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This is part three of a series prompted by a conversation with a friend who runs my favorite meetup group, a group that is specifically for mothers who only have sons. Many of our friends who have a child of each gender or only girls just don't understand how mothering boys is a completely different animal from other types of families, the different issues based on perception, actual physical and emotional differences and approaches, or wny we need/want a group for others like us.

Not all of the issues of mothering boys is so deeply tied to my emotional well being, some things strike at more shallow targets.

When Andy was small, I spent every Tuesday at the Monmouth Mall. The Loews Cinema attached had this weekly mom's movie at 11 am, where they provided a snack and a discount for new mothers to get out of the house, with their baby, and get to see a new movie. It was a fantastic thing and I absolutely loved attending. After the movie, my mom friends and I would have lunch at the food court and then walk the mall. Often we'd wander into some stores and do baby shopping.

I noticed the differences right away at Baby Gap, Children's Place, Gymboree, Old Navy- it was all the same. Huge selection of cutesy cutesy items for little girls. More than two-thirds or even three-fourths of these stores were devoted to dressing darling infant and toddler girls in an array of colors and styles. Back in the corner somewhere you could find a limited selection of stuff to dress boys. Sometimes, depending on the store and season, I'd hate the colors, hate the style and ultimately feel ripped off of spoiling my little bundle with sweet little outfits to wear.

It seems really stupid, doesn't it? I would have an idea in my head of what I wanted Andy to wear to a family barbecue or on an outing to the beach and would search and not be able to find what I want. I suppose I could have taken up sewing, but realistically, between the lack of sleep, taking care of the baby, trying to keep house, have a marriage and friendships, my time was overextended already.

Don't even get me started on Disney Princesses because there is absolutely no boy equivalent in terms of volume or marketing.

I've been toy shopping and there's not a lot of options for boys there either. You can choose between transportation related toys (and in this I include space toys like rockets and the Millennium Falcon) and sports toys. Little boys aren't included in pretend play that in reality is gender neutral. For example, where do they put the miniature plastic kitchens? In with the baby dolls. Everything in that aisle is pink. Aren't successful professional chefs dominantly men? What about the American Idol type stage toys? Do they have to be purple and covered in sparkles?

Girls now have all the transportation stuff for them in pink, all the sports stuff, all the pretend and dress up stuff. What does that leave boys with? Toy weaponry. I don't want my boys to play with guns and blasters. I don't want them to pretend to kill animals, let alone people! As parents we have enough to compensate for with the violence on television and movies, let alone video games, I'm not putting a plastic gun in their hands!

And it's not just stores. It's not just marketers. It's not just top-level, trickle down focus on girls. It pervades the system down to the high school student who works at my local Barnes and Noble.

A few weeks ago I got a phone call from the friend who runs the meetup group. The group had planned a trip to Barnes and Noble to take advantage of their weekly story time and craft. It's free and open to anyone who attends. They don't post a calendar with their themes or the books they plan to read. So, the group shows up with the boys and they settle in to find that the book is some pink, princess thing and the craft afterward is to make tiaras! My friend was outraged. I was outraged and I wasn't even there! The girl who runs it tried to regroup by calling the craft "crowns" but we all know the difference, right? Barnes and Noble didn't even pause to consider that there would be boys present at their story time, that the story and craft chosen was so intently female-only. And they have ALL the books. They could have read anything. It wouldn't even matter if they next week they read a pirate book or a baseball book because those are things girls may also like or be involved with, but there are no boys I know who are into princesses.

Outside the realm of consumerism, the focus on girls seems to be very deeply embedded in women.

There have been so many occasions where I'm out in the world, shopping, at a party, trick-or-treating at Halloween, and someone sees me with my sons and asks if I am going to try again for a girl. The implication is that no family is complete without a female child. Perhaps it's a big conclusion to jump to but that can be the only point in making such a statement. It's usually women who say things like that to me and often I can't think of a retort that stings enough to get the point across that my family is complete and I don't need no stinking daughter. (These people don't need to know I have daughters in my life who are not my biological children.) Every time it happens I get my hackles up and let the rage just sort of bubble under the surface.

Maybe the focus is starting to shift.

I think that looking back at the history of our society, there was a perception that a male child was more valuable than a daughter. In the 1970s, the feminist movement started the pendulum swinging back in the other direction. In 1973 the Ms. Foundation for Women was formed and is most well known for two high profile projects.

The first was the Free to Be...You & Me media projects in 1972 and 1974. It was a record album and story/songbook and TV special. The idea was conceived by Marlo Thomas to show her niece that it was OK to go against the gender stereotypes that were blatantly evident in the children's books of that time. The second is the "Take Our Daughters to Work Day," started in 1993 to "expose young women to the expanding opportunities for women in the workplace."

It wasn't until 2003, TEN YEARS later, that the foundation decided that it was important to include boys. I stumbled on an old website for NOW (National Organization for Women) that said:

"At school, boys often receive more encouragement in the classroom, especially in math, science and computers, the academic fields that tend to lead to the highest salaries. Women receive on average only 73 cents for every dollar that men are paid, and remain vastly underrepresented in top executive positions and technology fields.  The fastest-growing occupations require advanced computer skills that many girls are not acquiring. Take Our Daughters to Work Day aims to give girls the confidence and inspiration they need to develop successful careers, particularly in non-traditional fields."

In 1993, I was a junior in high school.  I don't remember ever feeling like there were fields not open to me and I had more computer skills than some boys I knew. 

Interestingly, the official website for the program, Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.org, says in their "about the program" section:

"For over 15 years, individuals, families and workplaces have joined in expanding opportunities and transforming the lives of millions of girls and boys both nationally and internationally...Exposing girls and boys to what a parent or mentor in their lives do during the work day is important, but showing them the value of their education, helping them discover the power and possibilities associated with a balanced work and family life, providing them an opportunity to share how they envision the future and begin steps toward their end goals in a hands-on and interactive environment is key to their achieving success. Each year, development of new interactive activities and partnerships will assist us in taking girls and boys to the future they dream of."

A little bit of revisionist history there, right?  Now the program isn't about self esteem, confidence and inspiration, it's about the value of education and a balance of work and family life. 

At least it did change.  I think there's starting to be a little more attention given to boys and their unique needs.  Still, can't there be something kind of like Title IX for shopping?



No Girls Allowed: Why Mothering Boys is Different Part 1


Biology and Emotion: Why Mothering Boys is Different Part 2


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Comments

purplejuli
May. 20th, 2008 05:50 pm (UTC)
Where is it that you think the idea of toys being for a specific gender comes from? How does Wynnie already know which is which? Is it just the colors? I mean, clearly the toy companies have a gender in mind when they make something pink and something else navy blue but it just really bugs me that that's the way it is! I don't want Joey to feel funny because he has a toy kitchen! All of the kids love playing with it.

I agree that girl moms have issues to deal with too, but I guess my point in kind of laying all of this out there is that the cross-gender issues, combined with (from my perspective) a girl focus, makes for real turmoil within me and that's why I gravitated to this particular meetup of women who only have sons.
momama
May. 20th, 2008 06:17 pm (UTC)
ITA about toys having to have a gender assignment. It bothers me, too. Bethany loves digging in the backyard with the Tonka trucks just as much as Sam enjoys the play kitchen and the doll house!

Its not just toys, either. Its food!!! I was babysitting my friends 3 yo and gave the kids fruit snacks as a special treat. He refused the fruit snacks because they were girls!? They were My Little Pony, but kid, they taste the same as spiderman. I told him he could eat the pink ones or he didn't have to have any. He finally just ate the My Little Pony fruit snacks, but I was shocked that at 3 this was a big deal to him. (FWIW, his dad is big into "boys don't do that" or "thats for girls" type mentality.)
belleatrix
May. 20th, 2008 06:53 pm (UTC)
i think her specific dilemma about toys came from nursery school. she really didn't care (and neither did we) what she played with before she got to school, but being around other kids, and i guess having the boys in her class tell her that she couldn't play with those types of toys because they were boy toys, really got to her. as much as i want to raise her with the ideals that you like what you like and screw anyone who says otherwise, it's really hard to see her come home from school upset by what other kids say. i guess what im trying to say is that what they don't get from us, they get from other kids. i actually heard her cousin, who's four, refuse to play a game with her because we had gotten her the spiderman version instead of the princesses version. well, so what? my brother played pretty pretty princess with us and he's made it this far!
belleatrix
May. 20th, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC)
ooo, i just thought of this ... this is something we acutally did for wynnie because we're broke as fuck and couldn't afford the $300 kitchen set she wanted ... but we kind of improvised and made her one. we cut out paper "burners" and taped them to her nightstand, cut a door into a cardboard box and that was the oven, and got her a bunch of pots and pans and food things from walmart. the pans we found were bright red and just looked like miniature versions of real cooking utensils, so there was nothing pink and girly about them. kitchen toys are for boys just as much as sports are for girls!
goldfish_totem
May. 20th, 2008 10:49 pm (UTC)
I wish there were more gender neutral toys and clothes. Anytime I shop for and purchase gifts for my nieces or any other children, I try really hard to find gender neutral stuff. Still, my nieces have their froofy frilly side. They like the pink and purple and glitter and stuff. Funny thing is, my favorite color is green and has been for many many years, including as a kid! I tended NOT to be so into the froofy stuff. As a kid, my bedroom was painted a nice soft shade of yellow and I had Peter Rabbit curtains. Even as a little girl, I wanted squirt guns, but my parents wouldn't let me have toy guns OR toy Barbie dolls due to violence and sexism.

If/When I have children, I'd be thrilled with either gender. Though I have to say a boy would be an interesting challenge to me for similar reasons to what you have said. I grew up with one sister. My sister has 3 daughters. My mom was the youngest of 3 daughters. Any advice from my mom or sister on parenting a son wouldn't be particularly relevant. I'd have better luck talking to my dad who IS a man and has a couple of brothers. But he'd have advice on how to be a dad, not how to be a mom. And how to be a dad to daughters at that! My dad is this athlete. He LOVES to go running, loves running marathons, LOVES baseball and has played baseball, has coached sports, has taught gym, etc. So, he marries this writer who isn't particularly into sports and has 2 daughters. My older sister was so apathetic about sports, she read a play at a rally when the Twins won the World Series! I hated gym class, but my dad DID help me to love WATCHING baseball. We bonded over that. He took me to games, explained it to me, excitedly bought me a glove and bat and hats and shirts, bought me tons of baseball cards, and quizzed me on trivia. I was the only one left to try to get into the sport! Ray has wondered if I'm sorta like the son he didn't have. I'm straight and definitely feminine, but sometimes have tomboy tendencies. I'm also such a daddy's girl.

One of my aun't sisters had 3 boys and the other sister had a boy and a girl. I wonder if they ever discussed the differences. I do know my mom has said that she and her other parent friends have discussed that no matter how politically correct you try to be with gender neutral stuff, the girls will still often gravitate towards a doll and the boys will still often gravitate towards the trucks.

I could write tons more, but LJ will only allow for so many characters! Regardless, good writing and it has me thinking!