Hello everyone! Happy Friday to you all!
I'm a bit dazed and confused that it *is* Friday already, but despite the attack of the Nanovirus (and the pouring rain) I'm pretty cheerful. I'm slightly ahead of my NaNoWriMo target, I'm starting to feel a little better, and most importantly Super Agent LOVES Big Secret Project Book One. Yippee!
So it's time to bust out the RetroFriday goodness, and drag a post from the archives which you may not have seen before or may find interesting to re-read. Given last week's ranting about the problems of Mary Sue in our sexist society, it felt about time to pull out some of my earlier thoughts on the topic. And so I give you:
RetroFriday: SUGAR AND SPICE
Today, as part of my random, FF-is-eating-my-brain programme of entertainment, I present a post on what I think is wrong with the way our society perceives and enforces gender roles. To read the article that inspired this blog post you can click on this link.
In summary: This very clever lady used Zoë-Trope favourite Wordle to create these.
The first one is a Wordle made up of the terms used in advertising boy's toys. The second is made up of terms used in advertising girl's toys.
These toys were marketed at boys and girls between the ages of six and eight - very young. But not too young to already be assessing and questioning their place in the world and who they should be. In fact, this is exactly the period when children are assigning themselves the gender roles that they may carry for the rest of their lives.
By this age I was already rejecting my mother's desire to dress me in sensible jeans and dungarees and begging for pink, flowery dresses. By this age the boys I knew were already wearing mostly blue and bright red and camoflage colours, and saying things like 'Ew, giiiirls!'
These behaviours all seem perfectly natural - until you realise they're not.
Until the age of around eight or nine, boys and girls have precisely the same hormones running through their veins. If you took a group of boys and girls under ten and dressed them in the same grey sack and cut all their hair to the same length, you would be unable to tell boy from girl, even if they spoke or hugged you or danced around the room.
There is no pink gene on the X-chromosone that automatically makes little girls crave flowery dresses and ribbons and baby dolls. There's no blue gene on the y-chromosone that automatically makes boys crave fast cars, swords and buzz cuts. There's definitely no 'Euw, giiirls!' gene that requires boys to treat girls and anything that girls might be interested in with disdain and contempt.
And yet these are all behaviours which are so common, so normal, so 'natural' to us that we not only don't QUESTION them? We get all het up and bothered if kids *don't* conform to them. Like, for instance, when this American blogger helped her little boy's wish come true by allowing him to dress as Daphne from Scooby Do at Halloween, and dozens of people descended on her to say that she was a bad mother.
It's not that either of these Wordles presents any bad words. There's nothing wrong with a child of either sex liking dresses and babies or dragons and heroes. The problem is that the companies creating these toys, and the people marketing them, are making an assumption that girls - and only girls - are vitally interested in fashion, perfect nails, babies, love and hair. And that boys - and only boys - are interested in battle, power, heroes, stealth and beating people.
Which is only true if we make it so, by pushing a narrow, reductive take on what male and female mean onto children and telling them 'this is what you are'. There is simply no reason for young children to be treated or act differently based on their sex, other than the fact that we, as a society, want them to be different.
What a terrible thing to do to a child, right? How awful to bombard them with films, TV shows, music videos, books and toys and toy catalogues (not to mention unconscious assumptions on the way that children should develop and behave) and try to force them to conform to unnatural, artificial ideals of gender, without any good reason.
What are kids, especially kids who don't enjoy the roles arbitrarily assigned to them based on their reproductive organs, absorbing from this?
Looking at these Wordles makes me think of all kinds of other things that worry me. Like the commonly held idea that boys don't read because not enough 'boy books' are on the shelves, and that the dominance of women editors and writers in Young Adult and Children's publishing is somehow hurting boys and preventing them from becoming readers. The arguments about this are summed up beautifully in this article by YA author Maureen Johnson - and the comment trail is particularly interesting.
Why is it so impossible for us to expect a boy to read a book that has a girl main character? Why is the idea of reading about a girl so disgusting to boys that, apparently, they won't even go into the bookstore because they have to pass by books with girls in them? What are we teaching boys - and girls - about the value of their role in society by encouraging this, and by placing the blame on female authors and editors intead of a society that raises boys to look at girls (and anything that may be considered to be 'girly') with contempt? Especially since we're also raising the girls to believe that they must conform to 'girly' behaviour and interests in order to be 'normal' and 'natural'?
It's not normal and natural.
Babies, love, perfect nails and romance are awesome. So are battles, dragons, flames and heroes. What I want to know is, why can't both sexes be interested in both without being shunned by our society? Why, 500,000 years after modern man first emerged as a species on earth, are we still trying to play by the strict rules of a hunter-gatherer society that died out with flint axes and stone circles?
And will people like me still be asking this question in another hundred year's time - or a thousand?