Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sugar and Spice - like nutmeg, but not cayenne, right?

I'm intrigued anytime I feel a sense of true support from other ladies. This blog is interesting in that we've come together as a group to share and express, and there is a very non-competitive vibe that is worth noting. Probably since the age of eight when I started to have my first unhealthy relationships with other girls, I've been interested in the question of why we--as a gender--are always in competition with each other and why it's difficult to function in female relationships. And most of us live our lives trying NOT to be called a bitch or a ho (the fact that everyone is so ready to call a girl that is a whole other social problem).

For starters, I have feminist ideals, and I hate gender stereotypes and restrictive ideas about gender roles. I fucking hate the toy store for this: everything separated into girl toys and boy toys. At little toddlers' birthday parties, people get the kids things according to the kid's gender and start saying things like, "Ooh, he's gonna be a big football player when he gets older!" or "She's going to be a ballerina one day!"

Is it really that much of a stretch that a girl might want to play with the tool bench or a basketball? Is it ridiculous to think a little boy might want to take care of a little animal or a baby doll? (Of course then everyone will call him gay for being a nice human being. And what about gay and transgender kids? But I digress.) How will these kids even know what they like if they can't even choose what they're interested in?

The bigger question is: when I have kids, how do I let my kids choose their own passions in such a prescribed setting? And then people give you that look like you're such a weirdo and you're just mad at society "for no reason" and "just face it: little girls like pink, and little boys like guns. They're born that way." I don't buy into that. "Human nature" is such a big, vague, blanket excuse for things that have social explanations.

(note: I have personally worn tutus and pointe shoes and loved it--I am not the least bit against traditional feminine images in themselves. But my dad played baseball with me as a kid, too, and I never would have know I was a strong hitter if he'd assumed I could only be a dancer.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. I went to a birthday party for my BF's nephew who was turning one. He pretty much just likes colors. It was hard to find something that wasn't over-the-top hetero-boy. We settled for a fuzzy book about animals and a pound-shapes-into-holes-with-a-hammer game. Last year for his brother, we found a picnic set of fake food and plates and such--who doesn't like fake food?

So without much elegance, back to my orignal point (it will tie-in, I swear): people like to say girls are "naturally" catty, or women can't be friends with other women, or girls have "cat fights" because they just can't help themselves. I read a book once that proposed that the reason these stereotypes exist is because women really do compete heavily with each other and we're pretty threatened by other women because we are in the less-powerful gender category and we're scraping for power from the male group. I like this theory--it makes sense. For example: we compete for guys to think we're the most beautiful. Attention from them means power-by-proxy for us. Or some girls say, "I hate girls--they're so catty," to pretend to be one of the guys so that she may reap they benefits of feeling the power that guys feel.

BUT--the good news is that we can truly band together and have power through support and cooperation, of course. But this is more difficult than it sounds: when some pretty but otherwise uninteresting blond is throwing herself at some guy, would you talk shit about her? Or would you respond with a feeling of care like you wanted to help her lift herself up instead of searching for power in un-empowering ways? Would you be able to see all other females as part of your team and deserving of love and support? That's hard and pretty counter-intuitive for me based on the habits I've formed my whole life.

And as a supplement to my point, I'd like to add that guys have their own issues to work out with their gender role stereotypes (i.e., too much focus on physical strength and the ability to compete and be aggressive). Oh, and I do believe that race and sexual orientation affects gender roles and where you are in the social hierarchy of things. I'd love to hear a gay or non-white female perspective on all of this.

So anyway, this blog=cool ladies.


booton said...

i agree 100% with your perspective on toys for kids- and actually what surprises me is that the kids could care less and DO like playing with toys that aren't gender-specific or even with toys that are meant for the opposite gender...the sad thing is to see parents who force these roles on their kids, and even worse, who make other parents feel bad for letting their kids branch out. i've witnessed this kind of closed-mindedness too often and it just makes me sick. although i can't give you a different viewpoint, i can agree with your disgust!

Novella said...

I'm totally with you on the toy store thing. There is this commercial that I've seen several times for a play house that shows a little girl doing pretend laundry and cooking pretend food in her pretty little plastic house that just makes me angry. I think that parents should try to be conscious of gender-specific marketing that reinforces stereotypes and try to teach their children that they aren't limited to or excluded from enjoying certain things just because they're a girl or boy.

In regards to the theory you brought up about why women are perceived as being highly competitive with one another, I think that it makes sense when applied generally to heterosexual women. I feel that the female competitive nature is largely tied to the drive to be sexually desirable and receive attention from men. One of my single, straight, female friends always seems eager to "out" me to guys as a means to remove me from her competitive pool, therefore increasing her own chances. Self-esteem and ego also seem to heavily come into play. I would agree also that the desire for power has a lot to do with it, and the alignment of power with masculinity works within queer hierarchies to some extent as well, depending on what type of women you're attracted to and how you yourself identify (femme, butch, etc...)

Fermi said...

Great Post Tino!

Now, Toy Store Issues.
Parents that encourage the stereotypes are idiots. But to the same extent, I am pretty sure that a phase of childhood is forming an identity and having black and white thinking. Apparently kids under a certain age do not have the brain development yet to understand that there are categories beyond 'good and bad' or 'boy and girl' or 'grown-up and child.'

Tino said...

Novella, I'm interesting in hearing more about this:"the alignment of power with masculinity works within queer hierarchies to some extent as well, depending on what type of women you're attracted to and how you yourself identify (femme, butch, etc...)"