Today’s Jez main page article about Party City banning from their Facebook page a woman who questioned their gendered costume policy made me remember a couple of articles I came across recently, and I thought I’d share. The first is Everybody in Dresses: Why Does Gender Neutral Clothing Always Mean ‘Boy’ Clothes for Girls? My favorite part:
Is it really that revolutionary for girls to wear pants and muted colours, no matter what the soundtrack? Why does “gender neutral” have to mean “without any traditionally feminine signifiers”?
Because girl clothes are for girls. Boy clothes are for everyone.
I don’t want to downplay the merits of this clothing line, or the importance of advocating for little girls who were so stoked to take their Spiderman backpacks to school this week, only to come home in tears because “Spiderman is for boys.” Not every girl feels like herself when wearing ruffled dresses or head-to-toe pink and purple, and I’m really glad those girls have some other fun choices now. Like graphic tees with quotes like “And though she be but little, she is fierce” (from every little girl’s favourite writer, William Shakespeare).
But the same gender-role-wiggle-room is not available to their brothers. Where is Adam Lambert’s line for Gap Kids, promoted with an upbeat commercial of young boys playing with dolls and doing ballet while wearing shiny sparkly glam clothes and lipgloss while Diamond Rings serenades us all?
If The Gap did this, I think everybody would have what my late Nan would call “a complete conniption fit.” Remember when J. Crew President Jenna Lyons appeared in a picture tickling her delighted son’s toes, whose nails she had just painted pink? It sparked a week’s worth of debates that saw actual doctors calling it “a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity,” as if anything described as a “trapping” should not obviously be abandoned immediately.
If gender neutral clothes are only made for and marketed to the parents of little girls, it is less a sign of gender equality and more an indication of the misogyny that is so ambient in our culture. There is such a devaluing of anything traditionally feminine that we’d rather chuck it out triumphantly than ever demean our boys with it.
The other article is a little longer and really, really worth the read. It’s called Masculinity Is Killing Men: The Roots of Men and Trauma, and there’s a lot more to ruminate on, but this is the part that seemed most relevant to the question of what, exactly, the big deal is with “minor” problems like gender-segregating Halloween costumes:
The emotionally damaging “masculinization” of boys starts even before boyhood, in infancy. Psychologist Terry Real, in his 1998 book I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, highlights numerous studies which find that parents often unconsciously begin projecting a kind of innate “manliness”—and thus, a diminished need for comfort, protection and affection—onto baby boys as young as newborns. This, despite the fact that gendered behaviors are absent in babies; male infants actually behave in ways our society defines as “feminine.” As Real explains, “[l]ittle boys and little girls start off ... equally emotional, expressive, and dependent, equally desirous of physical affection. At the youngest ages, both boys and girls are more like a stereotypical girl. If any differences exist, little boys are, in fact, slightly more sensitive and expressive than little girls. They cry more easily, seem more easily frustrated, appear more upset when a caregiver leaves the room.”
Yet both mothers and fathers imagine inherent sex-related differences between baby girls and boys. Even when researchers controlled for babies’ “weight, length, alertness, and strength,” parents overwhelmingly reported that baby girls were more delicate and “softer” than baby boys; they imagined baby boys to be bigger and generally “stronger.” When a group of 204 adults was shown a video of the same baby crying and given differing information about the baby’s sex, they judged the “female” baby to be scared, while the “male” baby was described as “angry.”
Intuitively, these differences in perception create correlating differences in the kind of parental caregiving newborn boys receive. In the words of the researchers themselves, “it would seem reasonable to assume that a child who is thought to be afraid is held and cuddled more than a child who is thought to be angry.” That theory is bolstered by other studies Real cites, which consistently find that “from the moment of birth, boys are spoken to less than girls, comforted less, nurtured less.” To put it bluntly, we begin emotionally shortchanging boys right out of the gate, at the most vulnerable point in their lives.
Thought you all might enjoy reading and discussing.