a little sad. I love a sense of humor and I believe that some of the greatest comedians in the world come from both genders. That said, I know that, in many ways, the male of the species is better represented. I can’t deny it and, as a feminist, I can’t explain it. Can you?
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