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.

It’s not child abuse…

A friend of mine was accused recently of child abuse by someone she knows. Her child is loved and supported, disciplined fairly, has a clean and safe home, and plenty of food. The child is not abused by any stretch of the imagination. And most people would agree with this statement… right until they learn the child is trans. Then everything falls apart.

Some people argue it’s abuse to let a child transition because “what if they change their mind?”. Okay, so what if they do? There is no surgery performed on children. No hormones. If a child changes their mind, all that’s involved is clothing, a hair style, and some paperwork. Know how I know? Because it happens. Not nearly as often as some organizations claim but it does. Sometimes the child turns out to be between or beyond male and female… sometimes they turn out to be cisgender. And the parents do another wardrobe switch and let the kid change hair styles. And that’s it, it’s that simple.

Others argue that it’s abuse because the child is too young to know. How many people here have ever met a toddler who didn’t know their own mind. They know what they want to wear, what they want to eat, how they want their hair, and they know their gender. Most of the time people have no problem with this. They aren’t concerned when a child with a vulva says “I’m a girl” because she’s old enough to know that. It’s only if she has a penis that she’s too young.

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Jeremy at three years old

Then there’s the people who have the best of intentions. What if the child gets teased? I hate to break it to them but all children get teased at some point and it can be over anything (or nothing). You can’t prevent teasing by restricting your child. You prevent teasing by teaching children kindness, coping skills and how to handle social interactions.

Jeremy went to a birthday party when they were four years old. The girls all got princess Barbie napkins and the boys got plain blue ones. Jeremy immediately asked for a Barbie one, which surprised the mother of the birthday girl.

“I thought the boys would rather have blue,” she said in confusion as she handed Jeremy the coveted pink Barbie napkin.

Every other boy in the room immediately asked for one too. It’s easy to say that gender stereotypes are inherent but it’s hard to judge considering how we ingrain them from before birth.

What I don’t get is how people can denigrate a little boy (or a child perceived to be male) for acting feminine, for being a “sissy”, or for liking the colour pink. They consider it okay to make their child cry over their personality or preferences in order to “toughen that child up”. Even though that attitude comes with a 75% chance of suicidal depression and a 58% chance of that child attempting suicide before the age of 24 years old. Yet they’ll claim allowing the child to be well adjusted and feel happy and supported with their gender expression is abuse.

Listen to your child. Love them. Trust them. They know who they are.

Boys will be boys…

This video by Laurie Petrou showed up on my Facebook newsfeed yesterday and I felt it was definitely worth sharing:

She also has a very interesting page on gender stereotypes that changes every time you open it, titled Do we see the world through a gender binary?

For the record, Jeremy’s nickname was Sweetie when he was little. He had his own baby named Kip which he wheeled around in a little pink stroller… when he wasn’t driving dinky cars along the floor (while telling them to be careful and not get hurt). Emma’s nickname was Sunshine. She loved to catch bugs, roll down hills, and play with her baby Lisa.

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.

Gender musings…

Jeremy can breath a sigh of relief because this post is going to be more about me than him. Or maybe he won’t. He likes attention.

He commented today that he figures the biggest, most important thing I’ve ever done in my life is give birth to him. I immediately asked him if he was sure this planet’s big enough for his ego, to which he said, “No it’s not but I’ve got another planet to fit the rest of it. That planet’s big but the rent’s cheap so it’s good.”

Where does he come up with this stuff?

Jeremy also told me if he didn’t identify as either gender, he’d want to use the term “that person” as a pronoun.

“But that’s not a pronoun,” I pointed out. “Seriously, try to use it in a sentence.”

He managed the first short sentence then started a longer sentence and floundered. He kept trying to use actual pronouns instead. Then he grinned. “It would be fun,” he insisted. “People would have to really think about what they’re saying and it would make them uncomfortable.”

“I don’t think that’s the point of pronouns,” I replied. “I don’t think that’s why most people use them.”

“It would be fun,” he repeated in a sing-song voice.

My first reaction was anger. I joke around with Jeremy a lot but there’s definitely a time and I hadn’t been trying to be silly. Then I took a closer look. He was silly and giggly… and completely not looking at me. He looked really uncomfortable.

“Have you sorted out your gender?” I asked.

He stared at the keyboard and shook his head slightly. “No,” he whispered.

“I’m sure you will at some point,” I said then paused. “Look, if you ever do want to talk, I’m here to listen.”

That caused him to look up. “Mom, you ask questions,” he retorted.

“Yes, I do,” I replied. “But I also really do listen. Just give me a try sometime.”

Then I went to my room and started to think about gender. I’ve been thinking off and on about it ever since.

First off, I’m female and cisgender (and totally unsure if that needs an -ed at the end). I like being female. I like my body and I like being referred to as she and her. I gave birth to two wonderful people and breastfed them both. I like that my body could do that.

I also like that my body is strong and it rarely hurts. At work, when it comes time to deal with the garbages, I figure I’m the one sent out about 80% of the time. That’s because I can pick the jumbo bags up and heave them into the dumpster. I’ve had coworkers say, “Michelle, this bag is much too heavy for one person. Can you help me take it out?” And then they’re floored when I just pick it up and carry it away. Now when there’s a bag no one can lift (and my weightlifting coworker’s off) the management simply asks me to grab it.

One of my friends posted a link on Facebook a few days ago which listed 20 things all women do. I went through to see which ones I actually did, scored a whopping three, then shared it on Facebook. What I didn’t share was that’s the highest score I’ve ever managed on any of those lists. I found one today where I scored one (out of ten). That was for brushing and flossing daily. I enjoy having teeth.

I had a coworker peer at my face intently a little while ago and say, “Michelle. You really need to do something with your eyebrows.”

My response was to blink at her in confusion until she walked away. In real life I’m witty like that. But when I got home I went on Facebook and announced that coworker was right, I really need to do something with them, so I was going to take them out for breakfast. Which I did. It led to an important self-discovery. If I ever switched to a raw vegan diet, I’d starve to death. Granted that had nothing to do with my eyebrows but it was still an important discovery. I like cooked food; a high five to whomever discovered fire.

Besides, I do things with my eyebrows. If I sleep funny and one brow is rumpled then I wet a finger and smooth it down. And I’ve got this one eyebrow hair that seems hellbent on migrating to my bangs. When it gets too wild and crazy, I get out nail clippers and cut it.

I also found out today that makeup expires and my decade old stuff is woefully out of date. Apparently it’s supposed to be thrown out in 6 months to a year… which would make everything a one use purchase even in a best case scenario. I’m pretty sure I haven’t used makeup since last summer. My “facial routine” consists of splashing water on it in the morning then drying with a hand towel.

And I sing tenor.

Society has too many stereotypes on gender and what girls should be like and what boys should be like. One thing those stereotypes don’t do is take into account how people feel.

I am sure Jeremy will figure out his gender at some point. I’m not saying he’ll sort out which box he’ll neatly fit into. Maybe he will or maybe he’ll fit none of them, or several, or maybe he’ll shift between boxes. But at some point he’ll figure this out. At the same time I can’t help but thinking that gender stereotypes aren’t making it any easier for him.

 

You need to be strong…

I went into work on Thursday and saw a coworker of mine, whose Dad had just died. I had no idea at all what to say so I simply gave him a hug.

A short while later another coworker came in. “How’s your mother doing?” she asked.

“Fine,” came the immediate reply. “She’s doing fine.”

The coworker placed her hand on his shoulder and leaned close. “You’re going to have to be strong for her.”

We are doing a grave injustice to our children. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s a link to The Representation Project.