I’m not really a jewelry person. I wear my wedding ring and three small silver hoops in my right ear; that’s really it. I have a few pieces of nice jewelry that sit in cases in my closet, and I think they’re lovely, but I just don’t wear it. Of course, as I write this, I am wearing black pants, a hoodie, and a baseball cap—my hair is shorter than my husband’s. My presentation is fairly butch, is what I’m saying. But a week or so ago, I decided to wear a necklace that Mr. Book gave me: a St. Francis medal. Francis is my confirmation name, and I’m a big fan, so I decided to wear it. And Joey was overcome with envy. He loves circles, and the medal is a circle—but more than that, the boy loves to be fancy. So I let him wear it, and he spent an evening taking it off and putting it on and saying “fancy” and “circle.” A few days after that, my sister Tammy came to visit, and my mother invited her to look through my Omi’s costume jewelry and see whether anything caught her eye. Well! Joey was quite taken with a necklace of big, shiny blue beads, and my mother put it on him. He broke it pretty quickly (it was, as I say, quite old, and was strung on stiff and stressed plastic fishing line stuff), but yesterday I finally restrung it and gave it back to him. He loves it, keeps calling it “fancy” and “nice,” and has gone out of his way to show it to everyone. He was willing to take it off for lunch after I explained that it would be unwise to get pizza on it, but cried for it when he was done.
Joey has wanted to accessorize since before he could walk: colorful scarves, hats, even a toy castle that he can fit around his chest (it’s made of cloth). I wrote last year about my mother calling him “a little gayboy” last year; I was, hmm, very discouraging about that, and she hasn’t said anything like it to me again. But when Joey was first trying out his necklace, I said something about putting it in the dress-up bin, and my dad said something about adding some neckties, and maybe suspenders. Lord knows I don’t see anything wrong with a nice necktie, but it was discouraging—my dad seemed so uncomfortable.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen Disco Godfather, but I totally recommend it. If you haven’t had the pleasure, let me tell you that one of the things I like about the movie is that it led me to think about things that have been shaved off of maleness as time goes by. The titular character is extremely macho—women want him, men want to be him, he was a cop, he knows kung fu—and he is so, so fancy. I missed disco, but I do know that it was a space for homosexual male expression; please don’t think that I’m missing that or trying to downplay it. But at least in the movies (have you seen John Travolta?), it appears to have been a place for men to be as fancy as they want to be. Of course, I know that any number of people have questioned the sexuality of men stepping outside of the crewcut and pantsuit paradigm for as long as men have crossed that line—but, damn it, it looks from here as though the culture keeps making steps toward escaping the gravitational pull of that norm and then takes two steps back.
I’ve read Cinderella Ate My Daughter (and Reviving Ophelia and The Beauty Myth and Reasonable Creatures and and and); I’ve some familiarity with the ways in which our culture is hostile to girls. But now I find myself in a position to be deeply interested in the ways in which patriarchy poisons boys. Don’t get me wrong: my kids have privilege that I don’t, which is weird. But misogyny hurts everybody, and four years and a couple of months ago, I abruptly landed in alien territory—I became a mother to boys. And now I imagine a world in which my toddler—or kid or teen or any future bub at all—can wear spangles if it pleases him without being pigeonholed, and I have to tell you, I prefer that world to this one.