Saturday, June 4, 2011

Guys and Dolls

Cross-posted here

A couple of days ago, when I checked Etsy, I was drawn into reading an article supposedly about the origin of pink as a color associated with girls and femininity. I didn't make it through the first paragraph before a brooding but subtle and familiar bitterness set in. This isn't something originated by Etsy, but I am always disappointed to see it perpetuated, especially by a company to which I give money, business, and traffic. Of all of the problems I have with Etsy, this probably isn't the largest, but it is one I didn't expect to encounter. This is a post I didn't want to write, but couldn't walk away from.

My first objection is to the idea that a girl is less than a boy, or, for that matter, that a boy is less than a girl. It has always bothered me when parents hope desperately for a child of a certain sex. I cannot and will not be convinced that two girls are inherently more similar than a boy and a girl, simply because of their sex. Siblings may turn out to be very different from one another, or they may be quite similar, whether they are male or female. I know parents argue that they want the experience of raising a girl or a boy, or both, but I think the experience of raising each child is unique, and that the differences between a male and female child have more to do with the expectations of the parent than with the child.

Our culture is steeped in sexism, much of it blatant, but the persistent, latent sexism inherent in the notion that an unborn child's life will be wanted and valued more if it is of a certain sex, is one of the most disturbing bits of discrimination. Not only is this view ubiquitous, and almost always unquestioned, as it is a view we've come to accept as a general truth, but it is targeting people who aren't even people yet! Apparently, there aren't enough people on the planet to discriminate against, we must make more.

My second objection is to the interchangeable usage of gender and sex. They are not the same thing. Also, a person is not necessarily a boy or a girl, male or female. Neither sex nor gender are binary. While people  brag about their own tolerance and open mindedness, about how it is perfectly fine for a boy to wear pink, as long as he's wearing "boy clothes", a greater issue is missed. People are generally willing to be tolerant as long as that tolerance is comfortable, as long as it at least skirts their community definition of normalcy. As long as they can assign inanimate objects (like clothing) a gender, they don't have to think about the gender or sex of the person using those objects, or they judge that person harshly for not using the properly gendered items. A baby in a dress is a girl, a man in a dress is confusing. People don't like to be confused.

I could delve into this more deeply, but this really isn't the venue. In the grand scheme, these small things may seem just that, small, and unimportant. But, the things we say without thinking, the ideas we regurgitate without rumination, those are the things that are important. Those are our world-view, unedited, and sincere. Those are the things that shape all of our other opinions. Those are the things we must examine if we want to make the world, and ourselves, better.

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