Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Except that some moms do. More on this in a moment.

First, a sidenote-style bit of business. I pulled my last blog, the one on Jane Ward's article about the relationships of trans men and femme ladies, because she wrote to me and said I mis-represented her. She offered, generously, to speak to me on the phone about it. I shall do that, once we set a time, and then revisit the topic.

Now, on to today's lesson. A person - Elizabeth, we shall call her, as that is her name - posted the link to this story on my Facebook wall. It's about a mom who objected to her school's solicitation of dads to help out with a construction project for a kids' activity. Go skim it, it's a quick read.

What follows is a summary of the conversation I had with Elizabeth. If I get her permission to quote her, I'll edit this and do so. Until then, I'll paraphrase.

I like the Penis Mom post all right until this part:
Ladies, this is not a situation of the men holding us back - we are holding ourselves back because we don't want to step forward if it is icky and muddy.
I think that's gross, and it's blaming women for hetero-patriarchal assumptions about gender norms, 100% of which are socialized. Some people like playing in the mud, and some don't, and the principal's assertion that SHE is a PROPER woman is ridic. But women aren't oppressed by the patriarchy because they don't like mud and to argue that they are is asinine.

Elizabeth pointed out that there's a lot of interesting stuff aside from that quote, including the fact that the word "penis" is somehow considered inappropriate for teenagers. She's right, I shouldn't just focus on that one sentence.
Parents who think 13 year olds are too delicate to hear the word "penis" (imagine if the word had been "vagina") are probably totally terrified of sex as a concept and refuse to believe that their kids will engage in it and are probably also really into regulating the sex lives of strangers. Such people include those who are anti-choice and those who think that gay people are sinners. All three concepts are equally silly/awful.

Her larger point that it's intensely retro for anyone to argue that dads and not moms are the ones who should be invited to this is a good one. The concept the school folks were working with excludes anyone who doesn't come from a hetero two-parent household, really. And it tells the boys that they'd better be ready to set up a trébuchet and girls that they'd better never be into that. [And that no other people exist besides boys and girls.] Ugh. Heteronormativity for the win, again, some more. This is all gender training.

Also: I find it's much easier for us to get all up in arms about this kind of thing than it would be when dads are excluded from shit dealing with baking or whatever. You know? It's more acceptable for the weak to mimic the powerful than the other way around. I want to see this level of outrage around men not getting invited to after-school sewing shit and boys who want to wear dresses and whatever.

Elizabeth said she's not sure what to do about that, and I said: "About what?
People who think that it's okay for women to, in at least some areas, tack to the more masculine activities, but it never appears to be okay for men to do things coded as feminine? Throw a fit about it. Like this lady did. And keep throwing fits about it."

There's also the issue that we can too easily erase people who are not male or female, or who are not men or women, or who are not masculine or feminine. If we can get rid of these ideas that people who were assigned one of only two options at birth must do certain things (and be with certain partners - again, homophobia alert) then we can more easily see, and accept, and cherish and admire and adore, the people who don't fit into our silly constructed gender binary in the first place.

Elizabeth made the argument that it's not really about "males and females," it's about power, and how, she says, Gloria Steinem argues that women should be looking for equal power, and that she (Elizabeth) is more interested in what as coded as weak or powerful.

Of course it has to do with "males and females." So many things are coded that way - almost everything, really. And things that are coded male/masculine are also coded as more powerful, and things that are coded as female/feminine are coded as weaker. And male/masculine and female/feminine don't even go together in nature, but in the cultural mind, they do.

It's an incomplete fight to say that women need access to the things coded as more powerful. That alone does nothing to upset the entirely constructed and fictional gender binary we live in. The trick to ending gender-based oppression isn't saying "women need to be invited to build machines in the mud," it's saying, "we need to stop coding things as masculine/powerful and feminine/weak." She's partly right that it's about power, but Steinem was working in a pretty limited second-wave context. I think we're beyond that now.

We need to do these things:
1. Realize that gender is constructed, and that there is nothing unnatural/aberrant/deviant/threatening about people not living up to the gender they were assigned at birth. Here's the thing: NO ONE lives up to the gender we were assigned at birth. Some people are just more obvious/visible about it, or disinterested in even trying.
2. Following from that, we can see that everything coded as masculine/powerful and feminine/weak is a lie based in bigotry and misogyny. And we can stop coding shit according to whether assigned-at-birth men or assigned-at-birth women do it.
3. AND THEN we can see that we're all just performing our genders (see #1 above), and I think life will get a lot easier for trans and genderqueer people, who get the shit kicked out of them in all kinds of literal and figurative ways for not conforming to the lie of the binary.
4. AND THEN we won't bat an eyelash if a girl comes to school in "boys' clothes" or a boy comes to school in "girls' clothes" and people will be free to be as masculine or feminine or whatever that they want, ANDDDDD masculine and feminine won't be the only choices. People will just be free to express themselves however they want and a lot of violence will end.
5. And we will, I fucking hope, stop having gay panic every five fucking seconds. I realize that a lot of comedians will be out of work, but that's a price I'm willing to pay.


  1. "Also: I find it's much easier for us to get all up in arms about this kind of thing than it would be when dads are excluded from shit dealing with baking or whatever. You know? It's more acceptable for the weak to mimic the powerful than the other way around. I want to see this level of outrage around men not getting invited to after-school sewing shit and boys who want to wear dresses and whatever."


    Now people with more thought-provoking and intelligent things to say, please comment. ;)

  2. There's a lot of thought-provoking stuff in this post, thank you! Between this post, my current break book (Delusions of Gender), and the post I read yesterday about gender bullying in classrooms (, I feel more educated, but also like I know less about the root of/solution to the problem than I thought I did. So you know, kind of like every day of grad school for me. ;)

  3. Thanks, y'all!

    I liked a lot of the stuff in that Rethinking Schools piece you link to, AJ. I had a couple minor "eh" moments with it, but maybe I'll write about them another time. :)

    And that's all we can do, you know? Figure out what we don't know? I'm interested in your thoughts about Fine's book, I haven't had a chance to read it yet.

  4. Jess, I'd love to sit down and talk about Fine's book with you when I'm done reading it. I've been meaning to read it for a while, but these days any recreational reading gets sidelined until break weeks...

    And I'd love to hear your thoughts on the gender bullying piece, so I'll keep my fingers crossed that you can find time to write about it. :)

  5. This is excellent. And I am immensely intrigued by the concept of the male/powerful mimicking or "stepping down" to the feminine/weak. I use stepping down not as an insult, but more to allude to the old patriarchal family heirs "stepping down" from head of the household/throne etc. And in alluding to the above, attempt to highlight how archaic shit like that is.
    Part of my intrigue in this is I am a heterosexual guy who has little desire in getting dirty/fixing or building things, and intentionally makes friends with people who can do these things....;)
    Also, I have no idea what a fucking trébuchet is, let alone how to help build one, let alone how to build one with my penis. It sounds painful.
    But I can say from personal experience that I have seen gender lines blurred. I am a straight guy who doesn't like football or basketball, I'm a vegetarian-fucking hate hunting and would ban every single gun in this country if I could, I like cooking-though I'm shit at it, I'm an atheist and a marxist and I really like soccer (admittedly, not all of these are "gender" traits, but it's used to illustrate that I'm not a "man's man" (I just threw up in my mouth a little typing that)). I use myself as as an example so as not to co-opt the experiences of others, not because I am in any way a victim of anything.
    What I am getting at is that I think traditional gender roles are already being blurred. Slightly. Slowly. Kind of on the dl. Or excused with the "yeah but s/he..." And these blurrings can have terrible outcomes. But, given that I do think they occur more regularly than is presented in "the public sphere," I think it a good jumping off point to beginning to eradicate gender binary thinking. Holding up whatever blurred lines there are to the light and attempting to show that, already, things do not fall along conventional gender lines.
    Maybe worth a shot? I've kind of become disillusioned with my own point in the process of writing this. Sorry, as always, for my ramblings.