Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sexism Creeping In

There is a somewhat sickening article on CNN about a mother-to-be, and how she doesn't want a girl after having two boys. Her reaction to discovering she was having a girl? Well, it was something like this:
This child I was just starting to feel stir inside me was a girl? I waited for the excitement to wash over me. It didn't come. Not only was I not thrilled -- I was disappointed. I'm still not sure whether I was more bummed by how I found out or what I found out. Either way, I was shaken.

The reason she was shaken? Well, that one goes something like this:
Even before I had sons, I worried about having a daughter. I could handle boys, with their cut-and-dried needs, but girls were so much more complicated. Girls have elaborate hairstyling requirements. They whine and mope, manipulate and triangulate. How was I going to deal with that?
I could feel my face getting hot as I read through that. But I nearly blew my stack when I got to this:
I fear I won't know how to protect my child from a world that may often tell her that she's not good enough as she is.

Because it is obvious that it isn't just the world who thinks she's not good enough as she is, even though she's never been born yet. It is her own mother. This little girl may one day grow up and play the game many of us like to play from time to time, and that is to Google her name or the name of her loved ones. And when she Googles her mother's name, she may stumble upon this very article, telling her that her conception wasn't a joy - because she was a girl. And even if she doesn't, or even if she Googles and there are so many other Amy Wilsons out there she never stumbles upon this particular article, that sentiment - that girls are yucky, and so is pink! sentiment - is still present in this mother's mind. That is just all manner of sad.

I also want to know why this woman, a woman who herself has no interest in pink or princess or tutus, automatically expects a girl who will be. I want to know why this woman doesn't anticipate how having two older brothers will help shape this particular girl. How having that older niece who loves to get dirt underneath her nails will affect how this particular girl views being a girl. I'm not denying that this little girl may become inalterably in love with the shade of pink, but I find it all the more ironic that a mother who is protesting pink then goes and buys her daughter pink outfits instead of dressing the kid in the gender neutral outfits her boys were dressed in. In this case, I fear this little girl may very well suffer from mixed messages regarding pink and its attributes - and probably other girly things and their attributes, as well as the attributes of being a girl.

And then there's this: kids are always going to be interested in things their parents don't give two flying leaps about. One of my sisters is, at the moment, psychotic about remaining in her number 1 position in academic rankings; my other sister loves soccer, to watch it and to play it; and I was obsessed with dance and dance classes. My parents? Not really that interested in any of those things. But one of the things about parenting is in enduring activities you would rather not simply because it makes your kids happy, and because it doesn't hurt them. So, my parents go to parent-teacher conferences and soccer games, and went to at least one dance recital a year for about 17 years. The other thing is that kids are, generally, also interested in some stuff their parents actually do like; in my parents' case, that covers a wide range of subjects including but not limited to politics, history, animated films, games of frisbee, and Apples to Apples. So this girl may turn out to be a pink-wearing, princess obsessed girly-girl who also loves to roughhouse and play Matchbox cars. Stranger things have happened. Almost as strange as worrying about the world devaluing your daughter, as if you haven't spent an article doing just that.


Related reading on the devaluing of girl babies via FeministGal.

7 comments:

John said...

Wow. You'd think there was a law that specified exactly how every mother must raise every daughter, and that any alternative (like, say, NOT reinforcing gender stereotypes) is punishable by death. PINK OR DEATH! PINK OR DEATH!!

petpluto said...

Hmm... I think I'll have the... death. No, no! Pink! I meant pink!

;-D

FeministGal said...

this makes me so so sad :( thanks for the article and the linkage to mine

mikhailbakunin said...

I think this is a little unfair to the author.

First, this commentary is based off of Amy Wilson’s off-Broadway show “Mother Load.” The show is a comedy, so I think this is meant to be sort of tongue-in-cheek.

Second, if you read Amy Wilson’s blog, she explains, “I do want everyone to understand one thing. I did not title my essay ‘Why I Didn't Want a Girl.’ CNN did . . . . and my original title was ‘A Daughter, At Last.’ CNN's title is definitely more provocative, but if you read my essay, I think you'll find it's much more about my concern about my apprehension about having a girl, than my proud statement of how anti-daughter I am. 18 months later, I am utterly besotted with Maddie. To all those strangers who told me how lucky I was to be having a girl: you were sure right.” [My emphasis]

Third, in the commentary, Wilson clearly says that she’s "ashamed" to be having these feelings. I don’t think she’s trying to justify them.

She also goes on to say, "I know not all girls are like this -- sugar and spice and Hannah Montana. My own niece provides a compelling dirt-under-her-fingernails counter example. Plus, I can choose not to expose my daughter to the pink princess world in the first place."

To call her piece “sickening” is a bit of an overstatement, isn’t it?

petpluto said...

To call her piece “sickening” is a bit of an overstatement, isn’t it?I was sickened by it. Thus, it was sickening. So no, I don't think it was an overstatement.

Second, if you read Amy Wilson’s blog, she explains, “I do want everyone to understand one thing. I did not title my essay ‘Why I Didn't Want a Girl.’ CNN did . . . . and my original title was ‘A Daughter, At Last.’ CNN's title is definitely more provocative, but if you read my essay, I think you'll find it's much more about my concern about my apprehension about having a girl, than my proud statement of how anti-daughter I am.Thing is, even without the CNN contributed title, the article still played like "girls who are girly are uber yucks", and not "I am nervous about having a girl".

Secondly, her fear and apprehension came through detailing how unappealing girls were. She gives some lip service in the article to how "not all girls are like this", but (a) that's all it comes off as, and (b) what's wrong with girls who are more girly? One of the things that offended me about the article is that her mindset very much is that things we see as traditionally boy-like are better than the pink and frills and things that are traditionally girl-like. One of the problems I have with gender hierarchies is the fact that we do devalue girly things as a society, and therefore the only way girls can be valued is by enveloping the behavior and the interests we traditionally see as boy-oriented. That is a problem, because we therefore still see things that are coded as 'girl' as being somehow a negative.

Third, in the commentary, Wilson clearly says that she’s "ashamed" to be having these feelings. I don’t think she’s trying to justify them.It is sickening to me that these thought processes - that girls "whine and mope" and "manipulate and triangulate" - are still so readily present in society we don't even blink when seeing them in an article. Boys don't whine? Boys don't mope? Boys never manipulate? And yet, those negative attributes are overly applied to girls. I'm sickened by a society in which these thoughts are normal and normalized, and that the minor caveat that "not all girls are like this" is enough to make the article mainstream.

She may be ashamed, but I'm ashamed that these thoughts were and are automatic; and I'm not just sickened by this one woman but by the culture that facilitates this kind of thought process.

And, as an aside, her shame alone doesn't change the fact that she is one of the people who she is trying to protect her daughter from.

18 months later, I am utterly besotted with Maddie. To all those strangers who told me how lucky I was to be having a girl: you were sure right.I'm glad for that, and I hope that having a girl has caused her to look back at her previous feelings about girls and girly things with a new perspective.

My problem is that there are plenty of people for whom a daughter is not a joy (which is where FeministGal's piece comes in), and how the thoughts Wilson expresses aren't a fluke. It is something societally accepted, and that is sickening.

mikhailbakunin said...

"Thing is, even without the CNN contributed title, the article still played like 'girls who are girly are uber yucks'. . . . One of the things that offended me about the article is that her mindset very much is that things we see as traditionally boy-like are better than the pink and frills and things that are traditionally girl-like. One of the problems I have with gender hierarchies is the fact that we do devalue girly things as a society, and therefore the only way girls can be valued is by enveloping the behavior and the interests we traditionally see as boy-oriented."

Saying that you have a preference for traditionally masculine things isn't the same as saying that there should be a gender hierarchy.

You constantly engaged in this kind of inductive fallacy - when someone states a preference, you generalize that preference, arguing that individual preferences can only be see in the context social preferences. Then, you use those individual preferences to justify your larger social narrative.

It's impossible to contend with this kind of argument. You can't use your evidence to justify your narrative, and then use your narrative to justify your evidence.

petpluto said...

You constantly engaged in this kind of inductive fallacy - when someone states a preference, you generalize that preference, arguing that individual preferences can only be see in the context social preferences.No, I'm saying that this is (a) disturbing to me as a girl, who was once a girl baby, and (b) is disturbing because it does exemplify social trends.

I think you are wrong to believe that the individual and the individual preferences form outside the society in which we live. Does that mean that every preference is created by society? No. But it does mean that I think we need to look carefully at why we prefer what we prefer, how we rank what we like, how we see genders and how we value genders, and what we then do with that information.

The fact is girls are devalued by society, and girliness is devalued by society. The fact is, this woman - whether or not she personally came to these beliefs through a societal trend (and I tend to think that yeah, she did, just like I did when I was 12 and thought girls and girly things were the yucks) - exemplifies those beliefs. The fact is, I find that devaluing to be extremely problematic and, frankly, depressing.