She looks not totally unlike my own little placard-waver, Boogie.
How often do girls get a message this positive and this bare?
She looks not totally unlike my own little placard-waver, Boogie.
How often do girls get a message this positive and this bare?
I will beat you to a bloody pulp to show you how much I love you for it. Deal?
Thought inspired by this:
‘I am sure every girl can recall, at least once as a child, coming home and telling their parents, uncle, aunt or grandparent about a boy who had pulled her hair, hit her, teased her, pushed her or committed some other playground crime.
‘I will bet money that most of those, if not all, will tell you that they were told “Oh, that just means he likes you”. I never really thought much about it before having a daughter of my own. I find it appalling that this line of bullshit is still being fed to young children.
‘Look, if you want to tell your child that being verbally and/or physically abused is an acceptable sign of affection, i urge you to rethink your parenting strategy.
‘If you try and feed MY daughter that crap, you better bring protective gear because I am going to shower you with the brand of “affection” you are endorsing.’
Read the rest by Queen of the Couch here.
Just to be clear, if you hit my son for the same reason, I’ll extend the deal to you, too.
In one of those meandering trips that the internet often takes you on and wastes your entire day with, I’ve been reading blogs written by parents of kids who nudge, push or whack gender boundaries on their arse.
It’s nice, because I have one of those myself; the lovely Boogie projects gender in such a straightforwardly confusing way that she’s mistaken for a boy about half the time by random strangers.
Not that she has to do much to achieve that effect.
Nothing will convince you of the complete, utterly arbitrary nature of gender more than having this happen even when she’s doing nothing; for a girl to get read as a boy these days, it’s entirely sufficient for her to have a short haircut and wear tracksuit pants. Incredible, I know, but (sadly) I kid you not.
I sometimes think that anything under-12 not pink and frilled may soon have to wear a forehead stamp, or a unicorn’s horn, if it’s a girl – you know, just so people aren’t made to feel uncomfortable.
I say ‘these days’ but that’s clap trap. One of ‘these days’ I’ll
bore you rigid entertain you with hilarious tales from my childhood when I was mistaken for a boy about 85% of the time. And that was so long ago, pink hadn’t even been invented.
Of course, the reason we rely on such clearly unsatisfactory markers to establish gender in children – hair length, trousers, lack of obvious adornment – is because very few children look so ‘obviously’ male or female that their sex would shine through any of that window dressing. Pre-puberty, (clothed) body markers are non-existent, and facially, all children look more or less pudding-like, don’t you think?
By that I mean of course that they all have that soft, round, air-of-plumpness quality which is what makes them so cute.
While wearing trousers, with her short hair and all and her lack of clips and frills and pink, and all the other markers we expect of a girl, Boogie does look entirely like a boy. Or, at least like how we expect a boy to look.
She has never, however, been misidentified as a boy when wearing a dress; because short hair and all, a simple piece of material is still enough to alter her perceived gender projection entirely. And yes, she does look entirely like a girl.
I can further confirm that if L’il Boo wears a dress he, too, is always identified as a girl. Even if he is engaging in full-blown ‘masculine’ behaviour, like pretending to shoot everything in sight whilst picking his nose.
A dress, it seems, is a powerful thing.
And I’ll tell ya, a weird thing to hang something as fundamental as gender on. Not fundamental to me, of course, but then this whole gender thing wasn’t my fucking idea, was it?
And because gender is so arbitrary, I hesitate when I describe Boogie as one of those kids I’ve been reading about.
So the girl likes tracksuit pants (because they’re better for running, see?) and doesn’t like hair clips (annoying, see?); it’s hardly revolutionary, is it? She’s not even going to get a support group, for god’s sake. And she certainly doesn’t regard herself as bending anything, not yet at least.
Her gender fluidity is entirely dependent on others’ perceptions. And if people’s perceptions weren’t so restrictive, she wouldn’t be ‘misidentified’ at all because they’d have to ask her what sex she was first before making assumptions about her based on whether a piece of material is stitched down the middle or not.
And if the whole thing wasn’t so fucking weird, people wouldn’t give a flying fuck anyway.
Christ on a bike, I hate this world sometimes.
L’il Boo wants to wear a dress.
If I were a different kind of person, I would get all panicky and start throwing Tonka trucks in his general direction, but I am not that kind of person. Not least because I know where this desire has come from.
Every evening, to avoid school morning meltdown, I ask Boogie the following question: ‘Skirt, dress or trousers?’ She picks one, then I get two of the chosen items out of her wardrobe and she points to the one she wants to wear the following day.
Whilst largely not being arsed about clothes, Boogie is very specific about what kind of clothes she finds acceptable on her skin at any given time. Some specifications are long-term, non-negotiable (buttons, frills), others are entirely arbitrary and fleeting (‘today I will scream if my jeans are in the wash, tomorrow I will tremble at the very mention of the word jeans’).
Given that this has been the case since she first turned two, the current system (after much trial and error) really works for us both; I get to take the ring road round Whinesville in the mornings and she gets to feel she ‘chooses’ from a choice simple enough that it doesn’t overwhelm her. Happy smiles all round. By a conservative estimate I reckoned it’s saved me approximately eleventy million whining hours. Good times, eh?
L’il Boo, ever the copier, has now started to display random, fleeting likes and dislikes to items of clothing (dear god, no!). So random in fact that I have no idea what he’s objecting to in any given case. I very much doubt he knows either. He’s just seen his sister do it, and that’s good enough for him.
He’s also, of course, seen that his sister gets choices he’s not offered. No ‘dress, skirt or trousers’ for him. Firstly, he gets offered nothing because I’m desperately trying to convince him he doesn’t have any preferences whatsoever. Secondly, of course, because boys just don’t get the same choices, do they? It’s ‘trousers or trousers?’ for them. Or maybe ‘trousers or jeans?’ if I’m being creative.
The boy wants the option. Practically, I can give it to him because I have enough of his sister’s old clothes in boxes to find something that fits. But should I?
My first instinct is to say Fuck it! The boy wants a dress, he can have a fucking dress!
Two things about this: I know enough to know that ‘Fuck it!’ is my first reaction to most things and to far too many things than can actually be good for me. I also know the way the world works and it does not work well for boys who wear dresses.
He’s two. Wearing a dress, he would be entirely unaware of any statement he’s making. I, on the other hand, would be acutely aware of the statement he’s making and, because he’s two, it would be a statement about me more than him. I’m already known as the resident weirdo feminist amongst both friends and acquaintances. L’il Boo rocking a dress will do naught to lessen this reputation.
I will be accused (just ask Storm’s parents) of using my child to make a political and social statement, one which, bless him, he can’t possibly have had a say in. That he chose a dress will not be a defence, merely another example of my man-bashing indoctrination of my children (y’know, like we feminists do).
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with any of that (Fuck it! I say – see?) If anybody has a problem with me letting my son wear a dress, it’s just that – their problem.
But, though L’il Boo’s only two, he understands shock, and disgust, and horror and disapproval. He understands all that just by looking at people’s faces. Just like we all do. And he will not understand that those faces are in reaction to his clothes, not to him. And – have I said he’s only two? – he’s too young to have that explained to him.
Why would I want to put him through that? It’s been bad enough when he goes forth wearing pink trousers (which, along with green trousers, are currently top of his ‘like’ list). Trust me, people do not like being flummoxed when trying to assign children to a gender box. On the other hand, why should I restrict him in an entirely unnecessary way? My only stipulation for Boogie’s clothing choices are that they be weather-appropriate and even that’s fairly laxly enforced. Why should it be different for L’il Boo?
Is he too young to wear a dress? Or I am just copping out, bowing to The Man?
And if I do cop out here, where’s the fucking line? What do I compromise on next to stop bigots looking sideways at my children?
Answers on a postcard, please.
Overheard after Boogie’s Football club session:
‘Coach': Yeah, it’s really good, we’ve got a few girls in the junior team now and four or five younger girls coming through who have a real chance of making the team. They’re really holding their own against the boys.
My girl can outpace virtually every boy in her class, her ball work can be exquisite at times, her tackles are full on and her strategic knowledge of the game is becoming awesome.
My girl is not ‘holding her own’ against anyone. She is excelling.
I’ve been thinking a lot about food lately. Or rather, I’ve been thinking about our relationship to food, a sentence which in and of itself is completely weird when you think about it. A relationship with Food? This can never end well. Food will never write, never call and will make you fat just by looking at you. Bastard.
But it seems that increasingly we just cannot accept that Food is just not that into us. We insist, despite Food’s complete inability to watch movies without hogging the popcorn or give good head, on pursuing this relationship and weeping when it makes us sick.
And we are getting sick. Over a million people in the UK suffer from some kind of eating disorder. Those most at risk are young people between the ages of 14-25, although this may well be changing. Statistics from the NHS show that that 14 figure may well have to start being revised downwards to say, oh, 10.
Oh, hang on, Ms Optimism! Statistics from last year were open-mouthed shocking: Almost 600 children below the age of 13 were treated in hospital for eating disorders in the three years previous. That figure included 197 children between the ages of five and nine.
Do not even get me started on childhood obesity.
Boogie is six. To say that I find this piece of information troubling doesn’t really hit it. This piece of information makes me want to weep. And then kill somebody, or at the very least kick a three-legged kitten. In other words it makes me sad and mad and mean all at the same time.
Course, the old, ‘it’s the celebrities’ thing was trotted out, with Susan Ringwood of eating disorders charity B-eat telling the Telegraph that ‘the figures reflected alarming trends in society, with young children “internalising” messages from celebrity magazines, which idealised the thinnest figures.’
And yes, I’ve no doubt that’s a factor, but the thinness of celebrities is only an effect in itself. Why are the celebrities so thin in the first place? Is there simply a genetic connection between a hunger for fame and a preference for lettuce and brittle bone disease? I haven’t read the literature, but I’m suspecting not.
We’re just emerging from National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, but I’ve been thinking about food for longer than that. In honesty, I started thinking about food when I had a girl-child but it’s only recently that I started thinking beyond the obvious about it: beyond not wanting her to be fat; not because I’m fattist (which the more enlightened among you will recognise as a comfort-blanket of a fib), but because I wanted her to be healthy. You know, like, thin.
Not really thin, of course, because that would be as wrong as wanting her to be fat. So I wanted her to be not too fat, not too thin…what exactly did I want? Where was the fucking line? How wide or narrow was this weight spectrum that would be found acceptable by me? Was it only a few pounds wide or did a stone more or less make no difference? Would a heavier weight be acceptable if she were taller and could ‘carry’ it better? Was it OK if she was generally thin but had a bulging belly? Was a bulging belly deemed OK at 4 but unacceptable by 8? Could she have a large bottom? Was whether a large bottom was acceptable at least partially dependent on whether they were ‘in fashion’?
Now, I ain’t stupid. I could see that something was off with my thinking; it was so…prescriptive. And so open to failure. Keeping Boogie within ‘acceptable’ weight limits – no matter how narrow or wide – was going to take micromanagement to a new zenith. I could see where it would end and I am fucked if I’m going to start weighing out my daughter’s food and have her doing one-armed press-ups in between episodes of Scooby Doo. But where else could it go?
What was off? I knew the facts. Too fat or too thin was unhealthy. Either led to all kinds of increased medical risk. It’s true, all the doctors say so, right? Right?
It was only when I understood why too fat or too thin was unhealthy that everything fell into place. And I could only make sense of that when I understood that ‘too fat’ is, to paraphrase Caitlin Moran, when you no longer resemble a human being and ‘too thin’ is when the weight of your very skin is too heavy to bear.
When I understood that what was ‘unhealthy’ was not a body shape but a state of mind.
Not many doctors tell you that. Oh, they tell you that when you’re 14 and you’re hospitalised with anorexia, or 46 and unable to heave your bulk out of a specially-made bed. Sure, they tell you then, when it’s too fucking late. Before then, when you really needed to know it, your obsession with your body size, your desire to get it ‘right’ whether ‘right’ was thinner or fatter, was lauded, you were praised for ‘taking control’ of yourself. Right?
Yep. It’s that relationship with Food thing again.
Reading Bodies by Susie Orbach really helped clarify my thinking. As I’ve said before:
‘In a nutshell, Bodies basically explores how, in the last thirty or some years, our whole concept of what a ‘body’ is has changed from being merely the physical structure housing a person, to being the sum of what a person is, and as such, something that we must now ‘perfect’ in order to ‘perfect’ ourselves as people.
‘Or bodies must be tamed, made to conform to ever decreasing notions of of what is physically acceptable, or we will be found wanting as people.’
When the cage that houses you becomes who you are, interior decorating takes on a whole new importance. And when that cage is something as fucking unreliable as a body, prone to leakage, stinky emissions, unsightly diseases and other unfortunate social habits, you can see that changing the wallpaper every 10 years just ain’t gonna cut it.
How could we not have a relationship with Food? Food is the most immediate, most obvious way we can change and mould our bodies. Food is the thing that can now define us: as fat slobs, as over-achieving control freaks; as people who have control or who have no control at all. No wonder the whole ‘relationship’ is so fucked up. But just because having one is becoming seemingly inevitable, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
What are we missing? We’re missing that food has no fucking bearing on who we are. Just being genetically programmed to retain fat or just being really, really over-fond of cheesecake or being able to exist on an apple a day, doesn’t actually define who we are as people. It just means we have genes, or we just really, really like cheesecake, or we have (quite unfathomable to me) self-control.
We are missing the fact that’s it’s impossible to have a ‘relationship’ with food, however healthy we may like to boast that relationship is. Food is fuel, nothing more, nothing less. If we choose more good fuel, our bodies will perform sufficiently well so that we don’t have to think about them and we’ll probably lower our chances of becoming unwell. If we choose more bad fuel, fuel that works against our bodies, our bodies will probably start to falter sooner or later, to a greater or lesser extent.
That’s it. There is no ‘relationship’. This is not a two-way street. You can treat your cheesecake to dinner and a movie then serenade it with love songs before giving it oral sex for three days straight and it still won’t change into having the nutritional value of a floret of broccoli.
But still, something is missing. We may understand the idiocy of having a relationship with Food, but we still need to eat, right? Jesus, if we have no relationship with Food, how do we know when to eat, what to eat?
The thing that’s missing is called hunger. The relationship you need to have is with your stomach. And it’s the same relationship whether your stomach is convex or concave.
Your stomach will tell you when you’re hungry. So eat when it tells you to and stop when it tells you it’s full. And the more I think about it, the more I realise that what you feed it with is largely irrelevant. Whether you chow down on cheesecake or broccoli, as long as you listen when it waves at you shouting ‘Full!’, most of the rest of all the shit is gravy.
So yes, I tell Boogie about ‘good fuel’ and ‘bad fuel’ and I try to give her some idea of the difference between the two (salmon helps your brain work, pasta gives you energy, brownies give you sugar lift), but that information has become, over time, background noise.
My nightmare micromanagement scenario has segued into an idea of breathtaking simplicity.
Eat, I tell her. If you’re hungry, eat. When you stop being hungry, stop eating.
It sounds like a revolution when I write it down like that. How can that be possible?
It will be a long time before I know whether I gave her the ‘right’ message. But one thing’s for sure however it turns out: it won’t be any worse than any of the other messages she’s getting.
And it at least has the advantage of simplicity. How bad can it be, right?
It’s about women.
But it really, really is about men, too. Because, for me, this is about L’il Boo as much as it is about anybody else in the whole world.
I have a daughter and a son; if my feminism isn’t about the men as well, what am I saying to him?
I’m saying, you don’t count. You, yes, you little boy with the Y chromosome, you, who is going through a phrase of such overloading cuteness I have the constant urge to squeeze you till you squeak, you don’t count. I don’t fight for you.
Well, fuck that.
And no, this is not a please-go-gently-into-the-night with those poor, timorous menfolk, poor things can’t handle having to share their sweeties plea. Fuck that, too. Men will, I’m afraid, still make up the majority of those lining up by The Wall come the revolution (The Wall, of course, being the name of the buildings which will be established to teach feminism to the unsuspecting masses). And if those men have to be brought kicking and screaming to The Wall (and they will), so be it.
But you know what? My anger comes from a place of love, my friends. Yes, indeedy. I have always truly believed that feminism will free us all. Not just women, everybody. Advanced theorists may want to turn away now, because this shit is the 1 in ‘Feminism 101′: the gender binary hurts us all.
See? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
L’il Boo, who as you can see from the accompanying photo is cute as smush even from behind, is (to use a phrase from I Blame the Patriarchy somewhat inaccurately, but accurately in spirit), ‘my Nigel’. He counts to me.
And I see him now, at 2-and-a-half, still largely innocent of what’s expected of him as a boy. He is still, to himself, just a child.
A child who happens to like (in no particular order): his sister (copying? sometimes I think he’s the victim of a particularly successful cloning experiment); Kung Fu panda, making tea, cabbage (uh-huh, you heard that right), practising karate with his sister (see Kung Fu Panda), football, hair accessories, cooking, green trousers, pink (seriously, it’s the kid’s favourite colour, I don’t know where I went wrong) dresses, fire engines, glitter, his sister’s friends (due to second child neglect syndrome, he has few of his own), Tangled, trains (though Thomas bores him, so he has some taste), slam-dunking his parents when they’re least expecting it, chocolate buttons (but only those that come with a monkey on the packet), Octonauts.
He is, in short, very ‘boyish’ in many ways. And very ‘girlish’ in many others.
My god, what does this mean for his future??!
Well, nothing much I suspect.
But what is his future? In the short term, I can tell you that it will include a period of being INCREDIBLY LIKE A BOY. He will be so like a boy that I will be able to present him at an MRA conference and they will appoint him their mascot and shower him with plastic trucks.
Whilst he’s so far been seemingly unaffected by the gender mores he will be absorbing at nursery and elsewhere, make no mistake, the seeds are being planted each and every day. Some time soon, we will see them grow and they will sprout with such speed that it’ll take my breath away.
He will come to an understanding of what it means to be a ‘boy’. He will figure out the sheer, over-whelming importance of gender and he will do his damnedest to fit himself into that straightjacket, because that’s what kids do.
And it will break my heart.
I know all of this because I’ve been through it all before. Boogie went through a phrase of being INCREDIBLY LIKE A GIRL. Some time around turning three, she morphed into a fully-formed stereotype before my very (observant) eyes. Her favourite colour turned from blue to pink, girls didn’t play football and princesses were delightfully-dressed goddesses.
Christ, that was a tough stage of development.
But we’re through it and out the other side and Boogie is, once again, a wonderful mix of girlish and boyish. Which is to say she is a wonderful example of herself. She’ll try and kick the crap out of you as soon as look at you (oh, the martial arts! Martial arts is her new god!) but she’ll do it in a princess dress. Seriously? She rocks on so many levels, I cannot imagine trying to change her, trying to damp down certain aspects of her personality.
I will do my utmost to ensure that L’il Boo comes through similarly unscathed (I mean, it’s all relative, amirite?)
And L’il Boo? Well, he’ll probably try and kick the crap out of you, too. Whilst rocking a pair of multi-coloured fairy wings.
This says nothing much about my children. It just says we’re feisty down here in Boogieville.
Which we are. They get it from their mother.