Boogie had a play date the other day at our house. The datee in question seems perfectly nice, or at least as nice as I can find 5 year olds (did I mention kids generally scare me? Well, they do – they can be so…emphatic).
Well, if this kid queried Boogie’s and L’il Boo’s toys once…well, she did it a lot. Talk about the gender police! Who’s was the helicopter? Why was it Boogie’s when it was a boy’s toy? Why was L’il Boo playing with a doll? Was it at least a boy doll? Why did L’il Boo want to put the fairy wings on? Fairies are girls! Why did Boogie have a pirate ship? Pirates are boys! And on. And on.
I was finding this fairly trying and was starting to well, get a bit annoyed. Admittedly, I haven’t put a sign on the door saying ‘No Gender Police!’ but given the choice, I wouldn’t invite them in.
And then I faced facts. I do invite them in. About once a week on average, which is how often Boogie has a play date. Once a week, we invite a series of Gender Detectives in to peruse our little piece of earth. And, generally, they find something wanting. And I let go of my anger towards this small child because I know it isn’t her fault, either that she’s been invited in or that’s she’s obsessed with gender. They all are and they’re taught to be obsessed by everything and everyone around them (‘Good morning boys and girls’ anyone?).
This really hit me when I considered the look on her face when she was conducting her gender interview. When each question came out of her mouth she was puzzled. When she got my answer, puzzlement turned to real, genuine confusion, with a side order of fear. She genuinely just didn’t understand what she saw as the gender discrepancies in my kids’ toys and, when I didn’t help her out of her confusion with some explanation as to why the discrepancies had arisen, instead saying (effectively) there were no discrepancies, she was all at sea. I’m guessing that my answer to her first ‘gender’ question helped propel the others to come forward – in a ‘What do you mean, there’s no discrepancy, that all toys can be for either gender? You’re kidding, right? I’m just gonna check by asking you about another toy..’ kind of thing.
The other thing I had to face was Boogie’s reaction. She said nothing to the first couple of queries, but looked squarely at me while I answered them. Eventually, when the helicopter status as a boy’s toy was mentioned, she nonchalantly answered ‘It’s just a toy and toys are for anybody who likes them.’ Attagirl! Unfortunately, this didn’t come until after, in response to the lead-in question of ‘Who’s toy is this?’ Boogie, aware no doubt of what was coming, had squarely disowned the helicopter by saying it was her brother’s. Which was news to me. ‘But it’s yours, isn’t it?’ I asked. ‘Yeah, it was,’ she replied (in an oh-too-casual manner), ‘but I gave it to him because I don’t play with it anymore.’ Which again, was news to me. I didn’t press her, though. Tellingly, when asserting that ‘toys are for anybody’, Boogie’s eyes were firmly on mine; when she was busy disowning the toy, she resolutely refused to look at me when answering my query. It doesn’t take a psychologist to see that in the former she was looking to check for my approval; in the latter, she wouldn’t look at me because she suspected I wouldn’t approve of what were, essentially, big, fat fibs.
Bless her, I could see her dilemma. Oh, could I ever. The poor kid was trying to tread the fine line between pleasing me and staying on-side with her friend’s clearly expressed ideas of gender. A tricky line for a five year old.
I’m currently reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter, by Peggy Orenstein (which is being reviewed chapter by chapter over at maternalselves, if you’re interested) and the problem that keeps leaping out of the book (and attempting to kill me through brain fatigue), is: how do you raise a girl to be outside the girly-girl, appearance and consumerist-driven culture they’re being spoon-fed from every angle without making her an outsider to her own sex? Ah, a classic double-think problem! I did think I’d posted before about the endless double-think you have to do when raising a girl, but I probably dreamt it cos I can’t find anything. Essentially (for present purposes only), it can be boiled down to: how can you teach a girl to not relate to the hyper ‘girly-girl’ model and yet still enable her to relate to, and fit in with, girls who do?
Because whilst I fervently want Boogie to step outside the increasingly limited model of femininity she’s presented with, I don’t want her to be, well, weird. Are you feeling me here? I’m trying to teach her to denigrate a model that the vast majority of her peers will believe in whole-heartedly, but I don’t want her to be the sad, lonely kid in the corner, amusing herself by putting her bogies on a passing ant.
And, sure, I can explain why her peers (and my peers) fall for all the gender shit that comes their way, but the fact remains that, on some level, the message must contain some implication that her peers are a bit stoopid. I mean, essentially, it boils down to: they may fall for it, Boogie, but we won’t because we know better.
And then she has to go to school and relate to these stupid people that mummy has told her about.
Talk about fine fucking lines.