Home / gender equality / Complementarian views of gender are both wrong and destructive

Complementarian views of gender are both wrong and destructive


Since I made a (minor, narrowly construed) concession to complementarian theories of marriage earlier today, I want to follow that up by wholeheartedly endorsing Amanda Marcotte’s commentary on this study:

What’s remarkable about all this is not that men and women have so much in common but that these commonalities persist despite relentless gender policing that usually involves quite a bit of shame. Men face ridicule if they’re perceived as having female-like levels of empathy and concern for their friends, and yet, according to the study, they overcome it. Women are routinely told there’s something wrong with them if they have “masculine” attitudes towards sex and men are emasculated if they aren’t horny all the time or if they desire intimacy alongside their sexual adventures, and yet both genders tend to have a mix of adventurousness and tenderness when it comes to sex. We’re constantly being put in gender silos, and yet, apparently, we keep escaping.

I can be pretty epically un-self aware at times, but one moment from my past that’s been on my mind recently, given all the guns/gun control chatter of recent months, was an incident when I was, I think, 11 years old. I was invited to spend a Saturday at a friend’s house for the first time. He lived out in the country a bit, and had several older brothers. Neither he nor I were developing particularly stereotypically “masculine” personalities at this point. He had a couple of older brothers, as well as a father, who exhibited far more stereotypically masculine personalities, and whose approval my friend (elusively) sought. At some point while I was visiting, the father and older brothers decided it was time for target shooting, apparently a regular activity for them, and invited my friend and I to join. (He did–and missed badly, and was taunted for it). I’d never handled or even physically seen a gun before, but I’d already developed a visceral distaste for them, so I politely declined my turn. At first I was given assurances–it was OK if I didn’t have experience, they’d teach me, nothing to be afraid of, etc etc. When I persisted with my Bartleby-esque refusal, they (including the father) shifted from assurance and encouragement to overtly gender-baiting taunting. Was I a wuss? A sissy? Afraid? Didn’t I want to be a man? and so on and so forth. I was pretty baffled by this; whatever gender policing I’d encountered up to that point in my life, I hadn’t been particularly aware of it, but this was so obvious, and so absurd (I’d never been exposed to the guns/masculinity connection before, as my family had nothing to do with guns) that it defied comprehension. The sheer illogic–the utter nonsense–of connecting shooting a gun to one’s masculinity was overwhelming to my 11 year old self. They clearly expected the gender-baiting to work, and weren’t prepared for my capacity to resist it, because they kept escalating until it was clear that they began to make themselves uncomfortable with the level of frustration my refusal was creating. (especially the father, who eventually seemed to remember he was supposed to be the grown up in this situation). Later, when no one else was around, the mother, who had hovered on the periphery of this bizarre scene, privately tried to reasssure me that it was just fine if I was ready to shoot a gun yet. The father and older brothers, boisterously welcoming when I’d first arrived, were visibly uncomfortable with my presence the rest of the afternoon.

While this incidence was uncomfortable, it wasn’t particularly traumatizing. In fact, in the version of my childhood my memory has constructed, it was a clarifying moment for me. I decided around this time that this sort of gender-norming was bullshit and I wanted nothing to do with it. From then on, when I recognized gender-baiting going on, I didn’t call it out or anything, but I did a pretty good job of not letting it bother me. My adolscence wasn’t great; while I had a few good friends I wasn’t at all popular or normal, and while I was pretty good at being more or less invisible much of the time, I got my fair share of taunting and bullying. But my ability to identify and classify the gender-policing aspect of taunting/bullying (which was, of course, the bulk of it) proved a pretty essential skill at dealing with those years. I didn’t remain particularly close to this friend mentioned earlier, but I saw enough of him to know that he wasn’t coping anywhere near as well with I, and he became pretty withdrawn as time went on, compared to his far more open (and openly weird) 6th grade personality that I’d connected with. A couple of years later, he became the victim of some of the cruelest and most viscious taunting I can remember witnessing in all of my middle school years, when he had the profound misfortune of getting an erection in the shower after gym class. After that I tried to reconnect with him, but he almost seemed like he flinched in fear when I’d try to start a conversation with him. I hoped for his sake his father and brothers never found out about that.

The level of awareness about the social policing of gender norms I was able to acheive at such a young age, and the indifference and contempt toward gender policers I was able to create with it, are obviously and unfortunately rare accomplishments, which is a shame, as I can’t imagine a more useful tool for surviving the social horrors of adolescence. It’s always struck me how much people who find (or at least outwardly seem to find) gender complementarianism comfortable fits for their own personality and relationships are agressively committed to the notion that what’s comfortable to them is also deeply and profoundly natural, and that belief in the naturalness of it all serves as a warrant for the social policing of gender norms. (Which, of course, makes so sense, as Amanda (following John Stuart Mill) notes: if it were truly natural, the social pressure wouldn’t be necessary.) I find it more or less impossible to make sense of the gender complementarian argument for not recognizing same-sex marriage through any lens other  than this: “Because X works pretty well in my marriage, and it must serve as a foundation for all (proper) marriages!” (At this point religion and “science” show up to bolster and deepen the commitment). So I join Amanda in imploring the good people of the world who find conventional gender norms a comfortable way to make sense of themselves and their relationships to knock it off with the gender policing in general, but especially with respect to children. It’s perfectly fine to be comfortable with such norms in your own life, and accepting they are conventional rather than natural shouldn’t be a threat to that. A whole lot more people than you probably realize don’t fit particularly well within them, and our collective social capacity to create the expectation that adherence to these norms is a measure of one’s value as a person is probably the most efficient and effective technology we’ve developed for ensuring maximum levels of  adolescent misery and crippling insecurity, a fair amount of which extends well beyond the adolescent moment.

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  • Todd

    Do you wear your flag pin on the left or right lapel?

    • Tnap01

      I had a couple of uncomfortable experiences in my youth involving sandwich condiment choices that I would be willing to share with the LGM community for a reasonable fee.

  • ploeg

    I was fortunate to have been brought up by my 4-H leader mom, who encouraged us kids to try projects regardless of their possible gender branding. Not that I still do all that stuff, I have my interests, but they fell into place according to my own preferences and not according to what I should have been interested in.

    Though I admit that I try to push my nieces into the math and science stuff and away from the Disney princesses that they seem to have become interested in.

    • DocAmazing

      They may yet go on to become Princess Calculus.

  • JoyfulA

    I knew a church was too conservative for me when I was pushed to do nursery duty, even though I’d never had children or even babysat for several decades. “Take my husband,” I said. “He’s often taken care of his nieces and nephews and has a whole repertoire of stories and birdcalls and whatnot to distract and amuse little kids.” The woman in charge was horrified. Apparently, men taking care of toddlers is against natural law, or maybe it’s forbidden in Leviticus.

    • MAJeff

      Apparently, men taking care of toddlers is against natural law, or maybe it’s forbidden in Leviticus.

      But ham sandwiches at church functions are necessary.

    • ploeg
    • DrDick

      Heh. When I got divorced in 1976 in Oklahoma, the judge made me get a letter from my mother saying she would help me before he would give me custody of my son, even though his mother has signed a waiver agreeing to it.

  • medrawt

    And of course the comments are full of dudes going “I have no idea what you’re talking about with the idea that guys try to enforce gender norms on each other!” I was fortunate not to experience much if any of this sort of thing as a kid – I exhibited, as probably very many people do, a mix of stereotypically “masculine” and “feminine” tendencies/aptitudes – but I once read a single-sex education advocate’s* outline of what a productive learning environment specifically tailored to boys would look like and thought it sounded rather like hell to my 10yo self. (Boys are competitive and loud and like to get their hands dirty!)

    * I know there are a variety of rationales and supporters of single-sex education, particularly focused on the benefits to girls, and since I’m a layman on the subject I have nothing to say against any of it other than that I spent only one year of my educational life (8th grade) in an all boys’ school and, based on that experience, I’m extremely happy I didn’t spend any more.

    • Murc

      Single-sex education always seemed profoundly weird to me. Up until the age of eighteen the defining experience of your life is going to be school. That’s where you spend most of your waking hours. That’s where you’re gonna meet most of your friends.

      Completely isolating people from half their total peer group and an entire other gender for that entire experience seems counterproductive.

      • mpowell


        That’s an understatement.

        • Uncle Kvetch

          I spent grades 4-8 as a nonathletic sissy in an all-boys Catholic grade school. (I don’t think my parents were motivated by a desire to “straighten me out,” but if they were, it sure as hell didn’t work.) It wasn’t hellish — to the school’s credit, they took physical bullying very seriously, so the gender policing never got past the verbal variety — but it sure wasn’t an optimal environment either.

          Same-sex education probably made somewhat more sense in the days when the adult world was rigidly segregated by gender: men were manual laborers, managers, or “bosses”; women were secretaries, teachers, or nurses, etc. In today’s world, where any boy may very well grow to have a female superior in the workplace and any girl may grow up to be a “boss,” it’s simply absurd.

          • JoyfulA

            And the other sex becomes the Other, not just a bunch of other human beings.

          • Origami Isopod

            Same-sex education might have seemed to make more sense in those days, but it may also have helped perpetuate that kind of rigid gender segregation among adults.

    • JMP

      Slate has some pretty awful commenters, particularly at XX which is filled with misogynist trolls.

      As for education, I went to an all-boys high school, and while the education was good (but that was irrespective of the school being single-sex), as a straight geek who didn’t get invited to parties spending those four years almost never being around girls was just awful.

    • I am, thankfully, not a layman on the subject. I teach at an all-boys school, and had to do quite a bit of research for one of my graduate papers on single-sex education.

      The short answer is: it loses out. As this study shows (and it was done by my alma mater!) intragroup differences are bigger than intergroup differences. The problem, far as the research I saw could tell, is that when you insert this kind of social policing into the mix, encouraging some traits and discouraging others, you’re going to get a naturally lopsided result.

      I had the good luck to be raised by two of the toughest women in the Western Hemisphere (my mother and my grandmother) and move thousands of miles away for college. I did a lot of theater and speech in high school. Those three factors may be the most responsible for me remaining relatively sane and un-“manly” (in the traditional, stereotypical sense) up to now.

      • Murc

        Those three factors may be the most responsible for me remaining relatively sane and un-”manly” (in the traditional, stereotypical sense) up to now.

        Slight tangent: I’ve had good luck on many an occasion by saying “Well, of course this is manly. I’m a man; by definition, anything I do is incredibly, disgustingly manly.”

        At this point people have to make arguments that sound ridiculous even to neanderthals, or try and argue definitions with you. It’s actually sort of fun.

        • That’s what I told one of my classes when I was telling them how much I love doing the dishes and cooking. It had to be manly, almost by definition.

        • Hogan

          The Monks of Cool, whose tiny and exclusive monastery
          is hidden in a really cool and laid-back valley in the lower Ramtops, have a passing-out test for a novice. He is taken into a room full of all types of clothing and asked: Yo¹, my son, which of these is the most stylish thing to wear? And the correct answer is: Hey, whatever I select.

          ¹ Cool, but not necessarily up to date.

    • Emily

      I went to a typical suburban California high school. Graduated in 1968. I was encouraged by my math and science teachers. The physics teacher, however, wouldn’t let girls be lab partners with boys. I guess he was afraid we girls would bat our eyes and say “Oh Billy, you’re so smart. You do the experiment.” Or something. Anyway, all summer long I had looked forward to at least one boy having to talk to me, but it was not to be.

      The physics teacher did cram a lot of physics into our heads and (just to show how things have changed) he FIRED A RIFLE in class to demonstrate conservation of momentum. I bet most physics teachers have to do that demonstration some other way now.

  • SteveHinSLC

    The sheer illogic–the utter nonsense–of connecting shooting a gun to one’s masculinity was overwhelming to my 11 year old self.

    I find that very surprising. By the time I was 11, boys were the ones who picked up sticks and pretended they were guns. Girls were the ones who didn’t do that.

    • Brenda Johnson

      I did. So did the kids I knew, both boys and girls. We all played war, cowboys and indians, what have you.

      • Sweetums

        I’m pretty sure I played with my brother’s GI Joe figures more often than he did, and he used my My Little Ponies as mounts for his He-Men dolls =oD

    • delurking

      I’ve heard this story so many times — this one and the little boy toddlers who chew their toast into the shape of guns when deprived of pistols by their liberal parents — that I’m gagging every time I read it now.

      This one and the clever tale about the little girl toddlers who wrap their trucks in blankies and pretend they’re dolls.

      Your experience =/= everyone’s experience. Just because you remember a thing happening one way doesn’t mean it was happening that way for everyone, or (frankly) that it really was happening that way. Sometimes people see what they expect to see, or what they want to see. And the plural of anecdote is not data.

      Plus no one spit on the returning vets after the Viet Nam war. While we’re talking. I’m just saying.

    • JoyfulA

      Long before that age, I had cap guns and a holster. I also had a complete Hopalong Cassidy outfit that I quickly outgrew.

      By 11, I was long past the point of cap guns, let alone sticks I pretended were guns.

    • Origami Isopod

      This, of course, had nothing to do with enculturation, right?

  • Dan Savage made a really great point on his podcast this week regarding a study that shows out gay/bi men are happier than straight men- gay/bi men may be happier because they don’t have to defend their behavior to other men.

    • ploeg

      Which is why they are called, you know, gay.

      • commie atheist

        Some are born gay, some go gay all of a sudden.

        • Njorl

          That’s one of my favorite moments in one of my favorite movies.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      gay/bi men may be happier because they don’t have to defend their behavior to other men

      I remember reading a book by a psychologist when I was just coming out that was interesting in this regard. He theorized that in a lot of cases homophobia wasn’t motivated by sublimated homosexual attractions (although FSM knows we see evidence of that on a regular basis), but by resentment at the fact that gay people are able to flout the rigid conventions of gender-“appropriate” behavior and get away with it.

      • rea

        Gay culture is really complicated, and there are probably those here who understand it better than me, despite my orientation and 21 years living the life of an openly gay man. But, I have to point out, there are plenty of gays locked into the whole “gender normative” thing to a high degree.

        [Singing]: Macho, macho man . . .

        • DrDick

          Oh yeah. Some of the most macho guys I have ever known were gay and many were pretty stereotypically male.

      • The “they must be gay themselves” thing has always seemed far-fetched. And I don’t if I’ve ever met a homophobe who wasn’t heavily invested in gender norms.

        • Njorl

          Even if they are repressed homosexuals, it seems so wrong to call them gay.

      • Origami Isopod

        Rea’s caveats aside, that is most definitely the motivation for internalized misogyny: How dare all those sluts get away with things I never dared to do!

  • moar long djw posts plz

    • Hogan

      This. I think my IQ has gone up twenty points in the last couple of days.

  • rea

    My boyfriend of 21 years and I are the the main ones in charge of his four grandkids–the fathers are long gone, and my quasi-step-daughter is little help. We don’t try to enforce gender norms, not fitting them terribly well ourselves, but our kids seem to be turning out gender-normative as hell anyway. The point, I guess, is that there are plenty of things pushing kids to behave in a gender-normative way, and there is no reason to assume that gay marriage means that we’ll automatically become a nation of feminine guys and masculine girls–not that there is anything wrong with that . . .

    • STH

      Kids are really sensitive to cues, and they don’t have to be verbal. They see the girls’ aisle in the toy section of Target (the sea of pink) and the boys’ aisle (all black with lots of toy weapons) and they get the message. My mother communicated a lot through the fact that her harshest criticism of another woman was always that “she’s so aggressive.”

      • Medrawt

        Yeah, you can’t isolate your kid from the effect of the surrounding culture without basically abusing them. When I was around eight years old I started crying because my mom was beating – slaughtering, really – my dad in a game of Monopoly, and it wasn’t right because men were supposed to be good with money and stuff. My parents were stunned and horrified and all like “Where did he get this?” From commercials and reruns of shows on Nick at Nite and probably from TV shows on when I was a kid and movies and kids at school and EVERYTHING.

        • STH

          Yes, it’s so pervasive that it’s hard to see. When I was growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s, nobody had to tell me that girls couldn’t be doctors; I just knew that was the case because all the doctors I saw on TV and in person were men. And all the nurses were women. I think things are a little better now, but it’s still the case that men are the ones who “do” things in movies, while women are the “love interest” or the “helper” person, not the main character.

          • SV

            When I was a kid, my mother smoked cigarettes, and my dad occasionally smoked a pipe. I thought women only smoked cigarettes and men could only smoke a pipe – if I had seen a man smoking cigarettes, it would have been as confusing to me as seeing a man wearing lipstick. I also thought that ‘doctor’ and ‘nurse’ were the same job, with different words for the person doing it depending on whether they were male or female – like ‘waiter’ vs. ‘waitress’.

            • dave

              I also thought that ‘doctor’ and ‘nurse’ were the same job, with different words for the person doing it depending on whether they were male or female – like ‘waiter’ vs. ‘waitress’.

              They basically are.

              • DocAmazing

                Uh, no. Not even close.

                • Origami Isopod

                  Not the same thing, no, but nurses are a lot more critical to health care than many white coats would like to think. I don’t think the overall gender difference in fields is incidental to this.

                • DocAmazing

                  Oh, no hospital in the world could run without nurses; their function is absolutely essential and irreplaceable. They are not, however, doctors. We do different things. That’ s why we have different titles. There are a whole bunch of other people in a hospital who are irreplaceable and who are not doctors: see also Respiratory therapists; Radiology technicians; Dieticians; Pharmacists.

    • Phoenix Rising

      If the families I know are anything to go by…not a concern. Our kids are immersed in gender stereotypes whenever they are out of the house. While we may fight it off by demonstrating in our home that there is no such thing as boy tasks or girl tasks, children are always learning.

      My then 4 year old explained to me after visiting with another kid with two moms that her new friend’s mama had taken them on a walk. I asked how she determined that this parent was her mama, and she explained that the parent who makes you look at worms in the mud and doesn’t care that you’re out in the rain is your mama, and the one who notes that you got all wet running in the rain is your mommy.

      Yep, I’m the mom who gets stopped on the way in: “Son, that’s the ladies room!” and so is Sophie’s mama.

  • shah8

    Not to be too critical of this post, but I find that the general points elide the power dynamics of policing in general.

    Policing is a necessary social activity.

    Being a tyro is a natural, for anyone starting something new.

    In the personal example given, what I took from it was that the father and the older brothers were seeking an opportunity to bully you and your friend–and used a bullshit norm to do it. Betcha if you did take the rifle and fire it, you would have had backhanded compliments and encouragement that made you feel worse about trying to shoot at all. By refusing to play that game, you, in effect, turned the tables on a few people who were expecting to trip a little on their sense of superiority, and made them lose face, too. Hence the silence.

    Gendered, racial, sex-typed, whatever other norming arguments are *available*, and not quite *present* in the active sense. They are a part of how we get people to do and allow things that we might otherwise not do and not permit. Not really recognizing this means that the concept of the post ignores that people who are powerless aren’t able to take your advice, namely your poor friend! It’s a shame other people can’t afford to ignore gender policing.

    • Vance Maverick

      I think every sentence here is either incomprehensible or wrong. For just one example in your last paragraph — the advice wasn’t addressed to victims or even to young bullies, but to grouwnups.

      • Vance Maverick

        (I left out “tautological” — and misspelled “grownup”.)

        • shah8

          Well, I see that I should have said “gun” instead of “rifle”, and I’ll have to pass on making any other judgements, since you don’t specify what’s wrong–and the one that you did specify, the target of djw’s advice, I would venture to say that I used djw’s childhood friend as a member of the class grouped as “people who are active in any social sense”, which seems to include adults.

          BTW, how were you going to use “tautological”?

          • Vance Maverick

            Being a tyro is a natural, for anyone starting something new.

            is neither incomprehensible nor wrong — but it is tautological.

            And here’s djw’s advice:

            So I join Amanda in imploring the good people of the world who find conventional gender norms a comfortable way to make sense of themselves and their relationships to knock it off with the gender policing in general, but especially with respect to children.

            Your phrase “people who are active in any social sense” seems to be invented.

            • shah8

              Ah, yes, I meant to be tautological, there.

              Anyways, no:

              When Kiddie!MittRomney declared another student effeminate, and forcibly cut his hair, was it gender policing? Yup. Was it bullying? Yup. Was it assault? Yup. The gender policing was only so important as to allow the Mittster a social allowance to forcibly alter his victim.

              Most of the people in the thread (I guess not me)are far more topical in talking about people spewing norms every which way and being hurtfully obnoxious or stunting their kids. Why djw recounted feels a lot more than what Marcotte’s talking about.

              Anyways, like chaed, I was far too big and strong for anyone to bully me in high school, and I was never gender policed. My teacher spent far more time worrying about whether I’d make off with one of the white wimmin.

    • djw

      Policing is a necessary social activity.

      Of course, but we are under no obligation to police pointless and actively harmful norms.

      Being a tyro is a natural, for anyone starting something new.

      I tried this sentence out for several possible meanings of the word “tyro,” without success.

      In the personal example given, what I took from it was that the father and the older brothers were seeking an opportunity to bully you and your friend–and used a bullshit norm to do it. Betcha if you did take the rifle and fire it, you would have had backhanded compliments and encouragement that made you feel worse about trying to shoot at all. By refusing to play that game, you, in effect, turned the tables on a few people who were expecting to trip a little on their sense of superiority, and made them lose face, too. Hence the silence.

      Given what we know about how human memory works, we should probably take the details of my 25 year old memories with a sizable grain of salt. That said, this isn’t at all how it felt. The first few hours I was there, they were all quite warm and legitimately welcoming, and the teasing didn’t have kind of nasty age they developed. The initial response to my not wanting to fire a gun was in that range as well. If their goal was to bully us by some means or another, their demeanor didn’t reveal it all, and they didn’t seem the type to be particularly subtle about much of anything.

      Gendered, racial, sex-typed, whatever other norming arguments are *available*, and not quite *present* in the active sense.

      I have no idea what this means.

      They are a part of how we get people to do and allow things that we might otherwise not do and not permit. Not really recognizing this means that the concept of the post ignores that people who are powerless aren’t able to take your advice, namely your poor friend! It’s a shame other people can’t afford to ignore gender policing.

      As Vance Maverick observes, and I thought was pretty clear, this post was directed toward the enforcers of gender norms rather than their targets; in particular, I had in mind those who do it casually, and perhaps don’t recognize it as a harmful activity. I also thought I was pretty clear that the kind of mentality and resolve I managed to cultivate isn’t available to most, and it was a kind of weird fortuitous fluke of my peculiar personality that I developed it in the first place.

      • shah8

        I went and reread the post, and read the links. I think I understand your objections now.

        Beyond accepting the misdirected focus of my response, do allow me to say that your tale seems pretty harrowing from the perspective of your friend, and I can’t imagine what happened when you could go home, and he could not. And the way that you talked about how he was later, and a bit more about the impact of sex-type norming felt an awful lot like “if only he knew not to let anyone tell him how to be a man” in a context where it feels alot like he was a victim of constant bullying, more than that he could fit in some rigid role and be okay on the outside, but stifled to death.

        Rereading the end a bit more carefully, I see that conclusion, and see how it matches up to Marcotte’s orginal article, but I don’t think your reminiscence really tells the story you wanted it to tell. And I did find it disturbing.

  • chaed

    In high school, I played football and did jock like things but I also did theater, quiz bowl, and watched a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I always think I was able to get away with it because I walked into 9th grade and was 6’4” and well over 200 pounds.

    Of course, my other half always prevented me from being great friends with either the jocks or the nerds. I didn’t really have any close friends, which made me lonely, but no one really gave me shit for anything either.

    • Murc

      I always think I was able to get away with it because I walked into 9th grade and was 6’4” and well over 200 pounds.

      … at the age of 14 you were six and a half foot tall and over two hundred pounds?

      Way to break the bell curve, dude. Absent being held back or having some sort of glandular problem, that is IMPRESSIVE.

      • MAJeff

        I was 6’4 at that age, but only weight 145.

        • Njorl

          Yeah. I was 6’3″ 130 freshman year. I ate 7 big meals a day back then and couldn’t gain weight. I swear that food passed through a wormhole and is getting to me now somehow.

      • chaed

        Then I stopped growing. Ten years later and maybe have grown 1/2 an inch.

        • chaed

          But the real point is that when you’re a big dude I found that I was much more free from all of that pressure to act like someone’s ideal of manliness.

          And I never needed a gun to compensate for anything.

          • Medrawt

            I wonder sometimes why, given my interests and proclivities, I never got bullied or really hassled in school (except for a little light hazing in 8th grade, when I went to a new school for one year). My friends in college were scandalized to find out that actually I’d always had a great time in school, never felt embarrassed about being bookish and caring about good grades, liking “geeky” things, etc. College for them was like a release from the hell of all that. I think there are a lot of factors, but it’s hard not to assume that one of them is that I was the biggest or second biggest boy in my classes until puberty. (I wasn’t a man-beast like you, but I was 6’1″ on my 16th birthday … and still am, 14+ years later.)

            • I found that in both high school and college, there was a lot of catty teasing and bullying about gender norms among the first-year students, which gradually diminished as time went on and I found better social circles to move in. It was deeply frustrating arriving at college and finding that my all-male dormitory floor was like going back to the ninth grade (minus the physical abuse).

  • djw- thanks for the post. It is hard to think about how people can be socialized to be terrible assholes- some of them are innately bad, probably, but many people are going along because it is what they know or have been taught by terrible role models.

  • BigHank53

    This reminds me of the worst case of gender-norming headfuckery I’ve ever seen. I was working at a bicycle store, and a couple comes in with their daughter to look at a bike for her. She’s five or so, and immediately spots the one bike we have in her size, with 16″ wheels. She runs over to it, excited as anything, “I want this one!” Did I mention that this bike is blue? Because her mother says–and I can remember her words after twenty years–“You don’t want a blue bike. You want a pink bike.”

    (A brief aside here: with frames that small, there’s no difference between the boys’ and girls’ frames. Besides, the only reason women’s frames with the dropped top tube were ever built is so that ladies could ride them while wearing a full skirt–something not many modern kids are doing. I say paint all the kids’ frames either red or green, and tell the parents to pound sand.)

    You could practically see the wheels turning in the kid’s head: I thought I liked this blue bike…but my mom says I don’t…maybe I do want a pink bike…I guess. Bad enough to insist on a pink bike, lady, why the hell are you teaching your daughter to mistrust her own desires and let others make all her decisions? She just said she wanted the blue one.

    Two decades and that still pisses me off.

    • Phoenix Rising

      If that is the worst case you’ve ever seen, you have lived a charmed life indeed, young fella. (Said with affection, really.)

      Raise a daughter sometime; apparently it would knock you out.

      • BigHank53

        Well, it’s the worst case I remember witnessing first-hand. What got me was the insidiousness: sawing the kid off at the knees the instant she shows some initiative and then making her think that was her own idea all along. Like the world needs another self-doubting abuse target.

        I have led a charmed life; I don’t have kids. Nor does my brother. Our parents….managed to make both childhood and parenthood look like a bad deal, and we both learned something from that. Enough to not pass the lesson along, at any rate. My paternal grandfather was eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia; he apparently had a habit of switching soup-bowls with my father just in case it had been poisoned. He wasn’t joking. You’re dying first!--now that’s an excellent parenting lesson for a ten-year-old.

      • Walt

        Preach it. Being the parent of a daughter makes me want to punch the world in the face.

        My daughters favorite color was orange until one of her (girl) friends told her that girls like pink. Since then it’s been pink, pink, pink. (It does make sorting the laundry easy.)

        • Steve LaBonne

          My (now 20 year old) daughter has always HATED pink and still wouldn’t wear it if her life depended on it. So I must have done something right. ;)

          • Origami Isopod

            I’m not comfortable with this. Femme-phobia is a form of misogyny. It’s not pink that’s the problem; it’s forcing all girls into the pink ghetto.

            • Steve LaBonne

              But it’s not misogyny for you to have the impertinence to be “uncomfortable” with her (not my- it didn’t come from me)color preferences? Maybe you should think more and pontificate less.

              • BeccaTheCyborg

                It’s not her preferences, it’s your beaming pride at her not being like those other girls. It’s that what is seen as feminine is always, always degraded.

                • Steve LaBonne

                  Oh, bullshit.

                • Origami Isopod

                  “Oh, bullshit” is such a convincing argument. So is a man lecturing a woman on her “impertinence,” while operating under the delusion that his daughter chooses her choices in a vacuum.

                • CaptBackslap

                  Pink was considered a masculine color until pretty recently (being the tint of red, the most masculine color). And dudes can and should still wear pink. I have a vibrant pink shirt I got for -$1 (Express coupon thing), and two things happen when I wear it:

                  1) A guy I know will be like “nice shirt, haha.”

                  2) A woman I may or may not know will be like “nice shirt!

                  So yeah, nothing wrong with pink no matter who’s rocking it.

              • Anonymous Won

                My reading of this is that it’s not your daughter’s color preferences that Origami Isopod is uncomfortable with but the idea that the fact that your daughter displays hatred of a something that is generally coded female is evidence of your having done, “something right.”

                The hatred of things associated with females and the feminine is often one of the indirect ways that the low worth of women in society is communicated.

                • Steve LaBonne

                  How many sock puppets do you have?

                • Anonymous Won

                  Perhaps you’d like to engage with me on the issue at hand, Steve instead of making baseless accusations?

                • Steve LaBonne

                  I’ll do that as soon as you have a comment worth engaging.

                • Anonymous Won

                  I refer you to my earlier comment then.

                • Origami Isopod

                  Not that I can back it up, but I’m not “Anonymous Won.” BeccaTheCyborg is a friend of mine, but we are not the same person.


              • Hogan

                Maybe the question is whether you’re proud of her for hating pink, or proud of her for not being afraid to admit she hates pink.

                • Steve LaBonne

                  I’m proud of her for thinking for herself and for rejecting gender stereotyping.

                • BeccaTheCyborg

                  So if she thought for herself and thought pink was a nice colour, you’d still be proud? I find it interesting that you’re angry that at least one woman, and one afab genderqueer (that’d be me) are saying maybe you should back off with the sexism and pride at maybe teaching internalized misogyny.

                • Steve LaBonne

                  Of course. And you give yourself far too much credit for the value of your humor-impaired pedantic response to what I said.

                • Anonymous Won

                  Agreed, Hogan. The issue isn’t whether or not girls/women like pink but the underlying reason for those preferences. At some point during childhood girls figure out that women do not have equality in society and then it’s not uncommon to reject things coded as feminine as a backlash against that reality and as an attempt to gain more status in a world that does not equally value the feminine. It’s a whole lot easier to change _what_ one likes than who one _is,_

                  Of course some reasons for disliking pink are entirely unproblematic — perhaps pink is not a flattering color on you, for instance — but when the reason reduces down to, “because it’s girly,” that points to a problem that goes deeper than simple preference.

                • Origami Isopod

                  “Humor impaired”?

                  Wow. Keep digging.

        • Origami Isopod

          Some of the girls in my ~fifth-grade class would play this “game” at recess: Look at your fingernails. Then look at the sole of your foot. How you did so “proved” you were either a boy or a girl.

          A boy would curl his fingers into a fist to look at his nails and turn his foot upward to face him to look at his sole. A girl would hold her hand straight out in front of her to look at the nails and lift her foot behind her to look at the sole.

          Silly, sure, but no sillier than many other methods of gender policing, some of which are taken seriously by adults.

        • My daughter likes some conventionally “girl” stuff (pink frilly clothes, ballet) and a lot of conventionally “boy” stuff (super-spy, firefighter and astronaut are common pretend play roles, and she did the classic improvise-a-gun-out-of-anything early on).

          I figure it’s OK for her to like the girly stuff if she sincerely likes it, even if it’s ultimately because of social pressure, and I don’t keep it away from her; but we try to instill a critical sense in her of where this stuff is coming from. I remember a conversation she had with my wife about boy clothes and girl clothes and nonstandard preferences, in which she ended up deciding that “the right clothes for you are the ones that make you feel like YOU.” Which is as good a takeaway lesson as I can think of.

    • STH

      God, what a sad story. My whole childhood in a nutshell, but all the expectations were unspoken, though well known. I would never have gone for the blue bike because I would have known by then what was expected. In college, when I studied Carl Rogers and the construction of a false self to please one’s parents, I couldn’t figure out why it moved me so. It took me years to realize it was because he was describing my life. I’m 48, and I’m still figuring out which part is me and which is the conditioning (and my mother has finally accepted that I am different than she is, though she still tried to police my 50-year-old sister). I do have a blue bike now, though. :)

  • JR

    Hmmm… sexual manhood based on target accuracy… could that have any relation to current events? Any at all???

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