Monday, May 19, 2014

Bringing Up Girly Girls

Well before it dawned on him, Alex Hinds’s toddler twin daughters knew that they were girls.

Defiantly so. Rebelliously so.

And, not just girls. The twins were girly girls. In time, they would love ballet and reject any activities that felt boyish. They preferred dresses to pants and insisted on pink and purple bicycles. The refused categorically to ride on anything that was blue or green.

Stay-at-home-Dad Hinds had learned about gender in graduate school. Naturally, this is a fate we would not wish on anyone.

And he bought whatever his ideologically-driven teachers told him. He embraced the notion that gender was a mere social construct and that children of both genders needed to be liberated from it, as soon as possible, by force, if necessary.

For those few people who believe that I caricature these theories, I quote Hinds himself:

I was in graduate school, involved in a lively discussion about the rhetoric of architecture. The details of the conversation are unimportant, but it ended with me appealing to my fellow progressive eggheads, “We all know gender is socially constructed anyway, right?”

I think, at that moment, I actually believed what I had just said. Not just that the notions and valuations of “masculine” and “feminine” were tools of patriarchal oppression; but that all gender differences aside from the obvious physical ones were constructs created and perpetuated, consciously or otherwise, to reinforce social structures.

“… the rhetoric of architecture…” whatever could that mean?

Probably, Hinds was taking an advanced seminar in how architecture reinforces gender stereotypes by creating different rest rooms for men and women. 

In fairness, Hinds had no choice but to accept the reigning leftist dogma. Had he rejected it, he would probably not have received a degree.

If ever there was a situation that was ripe for oppression, it’s graduate school… and not just graduate school. The power of the GPA makes students, even as early as elementary school understand that if they do not hold the right opinions they will not be at the top of their class, will not go to the best schools and will not get the best jobs.

And so it went, until Hinds’s wife gave birth to twin girls. As it happened, said wife practices medicine, and therefore, as best as can be discerned from the column, is barely present in the home or in her daughters’ lives.

I state this as an observation, because nowhere in his article does Hinds suggest that his growing daughters have anything resembling a relationship with their mother.

Parenting on his own, Hinds fell back on what he had learned in graduate school. He decided that he would bring up his girls to be anything but girly. The last thing his addled brain wanted was for them to cave in to conform to a stereotype of what girls should be.

His home was filling up with girly presents to celebrate the births, but Hinds resolved to fight:

The profusion of pink paraphernalia only strengthened my resolve to undermine society’s gender messages. I would make parenting into a subversive act by encouraging my girls to be rough-and-tumble, grass-stained, fort-building, frog-chasing, risk-taking, dungaree-wearing, princess-shunning adventurers! 

It did not take very long for him to be mugged by reality:

At eighteen months, my daughters started caring about what they wore. A lot. And what they wanted was pink and purple, to the exclusion of every other color. The occasional yellow or red was acceptable, but the suggestion of a blue dress was met with distress, and brown was anathema. For a while, I could get them to wear jeans or shorts with t-shirts; and then they realized that if they screamed enough, I would relent and put them in dresses. 

He had only to trust what he observed:

Early on, we had been conscientious about providing them with gender-neutral toys like blocks, balls, and puzzles. But as they learned more words, they began to gravitate toward narrative-driven, imaginative play, and became less interested in running and throwing. These predilections corresponded to the kind of research about gender differences in children that I would have dismissed as flawed or irrelevant in my social-constructivist days. In fact, I didn’t need to read any studies to see how misguided I had been—I only needed to watch, at self-segregated parties and preschool, boys the same age as my girls as they wrestled, threw mulch, weaponized inanimate objects, and obsessed over machinery while the girls colored, talked about clothes, and pretended to be families of kitty-cats or ponies.

Apparently, Hinds is not the only parent who discovered that the theories he learned in graduate school were lies:

Likewise, many of our progressive-minded friends and relatives had little kids who were also developing very gendered interests. The young son of a gentle, peacenik, sports-agnostic couple is a rabid football fan who revels in the violent theater of the gridiron. The daughter of two moms who dressed her in brown until she started caring now wears princess costumes pretty much every day. Of course, not every kid fits neatly into one gender profile or the other; but at least among preschoolers, the differences are very pronounced. And while it’s certainly true that even preschoolers pick up on social cues about gender norms, it’s hard not to believe that there’s something more than peer pressure drawing them to distinctly different areas of interest and activity.

Hinds’s epiphany feels like reinventing the wheel. And yet, he has not entirely rejected social constuctivist theories. He still believes that there is some value in trying to force girls into unnatural roles:

So, I have come around—belatedly—to what everyone else seems to have known forever: that girls and boys have, in general, some different interests, tastes, and aptitudes. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that I’m now going to become a Pageant Dad and discourage my girls from their burgeoning interests in astronomy and paleontology. But my dunderheaded journey from social constructivist to believer that social and biological elements interact to create what we know as gender traits has been valuable. I can see the danger of gender determinism. It’s tempting to get lazy and automatically push girls toward ballet (ahem) and boys toward football, without letting them know that there are other options, and the same goes for academic pursuits. If I hadn’t tried and failed to subvert gender stereotypes in my early parenting, my girls would probably still have the same color bikes and go to the same ballet class; but I might not be teaching them to pound nails and build electrical circuits as well. 

Obviously, no one has ever had a problem with girls hammering nails. But, Hinds just did what most parents do with less self-torment: he learned to respect his daughters’ wishes and predilections.

Thanks to his graduate education he created more drama than need but, but it is good that he allowed reality to teach him a lesson.

Had he not done so, had he done what his graduate studies wanted him to do, he would have been more patriarchal oppressor than loving father. After all, forcing your children to be something that they are not is a an insidious form of oppression.


Anonymous said...

I bet if he had beat them up they'd have learned to behave like boys. Why didn't he smack them around a bit.

If gender is a construct, there is no reason they couldn't have taken this.

-- Days of Broken Arrows

Lindsay Harold said...

There is definitely more to gender roles than social pressures. Boys and girls are different from a very early age - in their preferences, response to stress, even the pitch of their voice when excited.

As the mother of a 2-year-old girl, I can tell you she is all girl in the way she acts and responds to things, even though we have never pushed her to be girly (though we never tried to prevent it either). She is a very active girl and loves being outside and running, but she has definite girl mannerisms. She flips her hair back, for example, or twirls when she has a dress on. I don't even do that, but she knows to do it naturally.

Lastango said...

He's still a dumbass. But now he's a dumbass without the crystallizing support of a PoMo university environment, so he's blowing in the wind a bit. But he does the best he can to stay centered by surrounding himself with "progressive-minded friends and relatives". Good on him; they deserve each other.

Sam L. said...

I recall one time in junior high, a teacher asking for a different opinion, and a boy gave her one. She did not like that! His name, I remember; hers, not.

Later, he can perhaps find them a fencing class, and see if that attracts them. Didn't for my son and daughter, but I've met some very good women fencers.

Ares Olympus said...

It seems like there's two completely opposite, completely valid points of view here, and both are equally wrong in their extremes.

The first view stereotypes boys and girls into categories of interest and assumes there's something wrong with a boy or girl who doesn't want to stand in the sterotype.

The second view says we are all individuals and boys and girls should be allowed and encouraged with unlimited freedom to explore their likes and dislikes without regards to gender stereotypes.

So each view has their own fears and biases, and can build credible looking strawmen of their opposing side and knock them down and feel pretty good.

Outside of gender identity (which is fortunately pretty stable), I think the nuanced view is many predilections exist in a bell curve for each gender with wide overlap.

I don't know why "some" liberal thinkers get stuck on denying gender biases, but apparently such people exist, and I guess it is scary to feel you're limited by your biology.

I work for an engineering company and the only 3-4 women engineers are from Europe. Maybe How do you encourage boys and girls to explore many things without being turned off because it is supposedly for the opposite gender?

When I was growing up the 1970's "Free to be you and me" was a movie that encourages individuality, something libertarians ought to respect, but somehow liberals and libertarians don't get along.

sestamibi said...

Check this out:

Dennis said...

I have been thinking about this in a larger context. I would posit that if one takes two Bell Curves, one representing female characteristics and the other representing male characteristics, and places them with the female Bell Curve mean on the right 5% tail and the left 5% tail on the left side of the male's mean one would have a fairly accurate representation of the overall tendencies of both male and female.
I would suggest that this explains the strengths of both females and males and also demonstrates the fact that a segment of females are going to demonstrate male characteristics in varying degrees and the opposite of that for males demonstrating female characteristics
In order to ensure the survival of the species GOD, or whatever you want to believe is controlling this experiment, my words, maintains this balance. Those who go outside these parameters go extinct. What we are is not determined by social constructs, but by what we bring to the advancement of the species. We should allow males and females to be what they want to be because it will work out with those demonstrating the characteristics of what is representative of each will carry on life. It is good to be female and male. I am not sure how we made life such a complex issue. Why would we have two sexes if there was not a need for two sexes.