I read an article last night that made me both sad and angry at the same time. I’m fairly sure that’s not what the author or individuals interviewed had in mind, but it was like looking into a mirror. I realized that despite my best efforts, society’s norms are so ingrained into my persona that I have little chance of really raising my daughter to be an independent, not-bound-by-gender-roles adult.
The article was in the Washington Post, titled “Crossing the Divide,” by Tara Bahrampour. It’s a series of interviews with transgender men, reflecting on how society views them as men versus how they were viewed as women before. It was well written, introspective, and surprising at times. Unlike many of the articles I’ve read, the author didn’t focus on how society views trans people. Instead, she looked at how these individuals experienced social norms in their new roles – particularly the interactions with those who had no idea they were transgender.
What stood out
What struck me most out of all the individual stories was how much weight and importance the male gender owns. Interviewees spoke of instantly being taken seriously, of being given credit for things they didn’t earn while women were passed over. They talked about how they were expected to be self-sufficient: treated as strong and sturdy, versus the presumed weaker female gender. One of the interviewees, Trystan Cotton, talked about the switch from a perceived “no threat” female to “dangerous threat” as an African-American male. He said:
“Before, I used to feel safe going up to a police officer if I was lost or needed directions. But I don’t do that anymore … I’ll never call the police again.”
Trystan Cotton, Crossing the Divide, Washington Post
All of this piled in on the musings and emotions that I had while shopping, of all things.
Men’s shoes take up perhaps 1/3 of the shoe store that I was in. Perhaps half of those are athletic shoes. The rest – professional, slick, polished shoes for work – all look astoundingly similar. They’re all from the same stiff mold, designed to look spiffy and professional. Women’s shoes?
Women’s shoes sprawl all over the huge box store. They range from athletic to sexy, and the more professional they are, the higher they go. I compared the men’s professional shoes and the women’s with a sour expression. Men are not expected to wear 4-inch heels in order to be taken seriously. Sure, women can wear flats, but that’s considered boring and undesirable, right? If you want to be successful, dress for it, right?
One must suffer in order to be beautiful
I vividly remember asking my husband once if his new shoes were going to rub his ankles raw, because the edges were so rough. His look of surprise caught me off guard – it had never happened to him. All of his shoes were comfortable – all were designed to fit. I didn’t know how to explain my shock – because ALL of my dress shoes have needed pads or inserts to avoid bloody feet. Even with the inserts, I still have to bring band aids just in case.
I’m not saying high heels are bad. Even if they really are bad for your feet. I’m saying the expectation is bad – that women are held to a different, looks-based standard than men.
My daughter, my sons
I’m raising my daughter in this male-dominated world, and I cringe at the subliminal messages we send without even realizing it. I’m so steeped in this stew that I can’t always see where it influences my actions. I’m raising my sons in this same world, and I worry about the message they’re getting as well. Men are stronger. Men don’t need help. Men can’t show emotion, or be perceived as feminine, because it’s seen as weak.
My daughter loves pink, purple, and sparkly. How much of that is truly her, and how much is the subliminal messaging that she’s bombarded with from every angle? I hate pink. I hate frilly and sparkly. I rarely dressed her in pink as an infant, and I frequently buy her boy’s clothes because they fit better and have fun stuff.
The thing I realized this week was that it’s not just about how we parents live as role models. My kids take their role models from everyone, including us. I could be a perfect role model, and the friend’s parents, sports stars, t.v. show actors, and everyone else swoops in to fill that void of “normal.”
I asked my kids at lunch what they thought about gender roles. My oldest was the most articulate and he still struggled to explain how he felt. I was happy that they didn’t have clear-cut outdated gender roles, but I was frustrated that they still put no value on the work that I do.
Just a little further
The thing is, we’ve come a long way towards equality as women. We truly have. But we still have so far to go. When children’s toys aren’t sold by gender, we’ll have made it. When women and men hold the door for each other equally, we’ll have made it. When women are in political office and no one thinks anything about it because it’s perfectly normal, we’ll have made it. When men can cry and not be ridiculed, we’ll be there. When women don’t feel like they have to apologize for daring to talk, we’ll have made it.
Guys often feel attacked by articles like this because they don’t experience living with it. They don’t realize what life is like on the other side of the gender divide. That’s why the article “Crossing the Divide” was so interesting and important – it’s perspectives from people who have truly lived both roles.
I’ll keep plugging along in my attempts to be a good role model, but I’m keeping a sharper eye out for the insidious attempts. The purse, compared to the superheroes. The make-up compared to the dinosaurs. She’ll get that robot she’s asking for, but I’m not going to get it in pink. Screw pink. Pink is the color of oppression, and I’m finally realizing why I hate it so much. She can have pink, but it needs to be because she likes it. Not because some faceless designer somewhere decides that’s the only color girls want.
For starters, I’m going to consciously stop apologizing so much. I’m here. Deal with it. I’m going to own being who I am, what I am, and not put myself down. Especially not in front of the kids. Not that I was doing that much anyway, but I certainly haven’t been celebrating much either.
I’m a stay-at-home-mom feminist with a creative bent, a questioning mind, and a willingness to say “I don’t know.” I’m a great example for my kids, and I want to show them that being a SAHM is a choice that I made and value. I’m not their only role model, but I’m the only mom model they have.
We might not get there in this generation. It might take a few more years to start reversing the stereotypes, but we’ll make it. By the time my daughter is my age, I hope we’re there.