“If Rebecca is having another girl,” he said, “she and her husband are going to try again until they have a son. Her husband really wants a boy.”
I don’t remember where we were at the time, but I couldn’t stop myself from going on a tirade. Rebecca and her husband had three daughters. It infuriated me that they were willing to keep on having children until they had one with a penis. What was insufficient about the children they already had that made them want to keep having more until they got the one they (assumed that they) wanted?
“He just wants a kid he can play with.”
That only made me angrier. Why couldn’t he play with his daughters? It isn’t as though any one of them wouldn’t want to spend time with their father, and as a child who was more into running free outdoors, building stuff, and getting dirty than I was makeup and tea parties (neither of which I had any interest in), I was dumbfounded at the idea that any parents would assume that all people with vaginas act exactly the same way, and all people with penises act exactly the same way (albeit differently than the vagina-people!). One of those little girls could really be into sports. They could have a son who had no interest in rough and tumble activities.
Let’s be honest: When children are born, they are strangers to everybody, even their mothers, who carried them around since they were 2 cells big. Nobody knows what kind of personality they are going to have. Nobody knows what interests they will develop. Nobody knows what their favorite color will be, what they will like doing for fun, what toys they will like playing with, who they will be friends with. We don’t give them choices. We tell them: You have a penis, so here is your solitary option. You have a vagina, so here is your solitary option. We won’t be open to you being an individual. I’ve seen parents go so far as to say that their infant children love a certain outfit or toy, when that child (obviously) had no choice in what that outfit/toy even is. The choice was all the parents’, and they projected their own personal opinion onto the tiny larval human who will literally shit in whatever outfit happens to be covering their bums at the time.
Now, my feelings on this subject are two-fold. The first deals with the concept of masculinity vs femininity. What exactly defines what is boyish or girly, in children? Why do we make these kinds of assumptions about people who are too young to have developed these identities independently? And that is a question I can’t answer; I am not a parent, so I have never projected my own biases onto any offspring. Maybe this makes my entire opinion invalid, but here we are.
Nowadays, people are starting to question our definition of feminine vs masculine in adults, mostly because the status quo is limiting and, in some cases, harmful and toxic. Ask Google to define each of these adjectives.
Feminine: having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness.
Masculine: having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness.
My plan was to ask my best friend Adam if he thought the definition of femininity applied to me in any way, but he never replied to my text message. He probably would have laughed so hard, he’d have asphyxiated, anyway, so it’s for the best. I did ask a few other friends of mine whether they felt the definition of “feminine” or “masculine” applied to me and/or themselves, and the answers were pretty much the same: Not really.
It’s just bizarre and demeaning to reduce women and men to such limiting qualities. I don’t think I know a single man who would fit this particular definition of masculine. That person sounds like an asshole, and I wouldn’t want to be friends with them. And that says a lot. (If you’ve read The Paper Clown, you’d know!) Seriously, though, these definitions can be downright toxic. Imagine if, from the time you were conceived, you were assumed to be a strong, aggressive person and were raised to be that way from the time you were born. That’s the reality for most little boys. They are discouraged from showing emotion (unless it’s aggressive, I guess!), taking interest in activities that aren’t physical, and asking for help when needed. On the flip-side, little girls were raised to put emphasis on their looks and learned helplessness, rarely finding social acceptance in being strong, intelligent, creative, athletic, or brave. Any deviation from either of these norms is thought to be problematic and a sign that the child is somehow defective. A little boy who doesn’t want to play catch with dad? SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH YOUR KID.
Anyone who knew me as a little girl and teenager might describe me as a “tomboy”. I wasn’t interested in fashion or makeup or boy bands, or boys in general, for that matter. I enjoyed tennis, reading, video games, and getting into shenanigans outside. My grandfather would work on construction projects, and I’d use the scraps to build things, usually boats. We would catch frogs at night. I thought snails and slugs were cool. My family relied on my dad and me to kill any bugs that entered the house. I sometimes wore boys’ clothing. It goes without saying that I wasn’t “feminine” enough to chill with the girls, and the boys didn’t want to hang out with someone who didn’t have a penis, so Tiny Nerd Czarina was her own best friend until high school. Childhood is brutal.
For me, it was just inconvenient. For other children and teens, however, this exclusion can be a lot worse. I feel as though it’s especially dangerous for boys who don’t fit into the “masculine” box. Boys who aren’t seen as “masculine” can be the target of bullying from both peers and their own family; male children have been killed by family members for noncompliance with the stereotype. (I’m not kidding.) Children may fall into depression, which could lead to self-harm or worse down the line, and this is especially true of transgender and non-binary children. When adults make assumptions and project their own ideas of what kids-with-penises and kids-with-vaginas are “supposed” to be like, it is a huge problem. It starts well before children are born and can affect them their entire lives. And there is no reason for things to be like this!
Take baby clothes, for instance. Not very long ago, people did not associate colors with a person’s sex/gender. In fact, the color pink was thought to be able to ward off evil spirits, so babies were dressed in pink all the time. Who wants their infant to be possessed by the devil? (It’s bad enough when a non-possessed child keeps you up at 3am. Let’s not tempt fate, here.) People had their children and just passed on the clothes to the next child, and so on.
Then, in the 1950’s-1960’s, Capitalism stepped in. Babies are big business, you know! Let’s assign certain colors to certain children, so parents will have to buy at least two sets of clothing. Nowadays, we have vomit-inducing onesies that have text printed on them that perpetuate stereotypes even more. “Pretty like mommy!” “I’m stealing your girlfriend!” Fucking EW. But parents eat this stuff up because it’s “cute”. It’s really cute for businesses to take your money, too, because that’s 100% of the reason they manufacture this kind of clothing! So, not only are gender stereotypes toxic, but it’s low-key just another way of taking your hard earned money. Don’t fall for this bullshit. Raise your children as individuals, and don’t punish them for not being the people you expect them to be. You hated that shit when you were kids, and your kids hate that shit now. Stop the cycle.
I understand that there are a few readers who may be confused about why I feel so strongly about this topic, not being a parent, myself. Truth be told, I have a lot of strong opinions about the entire subject of child-rearing in general that I will never fully be comfortable sharing due to the circumstances of my not being a parent. Because, Brenda, while you are complaining that you don’t want another girl or another boy, there are people out there in the world whose greatest sorrow is knowing they can never be parents at all.
It’s nice when you are able to take something like having a family for granted – nice for you. It’s not nice for the person next to you who may have spent a lot of money and time and undergone medical procedures in a vain effort to become a parent. It’s not nice for the person whose child is dead. It’s not nice for the person who carried one or more pregnancies to term, only to have stillbirths. It’s not nice for the person who probably could bear children, if they wanted, but chooses not to because they feel that it’s the best option – even if, on a purely emotional level, they would be happy to be parents. It’s not a great feeling to listen to someone complain about not having the picture perfect family they want, when you can never forget the moment when your biggest excitement turned into your greatest loss. It’s not nice for the person whose child was born with severe disabilities or illnesses and may never get to experience the same kind of life that others have with their non-disabled or healthy children.
But nobody likes to talk about those things, and even fewer people want to hear about them. I get it. Dead babies are not a good party topic. That’s why I strongly advise any parents-to-be to appreciate and love the child that one of you (or a surrogate) is constructing. You have never met that child. Don’t assume that they are any better or worse as a person and addition to your family based solely upon what they have going on between their legs. They are individuals. They will grow up to surprise you, disappoint you, and make you proud. They will be just as complicated and problematic as you are. You’ll definitely fuck up and cause some sort of issues for them. Just don’t let those issues revolve around their gender identity. Childhood is bad enough without that kind of nonsense.