Toxic Masculinity

So, we all know toxic masculinity is a problem. If you are unsure about that I’m not sure how you made it this far following me. For the sake of this post I am moving forward with the assumption that my lovely readers are all nodding their head in agreement.

I hate the way people talk about boys. I have been seeing this regularly, mainly around the disappointment people feel when they find out they will be having sons and raising them in our current culture that, let’s be honest, is a total and complete shit show. The latest one to push me over the edge was a woman saying that she is sad to find out they are having a boy because boys are aggressive and violent and all the other stereotypes you can think of. This woman is both queer and an educator so it hurt my heart triple.

I struggle with this because I also felt a bit like this before having a kid. I worried that a boy would be too much or that I couldn’t raise a good man. We didn’t know Gus’ sex until he was born but I have never felt a moment of disappointment. Raising him has made me realize how unique kids can be. Watching him with his peers really drives that home. There is no one way to be a boy or a girl and our kids are out there living their individual lives. I wish I better understood that ten years ago. I wish a woman working with children better understood that now.

Raising Gus is a fascinating process. Yes, I worry about toxic masculinity. I would imagine most parents of boys and girls have concerns about it at this point. We do our best to combat it at home. We do limit screen time and what type of shows he watches. We work hard to diversify our books. We talk about consent. A LOT. We read and research and put a lot of thought into our parenting and hope it will pay off.

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with watching how people react to boys who don’t fit stereotypical boy molds. I’ve seen a lot of talk in queer family forums about preparing for kids around Gus’ age or a bit older to transition because they are gender nonconforming. I support people supporting their children, yes. But I struggle so much with seeing people talk about how their babies can wear anything or it being cute when their toddler boy loves his older sister’s dressed and then it reaching a point, almost predictably around 3-4, where kids are labeled gender nonconforming and parents wonder how to help them moving forward.

Again, I am all for parents supporting their kids but I feel like there is a point where we are dropping the “You can be any kind of boy/girl you want” line and instead are trying to fit our kids into the right box. A bigger box is still a box. Gus is 3 years and 13 days old and has been asked by people what his pronouns are. I understand the desire to be accepting and loving towards our children but I worry that we are still equating a skirt and long hair with girlhood. I worry so much that we are reinforcing the very ideas that we want to move away from.

I can’t speak for every parent and goodness knows I can’t speak for any child. And again, to be clear, I want all kids to be loved and supported so they are happy and healthy. But I feel like in progressive circles the older Gus gets the less acceptable it is for him to be just a boy who is free to like what he likes. He is different from some other boys, yes. But we have spent the last three years working hard to support him being anything he wants. Why would we stop doing that now? Gus is very clear that he is a boy. He has no reason to believe he cannot be any kind of boy he wants. But I am feeling the side eyes and conversations danced around by well meaning people who think that because he is his own kind of boy he may not be a boy at all. And while I suppose time will tell on that one I am so alarmed by the contrast that comes around three when people stop being accepting of free spirited kids and start needing to see how the kids conform to their adult ideas of gender.

I worry about how growing up surrounded by toxic masculinity will affect him. I worry that by not forcing him to fall in line with societal gender norms it may him him harder, either internally in how he sees himself or externally and his treatment of other people. Like all of parenting I never know if we are doing the right thing.

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Posted on November 15, 2017, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. You’re doing a great job. (Also I’m over here yelling “YESSSSS” and “FOR REAL” as I read along).

    • Thanks friend. It is weird to be getting the “he’s not the right kind of boy” messaging from both directions.

    • Also, i cut out a part of my post because it didn’t flow well. The other day I was getting in the shower and Gus came in the bathroom. He said, “Mommy, can I touch your boobies?” I said, “No baby.” He thought for a minute and said, “Not now, maybe later”. and walked out of the bathroom. Little moments like that really give me life and make me believe we can do this/are doing this.

  2. I can only imagine how hard it is to be getting that messaging even from people who are/think they are “progressive” (whatever that means). Gender only really works if there’s someone there to enforce it, I think, and there’s still a lotttt of conflation of sex/gender, too. You don’t conform? You’d better be ready to transition.

    I admit I am one of those people who has been relieved to have girls, but watching you and L parent Gus makes me think we would have been ok, too. You three give me hope for the future (and your anecdote demonstrates why!). ❤ You really are doing a great job.

  3. You articulate so clearly these ideas that have been floating around in my head for years. Thank you for sharing, and for voicing these complex ideas that can be so hard to navigate right now.

  4. You took the words right out of my mouth.

  5. You know I share a lot of your thoughts/feelings, including the hurt about this specific post. And, I think it’s hard to create space for kids to define and articulate their own gender (ie: I am a boy, I am a girl, I am both/neither) AND also make space for boys/girls/etc can look/do/like anything. Like, these aren’t competing ideas but somehow they also are, you know? I will say that there is research that indicates most (but def not all) kids have a strong sense of their own gender identity (whether they are a “boy” or “girl”, though what that means to them might be different) between 3-6, so maybe that’s some of where this asking pronouns/interest in transition is coming from? I agree that I also want there to just be more SPACE for all of us to express and be our genders in lots of different ways. And there are benefits to letting kids decide if they are a boy/girl/both/neither/whatever and what words/pronouns they want to use.

    If I say, “yes, and . . .” again I’ll feel like an asshole. Anyway, I feel this 100%!

    • I do agree with you so much and it is such a hard line between how do we make space for both of these things. I know some of this might just be the circles I am in and in other places in the world there is more space. I want Gus to be able to express who he really is completely and fully but I also don’t want to give him messaging that things are not okay for boys. I struggle so much with seeing folks talk about their kids transitions and talking about all the visual manifestations. They like pink, they like sparkles, they like dance, whatever. I know for most folks this isn’t the end of the story but it makes me want to constantly shout “BUT BOYS CAN LIKE THAT TOO” which is not exactly the point, right? I struggle because I want parents to love and support their kids and as you know, my views tend to be a bit more radical so I am having trouble working out what people accept as truth and what seems fucked up. One day we should drink all the alcohol and talk about this. You might be the only person who I think is very much on the other end who I could converse with about it.

  6. I feel you on this. Though I have never had anyone ask what his pronouns are, as our area is much less queer friendly, the reaction was usually mortified when they realized my long haired, dress wearing, child was a boy. He cut his hair and doesn’t wear dresses much (picked up on gramma’s negativity there), but he is still very much his own unique version of boy. I do not like how preschool is impacting his ideas of gender and even had one teacher comment that he was trying make him play with the boys more. I about cried. I stand by my post on gender obliviousness. We don’t need to box children in to fit our ideas of gender.

  7. It’s kind of funny, I was opposite from you in that I was kind of bummed when I found out Ali was a girl, I really wanted a boy. My feelings came from not liking the pretty princess, makeup and ponies stereotype little girls have. Turns out Ali is a boss lady who is more aggressive than her brothers and doesn’t give a shit about being a pretty princess, although she does like her unicorns. I think people need to calm down and quit fretting about gender at this age. It’s absolutely insane to me that someone asked a 3 year old their pronouns, that’s way above their understanding. I think gender concepts at that age are more about putting their world into order, not the cultural implications.

  8. Yesterday my mom told me she was so glad we had another girl – because of all the things she thinks boys are biologically programmed to be. I feel so strongly that so much of gender difference is cultural – I would be daunted by raising a boy in this world (that said, it is also daunting raising a girl in this world) but I 100% believe that we would have been good at it. The world needs more boys who are raised to be emotional, expressive, and not pressed into being a particular sort of ‘masculine’. How sad that even ‘progressive’ potential parents are so daunted by the task of raising male children.
    Also, it’s so frustrating to me that gender non-conformity and trans-ness are so often conflated in such young kids. I feel like if kids were supported (as Gus is) to be flexible and free in their choices of play and dress the borders of gender would be more fluid and deviation from the norm would be less likely to be medicalized.

    • I’m with you on all of this! I have boys and girls, and let me tell you Not one of them acts like their gender stereotype. I don’t let them dress out of the norm because they have enough things that make them ‘other’. they are growing up biracial/black with 2 white moms in a mostly white middle/upper middle class neighborhood where boys in dresses is definitely not ok. Other thank clothes, my girl prefers sports and stem activities, my one boy totes around a baby doll and is the best helper with the actual baby, and my other boy will sit and draw for literally hours.

  9. I think you are doing it right for what it’s worth.

  10. I was nodding right along with this whole post. I too get so frustrated by the need to label and box. Just like sexuality is fluid, so is gender and if society was more accepting of the idea that we can be ourselves, whatever that is, a girl in pants, a boy in a dress, or just whatever we feel like wearing or doing on any given day, we would all be happier. I get irritated that because my wife is more of a gender non-conforming woman, people want to put much more femininity onto me, as in I must be the feminine one in our relationship. I love cooking, I was the one that carried our two kids, I am the one that handles more of the domestic chores and mental load of parenting, but I don’t like dresses and skirts, my favorite color is blue, I love the fact that I can fix some things, change my own tire, and I enjoy cutting the grass, working in the yard and playing sports.
    The other thing I consider is how much kids like things that are traditionally girl things or boy things changes as they age. My 10 year old used to love pink, now she loathes it. She enjoys dressing up, but she never wants to wear dresses and skirts for the day to day, like school. So although my 3 year old currently loves princesses and pink, like her older sister, she may well decide that is not what she likes in another year or two. I think if society were more open to gender being fluid we would see that enjoying dressing up in dresses and skirts and the bright colors like pink and purple and sparkles is probably something most kids enjoy at the toddler and preschool age, regardless of gender, just like it is typical for this age group to enjoy collecting sticks and rocks and playing with kitchen sets, regardless of gender or sex.

  11. Lovely piece, and although I am far off from becoming a parent. It is interesting how you’ve taken a talk it out, a knowledgable approach. I like it!

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