I’ve spent a fair amount of time this summer watching tiny humans interact with one another. I’m a gender theory junkie so maybe I’m just programmed to notice this more, but I couldn’t believe the young age at which some of these children already have a death-grip on gender roles.
I teach a junior golf clinic and one of the prizes we give out are bracelets which the kids can earn by accomplishing certain achievements. They’re color-coded into levels (like karate belts) to encourage goal-setting and practice. The first level offered two colors, but no choice. Wanna guess? There was pink for girls and blue for boys. (Hmm.. I wonder where these kids could be learning their gender stereotyping? Clearly I was not involved in the planning process because I would never have allowed that!)
It broke my heart to bits when I overheard Ben, a 6-year-old curly-cue with eyes wiser than his years, whisper to his friend that he wanted a pink bracelet. The friend replied, “Ew! Why do you want pink? Pink is for girls.” (“Girls” was said in the same tone one might use to describe a rat infestation or sewer leak.) Ben, brave one that he is, piped back, “Boys wear pink sometimes!” But he took the blue bracelet.
This scene replays over and over again. Like when 4-year-old Blake came to golf in (heaven forbid) pink sneakers and another boy had to ask, “Is Blake a girl?” Hearing “no,” he continued, “Then why is he wearing pink shoes?” His voice carried in it some combination of sincere curiosity and biting sarcasm, so I immediately responded, “Because anyone can wear pink.”
Then just this morning I had to shut down a conversation between two boys ages 7 and 11 who were calling each other “gay.” I swooped in to remind them that “gay” isn’t a bad word, “So let’s not use it that way.”
Whenever I have stepped in, the kids have always responded respectfully and sometimes even with apologies, but I just don’t know if I am making any kind of impact. It sort of feels like I’m blowing against a hurricane.
All of this gender panic – at ages 5 and 6 even! – it’s all from boys who are afraid of being seen as or called girls.
These kids are young and already they are learning that the worst thing anyone can possibly be is feminine.
That’s where words like “effeminate” come in. Did you know there is no masculine equivalent for this word? Nothing that conveys the negative connotations that “effeminate” carries. That’s because “masculine” gets associated with all the “good qualities” – strength, loyalty, morality, etc.
And what scares me is how young this is striking; these boys are learning it from somewhere (home, movies, TV, video games, golf clinics that give out pink bracelets for girls and blue for boys…) and they’re going to grow up to think commercials like these are not only acceptable, but funny:
These boys aren’t living in a vacuum either. While all this gender policing is happening, the little girls next to them are intuitively learning that they are worth less than boys. I mean, telling a boy he’s a girl is the worst possible insult. What is this teaching girls about their value, and the value of the feminine?
It’s this ubiquitous concept of masculinity being better, stronger, smarter than the feminine that femme lesbians face within our own community. We’re doing it to ourselves! It’s little things like Whitney on The Real L Word describing “pants” as “able to swing a hammer.” And it’s bigger things, like the following video, in which a masculine woman treats the more feminine as a sex toy and uses degrading terminology. This isn’t reclaiming, it’s recycling. And it’s the same old shit.
I don’t know y’all. I’m feeling a little down today. These little kids I’ve been teaching – they’re the future, and they’re exactly the same. And why shouldn’t they be? They’re learning from us.
What are we gonna do about it?
- How young is too young to tell a child that I’m gay?
- Putting the femme in feminist
- Troubles with the Dictionary: Defining Masculine and Feminine