Overheard at Safeway

Yesterday, I was walking past the Starbuck's that is inside my local ginormous multi-national-corporation-owned grocery store (Starbuck's is in there because, apparently, it has been scientifically proven that if you are ever more than three blocks from a Starbuck's you will die. Horribly.)

Anyway, as I was wending my way through this Matryoshka of corporate enfoldments, my ear was caught by the following conversation between a mother and her barely-verbal child (maybe 18 months old, if that):

Mommy: "No, that's the little girl bear. See her pink pajamas?"
Baby: "Bahy Bear."
Mommy: "No, that's the girl bear. See, she has a pink bow!"
Baby: "Bahy Bear!"
Mommy: "Honey, that's a girl bear. Look! Isn't she pretty?"
Baby: "Grr Bear."
Mommy: "That's right! Good!"

Poor kid. She was probably just trying to say "Bye Bear!" as she attempted to express her radical Indigo-Child rage at the appalling love-spawn of corporate-whoredom and conspicuous-consumerism that is "The Bearista".

Then, when mommy proceeded with a full-on gender indoctrination mind-control program, Progressive Baby[tm] finally responded with the appropriately savage: "Grrrrrr!!! Bear!" -- her tiny lip curling in disgust above perfect, pearly, milk-teeth.

Well, that's how it went down in my head, anyway.

I had just come from my office, where I had read Melissa's post about the critical importance of gender-appropriate microscopic color in scientific research conducted by children, so I was glad to see the incoming generation fighting the good fight by resisting these stereotypes.

Now, if only the caffeine in Mommy's triple-shot would wake her up.

It's well-documented that this type of programming begins from the very beginning of a child's life.

I raised two boys, and have had many discussions with other parents about whether there really is an inherent difference between male and female children-- but I believe that gender programming begins so early, and is stressed so strongly in our culture that I don't think we can ever know the real answer to that question.

I would even go so far as to say that gender expectations, roles, and programming begin long before the child arrives -- witness one of the most frequent questions a pregnant woman gets asked: "Do you know if it's a boy or a girl? What are you hoping for?" -- and the common response: "We're hoping for a boy/girl, but . . . ."

A friend of mine who desperately wanted to bear a child of her own said to me (after her third miscarriage) that this kind of talk really pissed her off -- she said: "I'm just hoping for a child. What difference does the gender make?"

Indeed -- what difference does the gender make?

In a culture that clings to the notion that men and women are innately different, which stubbornly insists that certain activities, color-schemes, careers, etc. are the "natural" province of one gender, and which actively steers children into "gender-appropriate" arenas or outright restricts their access to "gender-inappropriate" arenas, gender makes a lot of difference.

The very fact that we can say that we "hope for" a boy or a girl indicates to me that attachment to gender roles, and active programming to convince us that males "are" this way and females "are" that way, runs very, very deep -- and that most people are rarely even aware of it. I honestly don't think the Mommy at Starbucks had any consciousness at all of what she was doing -- I believe that she probably thought it was "natural".

However, the authentic resistance of Progressive Baby[tm] reminded me that gender roles in our society are not some innate, universal human reality that arise from "how men/women ARE" -- they have to be constantly enforced and reinforced -- and even an 18-month old can see the absolutely arbitrary nature of the color-code that is being shoved down her throat -- she can see quite easily that the bears are identical in every respect -- only their outfits genderize them.

You may say: "Well what's the danger in pink microscopes and sewing machines for little girls, and blue microscopes and footballs for little boys? Where's the harm?"

No harm, I guess -- to offer various toys to kids -- except that I believe that when these items are specifically separated as being "for girls" and "for boys" -- they are telling kids: "This is your role."

I find it interesting that the gender separation at the Discovery Channel toy-site goes like this: No genderization at all from Infant to Age 4, then, gender-based categories for ages 5-7 and 8-12, then just "Teens and Adults". (I suspect that this is because they figure by age 12, the programming is either complete, or will never take.)

Imagine for a moment if we saw a website that had separate shopping areas "White boys - Age 8 to 12" and "Hispanic boys - Age 8 to 12" which did not contain the same toys. Let's say the white section had things like ATM machines and electronic 20 questions games, while the hispanic section had things like the "landscaping design kit" and miniature lawn-mowers, with a few cross-over items like the "Cube World Set", which touted:

  • Set includes 2 cubes: Handy & Dusty or Mic & Hans
  • Each stick character has a job. Handy (purple) is a handyman, Dusty (green) is a cleaner, Mic (pink) is a singer, and Hans (blue) is a fitness freak
We would not hesitate for a moment to say: "Wait a minute. The hispanic kids' toys are grooming them for a servant role." The offensiveness of racist icons such as Aunt Jemima and the Lawn Jockey is precisely this -- their message: "This is your role."

You may have a butt-clenchy moment there, as I compare gender-entrainment to racism. However, I believe that the connection is apt.

Effective Master/Servant oppression requires entrainment of both the prospective master and the prospective servant. It also creates an amazing tension, as the Master class recognizes, at some deep level, that it needs the Servant class, and goes to great length to convince the Servant class that this "need" is reciprocal (which is why the notion of an independent woman is so threatening to those who remain invested in Patriarchy).

I'd posit that, because of this, there are subtle differences between Master/Servant oppression (eg. racism/misogyny/classism) and Eradication oppression (eg. homophobia/antisemitism). The primary message of Master/Servant structures is "Know your place", while the primary message of Eradication structures is "Don't be that."

In either these structures, if you don't obey the prime directive, the result is usually the same: 1) Intimidation/Suppression, and when that doesn't work, 2) Violence, and when that doesn't work, 3) Expulsion and/or Extermination (so, if you resist, you end up at Eradication anyway. Joy).

I digress -- those last two paragraphs are another post entirely.

Back to Starbucks in Safeway -- that "dweam wifin a dweam": As I considered Mommy's mounting insistence, and Baby's mounting resistance (and then seeming acquiescence) I wondered: "Why the fuck does it matter so much that this tiny child get the roles right?"

I think that it matters so much because, of all the oppression structures that exist, Patriarchal Misogyny is the one with a global near-equity in terms of population ratios of Master-to-Servant, and it is an oppression structure that resides in the heart of the most intimate and pivotal place of individual life -- the home. So if she isn't groomed for her role, or if she doesn't adopt that role, the Master would feel it -- keenly, at the center of his life -- and the Patriarchy would, indeed, crumble.


Keep on keeping on, Progressive Baby.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 9:35 PM  


Anonymous said... December 6, 2007 at 8:05 AM  

Hi, PD. I want to share with you what I believe to be a crack in the indoctrination: My son, when he encounters the apparently ever-present homophobic sentiment in high school culture (which I think might be very much a reaction to the potential undermining of both gender and oppressive roles) by avowing boldly,"I'm twenty percent gay. And I think everyone is at least twenty percent gay." He came up with that, and his friends are careful not to use homophobic language in his presence. I thought you'd enjoy this. I do, immensely.


PortlyDyke said... December 7, 2007 at 9:38 PM  

No shit I'd enjoy it. That's just . . . . perfect.

But then, you know how I feel about that young man already. :)

Anonymous said... December 8, 2007 at 8:53 AM  

Hey, PD. Mind if I add something here?

I have to disagree with your stance about WHY people say they may be "hoping" for X or X. But only a bit. I am definitely willing to believe that SOME people think those things. But not all of us. See, when I was pg with my 2nd, I got the same question. I'd already had a girl, and like every stereotypical girl, I had dreamed about my future family. And I'd always known I wanted at LEAST one of each: a boy AND a girl. (Don't ask me why, I don't know; I just wanted a boy and a girl.) So when I already had a girl, and found out I was pg again, I wanted a boy. One of each, fulfill my dream. Ya know? But if you asked me what my deepest wish for said baby was? My answer would have been that it simply be healthy. My oldest turned out to be both epileptic and autistic, and since neither of those disorders have any concrete cause, the worry that any subsequent children I had would turn out the same way was there. But when I found out she was going to be a girl, I barely felt a pinch of regret at not having a boy.

I think a lot of it has to do with how a person was raised, too, though. I wasn't forced into a "girl" role. Yeah, I was a girly-girl in some ways, but I was a total tomboy in others. I was never told that I couldn't do something or have X toy or whatever simply because I was a girl. And I take the same stance with my girls (never did have that boy, lol).

I seriously wonder how many single-parent households have been responsible for a lot of the liberals out there. I have a sneaking suspicion that it would be a lot.

PortlyDyke said... December 8, 2007 at 11:20 AM  

nuckingfutz -- perhaps you misunderstood me -- I didn't say that these were necessarily reasons that people wanted a boy or a girl -- just that I found it curious that this is such a strong preference, which indicates that socially, we have expectations about what it means to be female or male -- before the baby is even born.

Although many people claim that they grew up in a gender-neutral environment, I don't really believe that that gender-neutral can be found in our society -- gender roles are, perhaps, less rigid than 40 years ago (I'm 51 and I can attest to changes since I was growing up) -- but they still exist and are children are still indoctrinated in them.

nukkingphutz said... December 8, 2007 at 12:14 PM  

You're right, PD. I DID misunderstand. My bad. (And my apologies. :) )

I can see where you're coming from with the gender-neutral thing. I think what it is (and I can only speak for myself here) is that we're calling something gender-neutral because it's the closest thing to the real thing in this society. It might not be TRULY gender-neutral, but it's so outside of the "norm" that it's as close to the REAL thing as we're going to get (right now; like you, I hope that things DO change eventually).

Like I said, I can only speak for myself, but that's my take on it.

Jennifer said... December 9, 2007 at 12:49 PM  

Drives me f-in' nuts when parents do the knowing-look thing and utter that never-contested throwaway line: "Of course, girls [or, occasionally, boys] are so much easier than boys [girls]."

Can everybody I've ever met (Okay. Hyperbole. Slight hyperbole.) really believe that? Does NOBODY but you, me and Shakesville see the indoctrination that begins at birth if not, as you say, before?

Can I please have my paradigm shift now? Pretty please?


The Cunning Runt said... December 9, 2007 at 7:00 PM  

(...hands Jen her paradigm shift...)

There you go, Kid. I've made back-up copies, you just keep that one handy.

PD, as always, you rock. Write a damned book, why dontcha? America needs you.

Anonymous said... December 11, 2007 at 4:22 PM  

Jennifer, I am here to tell you, my daughter is a greater challenge to me in certain ways than my son was. And, I think it's me! My work, my karma, my lessons--she's no more or less unique than my son or me. As my father used to say, through children, you get to raise yourself, and sometimes, as in his case, one of your parents too.

Somehow in all the generic commentary one hears out there about babies, it never seems to get mentioned that it's a relationship that's being born, as much as a being.


PortlyDyke said... December 11, 2007 at 4:30 PM  

"it's a relationship that's being born, as much as a being."

That gave me chills. In a good way.

Anonymous said... December 16, 2007 at 8:30 PM  

Thank you for reminding me what a treasure my grandmother truly is. As I was growing up, she, the mother of two girls, did not have any idea how to raise a "boy". She just wanted to make me happy. So when at the age of five I wanted a tea set, then she bought me one. This, of course, deeply disturbed my father, whom I only saw on alternating weekends. I do not think she ever understood what the fuss was about. Unfortunately, I think that I did. Gender conditioning is a deeply ingrained fact of our society, carried out in homes, schools, and the marketplace.

Post a Comment