Archive for attachment parenting

Gender, toddlers, me pontificating testily

Wouldn’t it be nice if I had the time or energy to write a big long post about this and my thoughts thereon? I mean, it would if you like reading the posts I write when I write like that, I suppose. Supposing you don’t, I’d keep it to yourself – I hardly need more encouragement not to write.

Apparently J Crew sells clothing or something? In the states apparently? Whatever. Apparently they decided to put up an ad with a mother and her young son who likes pink nail polish on his toenails. People are all “Yeah, woohoo, buy stuff at J. Crew!” and “OMG, they’re pushing trans-ness on kids, for shame” and so on, because the internet is full of people, giving a shit.

I live with a toddler who loves nail polish and likes nothing more than demanding that the roommate apply it, in specific colours on specific fingers. I have no interest in this, but hey, what they do is what they do. Toddlers like to do stuff with colours. Playdough. Paint. Crayons. Socks. As adults we might code this as feminine but there’s nothing inherently vagina-uterus-clitoris-possessing* about it.

I have a friend or two and family members who seems to delight in pointing out to me when he conforms to gender stereotypes. I’m not sure why. They’re just so pleased by it, and it sometimes feels like they wants to rub my nose in it a little. See Kenzie? There really is something to gender stereotypes!

I never said that there were no differences between boys and girls. All I’ve ever said is that if there are, we don’t know what they are. Not really.**

And one kid conforming to one stereotype is not even data. It’s not even interesting in the bigger picture. Maybe he’s well-coordinated as regards large muscle stuff not because he’s a boy, but because he was carried so much when he was an infant – babywearing and carrying seem to contribute to better balance and physical development of kids at 6 months and a year in some studies. Or maybe because he was born so very very full-term and well-developed and 9 1/2 pounds and he got a head start. Or maybe because that’s the body he came with, part of the normal variation inherent in bodies. Who knows.

So pointing it out and thinking that we know the explanation for it because, you know, penis and testes and a Y chromosome is just so much buying into the concept of the patriarchy. And it’s not neutral. “Boys develop large muscle coordination earlier than girls” feeds right into “boys are more rough and tumble than girls” which feeds right into “boys are more aggressive than girls naturally” which feeds right into all of the horrible narratives about adolescent and adult sexual aggression by boys and men, about men’s natural dominating assertiveness in the workplace, and so on (including all of the complementary narratives regarding girls and women). It’s all of a piece.

And of course, these same people don’t sit around commenting that he’s empathetic like we tend of think of girls being. That he’s a peaceable kid who most of the time likes to get along, like we think of girls being. That his language development is not at all delayed the way we think of boys’ language development being. That he likes pink frilly dresses and his stuffed animals and every baby doll he encounters the way girls are supposed to and boys aren’t.

I frequently feel that people are being unscientific, picking and choosing their data to fit their preconceptions, but that in their opinion I’m the difficult and unreasonable one for not going along with it and just declaring this feminism thing a crock because the kid climbs well.

* I mention these body parts that not all women possess not because I believe that these parts are what make a person a woman (I do not), but because the sort of person who tends to consider maleness and femaleness to be these massive irrefutable inborn and opposite things also tends to believe that being born with these parts is what makes someone a woman and therefore inherently feminine.

** I’ve also said, and will continue to say, that as regards almost everything we think of as dude, so male, and woah, so female can almost always be plotted as two significantly overlapping bell curves. And that there is almost always more variability between two members of the same gender than there is between the genders in general. Height. Strength. Hip to waist ratio. Body hair quantity (before shaving and depilating and lasering). Levels of so-called sex hormones like Estrogen and Testosterone. Even boob size.***

*** Seriously, look around at the men you know. There are a lot of A and B cups around on men. And larger. They’re just not as noticeable as the equivalent ones on women because they’re not propped up on a shelf under a form-fitting shirt. And we’re not looking for them. Sure, most of the very flat-chested people you meet will be men. But not all of them! And sure, most of the D+-cupped people you meet will be women. But not all of them!****

**** Bodies are awesome in all their shapes and sizes and conformations and abilities. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

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Cutting the Genitals of Children, Part 1

I committed to writing a post a week for the month of May on the above topic, because I attended a session called Social Media, Social Justice at the Northern Voice 2010 conference, and we were asked to make a concrete commitment in some area of social justice that was near and dear to us. This is post #1.

Although of course these posts are going to be about the medical and religious procedure most commonly know as circumcision, but let me first speak about values.

When I use the word values, I mean the moral weight and reasoning that we use to evaluate the world. We all have values, most of which are unspoken and unacknowledged, and they aren’t universal, even though it feels very much like they are. Values also aren’t entirely logical, though we can usually rationalize them, and our values can over time change through education and experience. I think it’s important to be able to speak our values so that people know where we’re coming from, so here’s a few of mine.

Value 1: People who choose to parent children have a responsibility to protect them from harm. This seems perhaps obvious, but there’s a lot of uncertainty on what that protection means. And what harm means, for that matter*. Nonetheless, once you know or suspect that a harm is occurring or likely will occur, it seems to me that by choosing to be a parent (an undoubtedly complicated choice) you also make a choice to take on the responsibility of protecting your child from that harm.

Value 2: People are more important than concepts. Concepts, including values and religious ideas, are intangible. And of course, they can be important. But for instance, it’s very difficult to say whether a concept has been harmed by someone’s actions or how great that harm is. Concepts need people to define them, to explain them and to speak for them. Concepts do not and can not exist without people.

Value 3: Actions should be judged by their effects, not by their intent. Good intentions do not erase the actual bad effects of the things we do. Knowing that a friend meant only good when they served a meal full of allergens doesn’t make the allergic reaction any less, for example. Unintended bad effects are no less bad.

Value 4: Adults, in my world, get to do whatever they want to do with their own bodies. Any marking, piercing, modification or amputation that an adult wishes to do or have done to their own body is or should be their right. There is nothing we possess more totally than our bodies, they are entirely our own.**

Given that these are my values, I know very clearly where I stand with regards to medical or ritual male or female infant or youth genital cutting, sometimes known as circumcision or mutilation. It is, quite simply, wrong.

My values tell me that it is wrong to permanently alter the bodies of children and infants without their consent (and as children and infants they cannot consent to this). It is wrong to cause them pain for no medical benefit, perhaps the most excruciating pain of their lives, and this is true regardless of what the reasoning behind the pain causing is. It is wrong even when “pain relief” is used, as this is rarely sufficient to remove all pain and can cause further problems and damage. It is wrong to risk their lives, their health and their sexual future for aesthetic reasons.

Next post: Some musings on religion and the clash with values.

*I suspect the concept of harm in parenting is based on another set of values. For instance, if you believe that children are inherently “sinful” and/or inherently inclined to be uncooperative, then you’re going to view things like punishment and rigid parenting practices and a child’s behaviour very differently than if you believe that children are inherently community-minded and inclined to want to get along with others. For the record, my beliefs re: children and therefore my practice as a parent tend more along the latter values set.

**I want to state this because I don’t want to be misinterpreted as saying that cutting/amputation/body modifications are a wrong in and of themselves. In my view, these are neutral acts, and their morality is decided by the context in which they take place.

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