Thursday, November 29, 2007

Free to be...

So apparently Ima Shalom and I are on the same page this week (maybe this comes from having kids born just one day apart). In the wake of my babies’ first birthday a few weeks ago, and the 35 birthday of “Free to Be You and Me” – a favorite album as a child and now, which I blogged about here – I’ve been thinking a lot about gender socialization. Having boy/girl twins pretty much pushes my face in this issue all the time (ok, I admit that it doesn’t take a lot of pushing – I DO have a PhD in women’s history), and people love to remind me that I have my own little “gender lab” at home. Of course, I see it as a more of a baby development lab, since it seems ridiculous to me to think that we could possibly draw any conclusions about gender difference from a sample size of one (of each sex), but most people practically role their eyes when I say that. They’d rather point out how “interesting” it is that my son is the one who runs all over the house, while my daughter is more focused on learning to talk. I think it’s “interesting” that people are so relieved to find supposed confirmation of gender stereotypes.

Today I discovered another mommy blog – outside the (toy) box – that focuses specifically on these kinds of issues. I especially love that she offers a resource section of anti-sexist/anti-consumerist children’s books. I had been feeling kind of sad as I considered "Free to Be You and Me"’s movement toward middle age and the apparent dearth of new projects of this sort, and was despairing at the daunting task of counteracting the strong tide of gender stereotypes that still pulls at us (and my little developing people!) all the time. It’s always nice to know there are allies in this struggle. It’s sometimes hard to remember when even your feminist friends buy your twins little matching pink and blue outfits…

Also thanks to "outside the (toy) box," I discovered this great piece about the ways that gender restricts both girls and boys:

For every girl who is tired of acting weak when she is strong, there is a boy who is tired of appearing strong when he is vulnerable. For every boy who is burdened with the constant expectation of knowing everything, there is a girl tired of people not trusting her intelligence. For every girl tired of being called over-sensitive, there is a boy who fears to be gentle, to weep. For every boy for whom competition is the only way to prove his masculinity, there is a girl called unfeminine when she competes. For every girl who throws out her EZ Bake oven, there is a boy who wishes to find one. For every boy struggling not to let advertising dictate his desires, there is a girl facing the ad industry’s attacks on her self esteem. For every girl who takes a step toward her liberation, there is a boy who finds his way to freedom a little easier.

You can buy or download this poster (with gender-subverting coloring book drawings on the flip side) at Crimethinc. I’m going to hang it in my office, right next to my poster of Emma Goldman, a role model in the project of gender-flouting.

As hard as these gender issues can be in this first-toys stage (and especially at this gift-giving season), I’m anticipating how much more complicated they will be when it comes to certain ritual expectations of the kids. For example, will we require both of them to wear a kippah at the times when Abba does and Ima (sometimes) does? How could we not, I think, and then remember what I just wrote above – that I don’t consistently wear a kippah, and for reasons I can’t rationally justify (e.g. vanity, comfort). I wonder: how can we be honest with our kids about our own inconsistencies and ambivalences, without instilling in them the assumptions we’re trying so hard to overcome ourselves? When it comes to toys – I’m clear where I stand, and the hard work is counteracting the force of culture. When it comes to religious practice, these issues – despite my unyielding commitment to egalitarianism – are somehow murkier.


mom said...

Ooh - thanks for visiting and I can tell you that in our house Free To Be is a staple!! I just love the Carol Channing piece on advertisements for house cleaners!

Nice to meet you, ally.

Maya said...

I can really see you making the most of twins for non-gender-limiting toys and roles. Watching my French aunt with her son and daughter, and working in Germany and Czech Republic, I realized many Europeans have less rigidly separated gender roles--my French aunt let my male cousin paint his nails when he felt like it, and indulged in product for his hair, as does a Polish friend (whose son gets manicures and hand cream on demand). Try finding those people and hang with them! That's what I'm trying to do.