And When The Gender Revolution Came, It Was Brought By Mommy Bloggers

In the glacierlike progression of our culture towards a more mature and intelligent understanding of gender, few people expected big things out of the corner of the internet known as “mommy blogging.” Yet everyone paid attention when one mother’s defense of her young son’s Halloween costume went viral in October, and now another mom is sharing her son’s story and putting America’s ideas about gender in the spotlight.

The mom who writes under the name “Sarah” describes her son as a “pink boy” – he’s perfectly comfortable with his biological sex, she says, but his favorite hobbies, games, clothes, and activities are stereotypically feminine.

He wears khakis today but wore a dress to school from age 4 to 6; he used to do ballet and still doesn’t like sports; in preschool he was all about playing princess but now is all about Pokemon; and, in spite of the clear gender divisions in third grade, he plays with both girls and boys.

Essentially, her essay is about gender policing – maybe you’ve heard about it in your women’s studies or gender theory class, or maybe it’s the academic name for what you experience when someone notices the waistband of your boxer briefs peeking out above your jeans. This mommy blogger has a lot to say about it, though, and it’s stuff that Mainstream America might not have heard before. What does she cover?

+ Gender expression and sexual orientation are not the same thing! “And if you get busy thinking about femmy boys who grow up to be straight, you might also start thinking about butch boys who grow up to be gay, like all those bears and leather daddies I see walking around the Castro. Then you might have to admit that, though it often does, childhood gender expression doesn’t always correlate to adult sexuality.”

+ Gender expression isn’t a phase that kids go through for fun! “Gender identity isn’t something we just impose on kids and expect them to suck it up, like eating vegetables or going to school. It’s part of who they are, whether that satisfies us as parents or not.”

+ Gender policing and homophobia go hand in hand, and pretending otherwise is just lying. “So I’m really trying to figure this out. Dr. Phil tells us that it’s OK to be gay (just like the APA), but it’s not OK for boys to play with Barbie (just like NARTH), because … well, that’s where I get stuck. Because … they might grow up to be gay? But … they won’t necessarily, he says. And around we go.”

+ But gender policing and misogyny are even tighter, and that’s the real heart of the issue. “Dr. Phil’s muddled message reflects a broader, mostly unspoken cultural bias in America — even among Americans who are accepting of gay people — that femmy boys are somehow nebulously bad (though no one can actually articulate why). Dr. Phil — or NARTH — isn’t making a stink over girls who wear jeans and play soccer. So what, exactly, is wrong with a boy who likes Barbie?”

As we ourselves discuss in this particularly high-quality post, there is nothing wrong with boys who like Barbies. There is nothing wrong with effeminate men, because there is nothing wrong with effeminacy or the feminine – which is really what this is about, no? It’s about how boys aren’t allowed to be “like girls” because being a girl or even dressing like what people think a girl dresses like is just The Worst; it means that you must have all those other terrible traits that go with being a girl, like being weak and dumb and slutty and a prude and bossy and PMSy and frigid and a total bitch and everything else that the average American woman is understood to be all at once. It means voluntarily choosing to be an inferior creature, to give up the shining mantle of privilege and not caring about other people that masculinity bestows.

Why would anyone allow that to happen? Why would you ever let your son wear that pink sparkly tshirt?

Like any oppressive power structure, naming this one is the first step in collapsing it, which is why people tend to react so strongly when someone tries to do so. That’s why it’s special that the person calling this one out is a ‘mommy blogger,’ generally understood to be one of the most harmless species of the Internet – people are used to them sharing lemon bar recipes, not insights on structural inequality.

Maybe this will be a formula that works; maybe the Trojan horse that can bring a slightly more radical set of values into mainstream culture is no more complicated than a parent’s uncompromising love for their child.

Or at the very least, it could make a few playgrounds safer for tiaras.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.

28 Comments

  1. LOVE this article. The “nerdyapplebottom” entry is amazing. Favorite line: “Thirdly, I am not worried your son will grow up to be an actual ninja, so back off.”
    So many feelings about this issue… I could write a damn thesis.

    • That clip makes me mad. I’ll refrain from passing judgement since I have not seen the movie. My entire life I’ve been grilled like that. Kid or not, doesn’t make any difference. Kids are people. I also don’t care if she’s the mother. Get to know people, and they’ll tell you what they want you to know. Mother or not, nobody has some magic entitlement over somebody else’s identity/body/life. Damn, and the mother’s tone of voice is like her kid’s thoughts are insane. Getting in somebody’s face with a video camera, your little authority agenda, and your little security blanket of “normalcy”.. Not the first one of those I’ve seen. Not the 100th one..

  2. Best line ever: “Because the problem ain’t Barbies. It’s bullies.”

    Although, I mean, I’d argue that barbies create all kinds of nasty unrealistic expectations of the feminine body in little kids. This is why my awesome mom encouraged me to file down their ridic. boobs so they could look like actual people with space for internal organs.

    Yay for awesome moms.

  3. This reminds me of the time in 2nd grade my school had a day when kids were supposed to come dressed like their parents for a day, and I dressed like my dad instead of my mom. I used to think about that and cry, but now Autostraddle makes me feel like it was a good thing!! Yay, I’m reclaiming my childhood, and the three piece suits and camo pants it was composed of. :)

    PS- I still wear ties. Who else thinks ties are just about the coolest thing on the block?

  4. Awesome post! Thank you for sharing my Salon essay. I’m quite taken with the idea of being a Trojan horse for subversive values.

    But for me, the whole point (here’s where the Trojan horse metaphor falls apart) is making these values not subversive but mainstream–what would it be like if we encouraged our little boys to take ballet and learn to cook just as we encourage our little girls to play soccer and excel at math? That’s the world I aspire to.

    Don’t get me wrong–I do love me a lemon bar–but there’s work to be done.

    • Sarah Hoffman, thanks for being reasonable, and for not betraying your own child because of social disapproval. I have a non-standard gender configuration (masculine woman). The rigamarole I was put through as a child was something else. And IT DIDN’T WORK. I’m still exactly the same as I was at age 5. All it did was teach me not to trust or respect the adults around me. I saw the whole game for what it was immediately. I’m happy with myself and my life. If I had believed their bull, I would have killed myself as soon as I was physically able. Thanks for not running your child through that kind of insanity.

  5. Thanks for this- I’m going to send this link to my very straight and traditional sister who just asked me to be her yet-to-be-born child’s godmother! I think will compliment the gender neutral gifts / plans I’m amassing. . .

  6. My parents let me wear my brothers’ hand-me-downs whenever I wanted which was always. Even to school picture day. They drew the line at batman briefs (I reclaimed that at age 20), but I feel like they were still pretty progressive w/r/t gender expression and I love them for that.

    Although… apparently they never connected gender expression to sexual orientation (good), and are now shocked/sad/angry that I’m a lesbian (bad). This progressive/regressive guessing game confuses me like no other.

  7. After a long two weeks of being incredibly frustrated with people, messed up arguments concerning women’s health, gender, and citizen rights, why social programs rock and are important, this post was a breath of fresh air. Seriously, more families need to embody what this woman is doing!

  8. I never understood why gender nonconformity annoys this much. It’s not just that people disapprove of it, it’s that it actually makes them *violent*. I’ve seen male friends of mine clench their fists and say “well I’m not homophobic or anything, I love my gay friends, you guys know that, but these femmy boys just ENRAGE me”.
    I was speechless, although I did try and explain that gender nonconforming people are this way naturally, they aren’t “faking” anything or “overdoing it”.
    But I never thought about gender policing before.
    Gender policing makes me sad.

  9. “Maybe this will be a formula that works; maybe the Trojan horse that can bring a slightly more radical set of values into mainstream culture is no more complicated than a parent’s uncompromising love for their child.”

    I like this. It reminds me of Women Strike for Peace, a women’s anti-nuclear/peace movement in the 195s and 1960s. They presented themselves as middle-class women and mothers trying to protect their children and, I think, this gave them a foot in the door that more visibly subversive groups didn’t have. It also reminds me of how many civil rights groups dressed like stereotypically upstanding citizens (you know, wearing their Sunday best) when they went to protests. There’s definitely something to be said for using accepted social values to change the system. Kudos to the mommy-bloggers for taking up the torch.

  10. I love exploring this and applaud the mothers who are blogging it. There is another one on Queerty called Raising My Rainbow, or you can go to http://www.raisingmyrainbow.com. Whole ongoing series, the little boy just had a birthday party at Disney with the princesses and had a blast, it was awesome.

    This also makes me personally feel a lot better about my own gender expression. I’ll be 30 next month, and I keep asking myself, ‘am I too old to go through this? Will it damage my career? Will this androgynous look offends people?” Things like that. Such a relief to see the world moving more and more towards being totally ok with alternate gender explorations in children and adults alike. Bravo, brilliant post!

  11. My parents let my (now 19 and apparently very straight) brother wear a tutu to preschool every day for a year. He called it his “kingly outfit,” because it was gold and shiny. I’m still impressed with them for that, although I didn’t think anything of it at the time — which in and of itself also says something fairly awesome about their parenting.

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