Toxic Masculinity…

He was just a little boy, maybe two or three years old. His pregnant mother wanted something to keep him occupied while she was busy with the baby. So she bought him a baby too, a realistic looking baby doll he could care for while she was caring for hers. Then her husband came home and found his boy playing with a doll. He ripped it out of the boy’s hands and threw it in the trash. No boy of his was going to play with dolls. No boy of his would be a sissy.

One day a week a boy would go walking down our street, obviously in tears. I wasn’t very old when I asked my Mom why. She responded that the boy was going to karate class and his Dad felt that walking there would toughen him up and make a man of him. I couldn’t see how he’d be made a man when he was only a boy just a bit older than me and I thought it was awful that he was being forced to do something that made him cry. It was obvious my Mom did not like what the Dad was doing either but there wasn’t anything either of us could do.

We carefully carried our cat, who was skin and bones, to the bus and climbed aboard. Pumpkin had been fine when we left for a family wedding and a quiet memorial service but was painfully thin when we returned, despite having someone over daily to care for him. Tests showed he had terminal cancer and I booked his euthanasia right away. There was no point in prolonging his suffering.

Colin was hit especially hard because Pumpkin was his cat or rather he was Pumpkin’s person. All Colin needed to say was, “Come here Pumpkin” and the cat would trot happily beside him. Pumpkin would spend hours just sitting while Colin built with lego or played with his toys. And now was our final moment with him. The kids said their tearful goodbyes then I carried Pumpkin into the back room and petted him until he was gone. Then we headed for the bus.

Both kids were quietly crying beside me when a lady got on. She looked at all of us then her gaze focused on Colin.

“Stop that right now,” she chided. “You have no need to be crying. Boys don’t cry!”

“We just left the animal hospital,” I replied, waving vaguely behind us. “We had to put his cat to sleep.”

The lady was immediately embarrassed and apologized to me but it was obvious how she felt.

Toxic masculinity is a stereotype that affects everyone. It’s the image of the ideal man. Strong and silent. Always brave. Skilled at fighting but is usually above it. He never cries and rarely shows any sign of emotion. He’s stoic. I’m sure everyone can come up with something that describes the ideal man. The man every male, and person assumed to be male, is supposed to be.

The thing is, that ideal is not only limiting, it’s dangerous. According to Wikipedia, these stereotypical traits “are correlated with increased psychological problems in men such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse.”

Plus toxic masculinity is rooted in being the opposite of stereotypical femininity. If boys are supposed to be strong, girls are weak. Boys are silent while girls chatter up a storm. Boys are logical while girls are ditzy. Boys don’t cry while girls will sob at television commercials. Boys are strong in math and science while girls get flustered at the simplest equation. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those traits, it’s the assumption of gender for each that’s the problem.

If a girl likes things that are traditionally considered male, she gets the moniker of “tomboy”, a word with no negative connotations. There is no positive or neutral term for a boy who likes things traditionally considered female. Some people now use the term “gender creative” but it’s neither well spread or well known.

Toxic masculinity has to see women as lesser because otherwise it loses the only weapon it has for men to conform. If there’s nothing wrong with being female, insults like sissy (originating from sister) and girl (as in “you throw like a girl”) would mean nothing or they would be something positive. Both misogyny and homophobia have their roots in toxic masculinity. Misogyny due to negative stereotypes about women and homophobia because if a man is putting himself in the position of loving another man he must be taking on the position of a woman and therefore is lesser. Toxic masculinity doesn’t care about a woman loving another woman. They’re both lesser so it doesn’t matter.

As feminism lifts the image of woman and what it means to be feminine, it also pulls up society’s image of homosexuality and of the men who don’t meet the standards of toxic masculinity. Feminism assures that it’s okay for men to cry, to enjoy cooking and sewing, to want to stay home with the children. It’s okay to like the colour pink. It’s okay to give your son a baby doll and it’s okay for him to prefer dance over karate. And it’s just as okay to enjoy sports and shooting a game of pool with the guys. People are allowed to be themselves.

That’s not to say feminism is perfect, infestations of TERFS (trans exclusionary radical feminists) break out regularly like cockroaches for example, but the concept of equality for all is something positive to strive for.

I’d like to see toxic masculinity gone. Smashed into a million irreparable pieces. I’d like to see masculinity as simply meaning the act of being male, with each male individual deciding for themselves what sort of man they are. And if they’re a man who enjoys golf and making bead jewelry, so be it. I’d like to see a society where men aren’t berated for crying, for loving strongly and deeply, for showing great empathy with their children.

I’d like to see a society where a small boy isn’t berated for crying and told to be a man.

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Colin in 2014 just being himself. And, yes, his eyes are that blue in real life.

What does a woman look like?

What is it with women arbitrarily defining other women? How does someone wake up in the morning and decide they are the gender police, taking up Gandalf’s role and his line of “you shall not pass”? Goodness knows I can barely manage to remember to put my own glasses on in the morning (probably because my eyes aren’t open). No way in hell am I ready to start judging others.

A few months ago I posted a rebuttal to Emilee Danielson regarding her Facebook letter to Caitlyn Jenner on “what defines a woman”. Now I’m seeing articles about an elderly feminist named Germaine Greer and her views on trans women. Which means a conservative anti-feminist and a vocal feminist are both on the same side. Both of them want to define women to mean nothing more than genitals and appearances. Emilee claims someone isn’t a woman if she hasn’t birthed her children without pain medication while Germaine insists that trans women do not “look like, sound like or behave like women”.

Seriously Germaine? You sound like my grandmother’s elderly neighbour who informed me that ladies are not supposed to climb trees. Like my grade two teacher who pulled me aside because my voice was too low to sing with the rest of the class. Like the Sunday School teachers who informed my friend that I, at age four, was going to hell for swinging on the bus seats like Tarzan and colouring pictures of meadows instead of baby Jesus. I’ll see everyone there… I’m bringing vegan marshmallows for s’mores… it’ll be a blast!

So, Germaine, how does someone look, sound, and act female? Is there a checklist I’m supposed to be following? Do I lose points for singing tenor and gain points for birthing two 9lb babies? Now that I put iridescent glitter laces on my runners, do they pass muster feminine wise? Do I need to wear dresses? Do I have to cross my ankles on the bus?

Our bodies are more complex than you imagine. Were you aware that trans women can breastfeed? Did you read about the woman who’s genetically male (XY chromosomes) but gave birth to a baby? Or the woman who was born without a womb or vagina yet was able to become pregnant thanks to a womb transplant? Where do they fit on your checklist?

I have friends who have the XX chromosomes you consider so important and who feel female (which is what I consider important) who think their hair is long when it’s past crew cut length, camp in the wilderness, drive motorcycles, and think body-checking is a fun way to spend the weekend. I have friends with XY chromosomes who feel male and happily spend the weekend sewing, cooking, and knitting.

How about we throw away your 1970’s guidelines on women and move on to the novel concept of letting people be in charge of their own gender. We can let women be treated like individuals. We can let them be the judge of themselves; we can assume that adults should have the right to self-government and bodily autonomy. We can move away from the concept that society is the judge and jury on what makes a woman; that girls are supposed to look, sound, and behave a certain way.

Feminism is about standing with people who aren’t being treated equally and helping them climb up to an equal footing. Feminism isn’t sitting in an armchair and whinging that your opinion should be valued above people’s rights… especially when your feet rest upon the heads of the trans women who have been forced to a societal level beneath you. You claim you use female pronouns to be polite. Fuck that! Do you know why I use the right pronouns? Because they’re the right pronouns. I’m not here to be polite. I’m here to make a difference. I’m here for change.

Why am I a feminist?

I am a feminist because feminism isn’t about making women better than men, it’s about making all genders equal.

I am a feminist because I have a son and a daughter, whom I love and want the all the best.

I am a feminist because my son does not need to “man up”.

I am a feminist because my daughter is not a slut for needing birth control.

I am a feminist because if women were truly equal then my son would not be seen as lesser for being feminine.

I am a feminist because neither of my children should get yelled at from car windows.

I am a feminist because grown men should not be harassing my teenage daughter for her phone number.

I am a feminist because my son shouldn’t be scared to go outside in the clothes he likes.

I am a feminist because my daughter is not an ornament and doesn’t need to smile.

I am a feminist because my son is not weak for showing emotions.

I am a feminist because grown women are concerned the phrase “no means no” is too complicated to define rape.

I am a feminist because people still think men cannot control themselves when aroused.

I am a feminist because my son is stronger than society thinks and my daughter is not responsible for all the men around her.

I am a feminist because “you throw like a girl” is still an insult.

I am a feminist because “that’s so gay” is still synonymous with “that’s stupid” in almost every school on this continent.

I am a feminist because Canada has only ever had one female prime minister and only by default.

I am a feminist because women hold only 5% of the CEO positions in the Fortune 1000 companies.

I am a feminist for the little girl in our pool who told me she wants to be pretty when she grows up.

My thoughts on modesty…

The stories all seem to blur over the years into one message. Girls and their bodies tempt men. That’s not a message I want for either of my kids. The message I’ve aimed for is that their bodies are their own.

This message started when they were young. Emma was extremely shy, to the point where I was looking into getting her in to see a doctor about selective mutism, before she finally started speaking outside the house when she was four years old. I think she was closer to six years old before our family doctor ever heard a word out of her mouth and those weren’t to him, she was explaining the digestive system to me while he was around the corner (The Magic School Bus is a great show). When she was at home she was the biggest chatterbox ever (and still is). In public she was completely silent, unless she had something urgent to whisper in my ear.

I got pressure from friends and family members to push her to speak to them, to urge her to hug and kiss them when she showed every sign of not wanting to. I stood my ground.

Her body, her rules.

Jeremy was pretty much the opposite of Emma. He never met a stranger he didn’t like. He’d talk to anyone, hold anyone’s hand, and when I had company he’d work his way around the room, sitting on everyone’s lap and hugging everyone in turn. When he was three, I think he proposed to everyone I know.

His body, his rules (although I made sure he didn’t wander away with the mailman).

I am very sensitive to touch and textures. I don’t like seams or tags (the back of my neck crawls at the thought) and I was in my mid to late teens before I could even tolerate wearing jeans or any pants with a button. But the touch I found the hardest was tickling.

I loved being tickled, to a point, and I reached that point very quickly. That’s when I’d say “no” and “stop”. But those were ignored because I was laughing, so I must be having fun. Except I wasn’t. By that point the tickling was almost painful and I was crying while I laughed. My father and/or grandfather didn’t stop until I wet myself and then I’d run into the bathroom, totally humiliated, to cry alone. There I’d vow never to get tickled again. Then I’d watch as my two sisters got tickled. They were having so much fun and I wanted to have fun too, so eventually (days, weeks, or months later) I’d join in with the same results as before.

I learned another lesson then. It was my fault. I shouldn’t have joined in if I didn’t want to be tickled. Except I did want to be tickled. I just wanted it to stop when I said “no”. And it was my fault because I laughed. How was anyone supposed to know I wasn’t happy? How was anyone supposed to know that my gasped “no, please stop” meant anything since I was laughing at the same time? Except I couldn’t stop laughing. You can imagine my fury when I discovered it’s an involuntary reaction to tickling.

I tickled both Emma and Jeremy when they were little but I had strict rules. Both “no” and “stop” were sacrosanct. Tickling stopped that exact second and did not start again until they said they were ready. I made sure to enforce this with my parents as well. I did not want my kids to go through what I did. At first Emma was irritated.

“I didn’t mean it,” she once informed me when I stopped because she’d said “no”.

“If you didn’t mean it then don’t say it,” I replied. “I will stop every single time you tell me to.” She quickly learned the rules.

Jeremy was trickier since he was non verbal (due to autism) until he was three. I went with non-verbal cues with him for the most part although anything that sounded like a “no” was honoured.

I hate being tickled now. I can’t remember which child tickled me but my automatic reaction was to yell “no” and burst into tears. Neither of them have tried again.

My body, my rules.

And then there was clothes. I bought them for the purpose of keeping the kids warm in the winter and cooler in the summer, and that was it. I horrified one of my friends by allowing Emma to roll down a hill in a school outfit. What if it got dirty? I equally horrified one of my sisters when I exchanged a present she’d bought Emma. It was a crop top with three quarter length sleeves. Emma was four years old and had never asked for a tight fitting short shirt. I simply told Emma it was too small and exchanged it for two loose and comfortable shirts. Not out of prudishness, if Emma wanted to take her shirt off and run around topless that was her choice. The shirt wasn’t one she’d chosen.

Clothing continued to be an issue with Emma. She has an eclectic style that involves short shorts paired with ripped tights, layered shirts with spaghetti straps, and lots of jewelry. It suits her. Her father has made several comments over the years, one memorable occasion involved a Christening on his side of the family. He spent an entire weekend referring to Emma as “that one” and claiming her choice of clothing had destroyed his whole trip. When the two of them were finally dropped off, he made a point of only saying goodbye to Jeremy with a very sarcastic “I love you” added, loudly enough to ensure Emma could hear and emphatic enough to make her realize she was being excluded from that love. She started cutting herself the next day. Clothing should not be a reason to withhold love.

And I have a long standing argument with family and teachers over Jeremy’s hair. He has grown it long multiple times since he was eleven years old and each time you’d think he was setting fire to the Canada flag, using kittens for kindling by the reaction he’s got. It’s hair people, get over it.

I lost a Facebook friend last year when she posted a story about Mohammed Ali talking to one of his daughters, telling her to protect her modesty and virtue; saying she was like a precious pearl or gem. That she needed to stay hidden until the right man searched hard enough to find her. And I argued recently in a parenting group that virginity should not be a source of pride in your child. You can be proud of values and beliefs that lead to that choice but not the virginity itself. You can have those same (or similar) values and beliefs without virginity.

I was at work yesterday and one of my young coworkers made a comment that got everyone laughing. I asked him what he’d said. He stared at me in horror and said he couldn’t tell me, while everyone giggled at the thought. In real life I’m seen as bubbly, cheerful, friendly, and a hug dispenser (yes to anyone I’ve issued online hugs… I am a massive hugger in real life). I’m also seen as completely and utterly innocent and naive. Which I am. But that hasn’t stopped me from dispensing the most complete and real sex education I could manage for both my kids simply because it’s important.

There are several things I’ve taught my kids over the years. One (which started way back at the tickling age) was that “no” and “stop” mean just that. I don’t care when it’s said. I don’t care if you’re half a heartbeat away from intercourse. You stop and that’s it. Two is that consent has to be both verbal and sober. Your time together will mean so much more if no one vomits and both of you remember it in the morning. And three is that no one’s “asking for it”. I don’t care if they’re stark naked, they still aren’t asking for anything (except maybe a sunburn).

The articles and comments regarding modesty worry me, especially when it comes to Emma, as they are all one sided. I haven’t read a single article, blog entry or meme aimed at modesty and teenage boys (other than ones asking girls to be modest so they don’t tempt teenage boys). Jeremy’s had people scream at him from car windows but he’s never had the experiences Emma’s had. He’s never had adults offer him open containers of alcohol, demanding he take a sip and getting angry at his refusal. He’s never had repeated demands to give out his phone number. Emma told me of one incident where a man repeatedly asked her out, ignoring her repeated refusals. She finally lied and told him she was a lesbian AND had a girlfriend. He ignored this and continued to ask her out. Then followed her onto the bus and sat down beside her (ignoring countless other empty seats) and proceeded to harass her for the whole twenty minute ride. No one at the stop said anything, despite the fact she was obviously underage and uncomfortable. No one said anything on the bus either. Jeremy’s not concerned about waiting at the bus stop at night time. I can’t say the same for Emma anymore.