Free to Be

It’s bothered me and my husband for years now that Ruth seems disappointed in Cricket’s stereotypically male interests and delighted by his stereotypically female interests; recently she posted on Facebook about how thrilled she is that he wants nail polish and sparkley headbands. This bugs me probably more than it should—she has been discouraged and eye-rolly about the fact that he loves trucks, but brags on Facebook about the fact that he loves his pink rain boots. I don’t think I’m a gender traditionalist: Joey has trucks and dolls; sometimes he likes to dress up and be fancy, and I think that’s adorable; we’re getting him a play kitchen for his birthday. But I also think it’s great that he loves smashing block towers, and that he loves to paint, and that he thinks his toy dump truck is amazing. If he wants a dress at some point, we’ll get him a dress. Of course there are things he likes that I’m not thrilled about, but these are interests like kicking the walls and screaming at his sleeping brother. It bothers me that Ruth has an investment either way. When Joey cuddles his baby doll, I don’t feel more accomplished as a parent and a liberal. I probably will feel a little discouraged the first time he pretends to be using a gun, but I know that that kind of play is pretty common; Ruth told me at the visit in April that Cricket is interested in guns, and that she blames us, because she certainly hasn’t done anything to end up with a boy who likes guns.

I want whoever the kids are to be okay with the people raising them. If Cricket winds up, I don’t know, working as an auto mechanic, I don’t want Ruth to be more unhappy than she would be if he were a florist. At the same time, I worry that I’m speaking out of hetero privilege here—that I sound like the smug married-to-a-man lady explaining that my kids can be anything they want to be. Says A: Feminism is about allowing people to make choices and respecting the choices that they make. Says B: But their choices are constrained. Being happy as a clam as an auto mechanic may mean that Cricket happens to make choices that please the patriarchy, but those choices aren’t made in a vacuum. Maybe florist is more likely to be a free choice, seeing as he is so pushed by the world in the other direction. Ah, argues A: but if his mother is shoving him toward florist, is that better than The Man pushing him at mechanic?

I don’t know. Maybe. But I don’t like it.

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12 thoughts on “Free to Be

  1. Ah, yes…clearly you passed on the dreaded “likes guns” gene. (Also known as the Y chromosome. Seriously, I don’t think the boy exists who hasn’t pointed a banana at someone else and said “bang.” I really do think they’re wired that way to some extent.)

    I think next time I talk to D I’m going to tell her I blame her for Julia’s perfectly normal almost-four-year-old-girl obsession with princesses. Even though we’ve never encouraged her to idealize princesses and she has never actually seen a Disney princess movie or played with a Disney princess toy, she talks about princesses all. the. time. Clearly we’ve done nothing to deserve a girl who loves princesses, because that would make us bad liberal parents, and since we adopted we are of course perfect. It must be D’s fault.

    (In case you can’t tell from the sarcasm, I think Ruth is nuts and I absolutely agree with you that pushing a child toward typically opposite-gender interests so that he isn’t constrained by society’s expectations is *just* as constraining as pushing him toward typically same-gender interests so that he fits in with society. All of it is just working out our own issues through our kids; letting them be themselves means celebrating *all* of who they are. Even the part that is obsessed with princesses…) xo

  2. Gah these people frustrate me! How on earth does she blame you for Cricket liking guns? Is that a genetic thing now?

    As a lesbian, I do not think you are talking from some sort of hetero privilege. We want our son to grow up and be whatever he wants to be, be it mechanic or florist. Now at 10, he is the first one to point out that just because he has gay parents doesn’t mean that he is gay (he’s in the midst of his first crush on a girl, it’s pretty cute!) I hate it when people swing so far in the opposite direction of trying to be “correct” that they no longer allow free choice.

    • Thanks, Andy: I do feel somewhat uncomfortable criticizing a lesbian for her position on gender roles, but darn it, I don’t think Ruth is coming from a healthier place than I am on this issue.

      That crush must be the cutest thing in the world to see—I smiled reading your comment. =)

  3. Also wondering how Ruth blames you guys for his liking guns?

    Ruth sounds like somebody who makes very ”careful” (if illogical, perhaps) parenting choices. I’m surprised she’s not more well informed about stages kids go through, appropriate behavior and so forth. Because Cricket sounds entirely ”normal” in that sense, but Ruth just doesn’t sound as though she understands what ”normal” is.

  4. *Here’s a newsflash for Ruth*….. Boys like guns. And trucks. And big machinery. Anything that moves or makes noise, generally. After 25 years in the day care/preschool/nanny/mommy business, I can confidently say that this is the rule. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I think they are rare. I think it is so unfair of her to try to squash his natural instincts and only celebrate what she deems acceptable. Poor Cricket.

  5. Another lesbian reader here, chiming in to agree with the other commenters. I have learned that it is ever so easy to criticize other peoples’ parenting and overlook factors that are hidden from the outside, it really does look like Ruth is very committed to an ideal sort of parenting in which our parental choices have predictable and obvious results. Gender socialization happens in all sorts of ways and our parenting choices are only one little part of it. I bet her rejection of traditional boy things is going to end up making him more fascinated by some of that….but in the end, Cricket and all the rest of the kids in the world will have their very own interests, and it ought to be the job of all the adults to observe him and love him and help him grow.

    • I remember back when Cricket was two and barely three figuring out that Ruth believed that if she was a good enough parent, Cricket would never be naughty or annoying, and that that belief was really starting to wear on her. I think she does also apply that to his interests. It’s a hard thing to carry around, and I don’t envy her that.

      • Ugh, what a dangerous, ugly and exhausting trap to fall into as a parent. And as others have said, painful to observe.

  6. Just wanted to add my voice. I don’t know Ruth, but it seems like she really wants to control how Cricket turns out, and she has a particular way she wants him to turn out. I imagine that from her point of view, each of these things is her being “responsible” – but in both cases, it sounds kind of stifling. I “get” your frustration.

  7. I feel stunned that she actually said she was blaming his interest in guns on you two.

    And I loved this line…I want whoever the kids are to be okay with the people raising them. I want that too, for all our kids.

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