The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism.

This is Part One of a series responding to the issues around transgenderism and the media representations therein.

 When my daughter was 3 she decided she wanted to be a mermaid for the ability to swim underwater. This lasted until she realised that mermaids do two things: swim and brush their hair. Understandably, this was deemed too boring. So, she became a mermaid superhero, which combined awesome swimming skills (and potentially a visit to Atlantis) with the ability to fly and read minds (and ignore her mother). Eventually this became a superhero mermaid rock star since I, in a moment of extreme unreasonableness, refused to let her dye her hair bright blue. (She decided her way around this was to become the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the band could veto my no blue hair rule, but that’s a whole different story).

My daughter no longer wants to be a mermaid or a rock star. She still loves superheroes and we spend a lot of time in comic book stores and at Comic Cons. She also has short hair. Despite clearly being a girl, at a recent Comic Con she was referred to as a boy because she chose to attend as a male superhero. The fact that many of the traditional male superheroes, such as Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Green Lantern,  are being replaced by women was deemed irrelevant. GrantedIMG_7717 this had a lot to do with the extreme sexualisation of female superheroes and villains, as seen in the comic artist Frank Quitely exhibit at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. Quitely was involved in the changes to the X-men costumes to make them more ‘practical’, except for Emma Frost who is wearing platform boots and two tiny pieces of cloth covering her breasts.*IMG_7716

Whilst deeply annoying, the ‘misgendering’ of my daughter did raise some interesting questions on why men assumed a primary school child had to be a boy because her costume featured neither a tutu nor a corset. The teenage boys dressed as female superheroes were classed as ‘transgressive’. My daughter, however, had to be a boy.

I was reminded of this situation when the utterly dreadful Good Housekeeping article on a boy whose Conservative Christian parents decided he must be a transgirl went viral. This child was forcibly transitioned by his parents in response to their relatives suggested he might be gay because he liked to play with toys that were for ‘girls’:

“Shortly after Kai turned 2, friends and family were starting to notice her behavior. Living in Pearland, Texas, that meant we were getting a lot of sidelong glances and questions. Kai would only play with other girls and girls’ toys. She said boys were “gross.” Family members were flat-out asking me if this kid was gay. It made me nervous, and I was constantly worried about what people would think of me, of us and of my parenting. While family was questioning whether Kai was gay ….”

Kai’s parents were so horrified by a son who like to wear bright dress up clothes that they decided he must be a girl.  This poor child has to contend with homophobic parents more concerned about appearances than raising an emotionally healthy child with a wide range of interests.

The correct response to such homophobic comments from family and friends should be to remove them from your child’s life (and deal with your own homophobia). Yet, these parents were feted by Good Housekeeping for transitioning a child to cover up their homophobia. Because having a gay child is the worst possible thing than raising a son who plays with toys traditionally assigned to girls and who may be gay (or, you know, just a kid who likes playing with toys). We are expected to celebrate these parents for their homophobia and for caring more about the neighbours than their own child.

This Good Housekeeping article encompasses all of my fears about the ways in which the construction of the Trans narrative is both deeply conservative and harmful to children.** Rather than recognizing the ways in which gender stereotypes create a hierarchy of male/ female and the decades of feminist research into the negative consequences this has for girls, we have, once again, arrived at a point where gender is deemed a binary with children unable to be just children. So, my superhero loving daughter, who only reads comics featuring female superheroes and villains, is being defined as male by so-called leftist people, who cannot conceive of women outside of a hyper-sexualised, violent pornographied object and by right-wing religious fundamentalists who believe women are inferior to men. It is not unsurprising that an Islamic fundamentalist country like Iran forcibly transitions people with the other option being death. The story of Kai demonstrates a similar trend in fundamentalist Christian communities in the US – the isolation and shaming of gay and lesbian children within these communities is well-documented and is responsible for the self-harming and suicides of far too many children.

I cannot see anything liberating about forcing children into categories of boy/girl based solely on whether or not they like trains or tutus – and all the subsequent medical interventions – or the entirety of the bigender/agender/ genderqueer constructions that continue to reify the sex based hierarchy rather than challenging them. Certainly, the recent article in the New York Times entitled “My daughter is not Trans, she’s a tomboy” still supports the theory that ‘girls’, unless they do ‘boy stuff’ are not as good as being born male. Girls who play with Barbies are bad and girls who climb trees are good is an asinine narrative that punishes children for trying to learn who they are within a culture that punishes children who try to conform or challenge the gendered patriarchal constructs of  masculine/ feminine.

Labelling children transgender at the age of 2 is a conservative and reactionary response to the questioning of gender. It is inherently homophobic and it fails to challenge the neoliberal discourse of ‘choice’ which depoliticises liberation politics and renders any discussion of class-based politics as ‘hateful’. As a radical feminist, I want nothing less than the full liberation of all women from the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.  This includes recognising that gender is not a performance or an ‘identity’. It is nothing more than the systemic social, cultural and physical oppression of women’s bodies, predicated on women’s reproductive, sexual and caring labour, which does nothing more than a reinforce a hierarchy of man/woman.

*Thank you to Claire Heuchan who pointed out this part of the exhibit to me.

** Part two is a discussion of the medical establishment and the transitioning of children.

Suggested Reading:

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, (London,2010).

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of our Gendered Minds, (UK, 2017)

Glosswitch, ‘Our culture dehumanises women by reducing them all to breeders and non-breeders‘, (New Statesman, 2014)

Claire Heuchan, “Sex, Gender and the New EssentialismSister Outrider, (7.2.2017).

Claire Heuchan, Lezbehonest about Queer Politics Erasing Lesbian WomenSister Outrider, (15.3.2017).

.Claire Heuchan, The Problem that has no name because women is too “essentialist”Sister Outrider, (22.2.2017).

bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, (UK, 2000)

Miranda Kiraly  & Meagan Tyler (eds.), Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism, (Australia, 2015)

Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford University Press, 1986)

Peggy Ornstein, Girls & Sex, (Great Britain, 2016), see pgs 160-165

PurpleSage, The Relentless Tide of Sex Stereotypes, (20.5.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, “Gender is not a spectrum”Aeon, (28.6.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, What I believe about Sex & GenderMore Radical with Age, (2015)

Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today, (London, 2001)

 

Jezebel shames a 3 year old for having a natural human reaction to bears breaking her stuff

Jezebel* has surpassed itself with it’s policy on shitting on people for no reason whatsoever. This time their target is a three year old who gets distressed whilst a family of 6 bears take over her backyard and break some of her toys. Being three, the natural reaction was to be upset. Hell, the father is upset and Jezebel doesn’t insult him for winding up his three year old. Nope, Jezebel has to go for the whole publicly shaming a three year old. And, yes, the child is identifiable to all of their neighbours, extended family and anyone else watching the video:

Five years from now, the little girl featured in this video will watch this and realize just how flagrantly youth is wasted on the young. That’s because, at eight years old, she’ll realize what she didn’t at three: Bears chilling on your swingset isn’t a cause for tears but a cause for celebration! (Just like when a bird poops on you for good luck, but less gross.)

And at 8 the child will be able to read and learn that Jezebel has invited the internet to trash her for being a three old. With emotions. Because nothing says cause for celebration being publicly shamed by a major media outlet.

We’re also supposed to be okay with the bears causing damage because a swing set only costs $300 at Target:

Bro Bible reports that the scene you’re witnessing happened in New Jersey, and correctly chastises this entire family for not just stopping for a second and recognizing how cool it is that six bears (a mother and her five cubs) are ripping up your backyard amenities. A swingset costs $300 at Target, but a story about a bear cub just chewing the hell out of your floatie while his brother tries to use your slide? That’s priceless!

This assumes that the family has $300 to spare to replace the pool and the swing set. The commentary in the video implies they might be but circumstances change and that pool may never be replaced. It’s okay to be disgruntled and annoyed at your stuff being broke. Granted, the father winding up the small child isn’t exactly a vision of excellent parenting, but he’s still allowed to be upset at the bears damaging their possessions.

The rest of the article is also twaddle:

And it’s all on video, so no one can even say shit when the toddler featured here tells everyone about it at school. “You think I’m joking about them ripping up my Eddie Bauer licensed pool float?” she’ll ask her teacher, after being gently accused of having a very vivid imagination. “Well, why don’t we just roll the goddamn tape, Sharon?”

Plus, you know that this is just an excuse for a bigger, better pool, right? Everyone wins!

Unless of course they can’t afford to buy another pool. Or, the bears keep coming back and some over officious police officer shoots them for causing a public menace. Or they get killed by a hunter. Or hit by a car. Or a million other things that can go wrong when bears enter human spaces.

Jezebel seriously needs to dump the label feminist when publishing shit.

* clean link

And, Baby Bangs? Just Wtf?

All together Now:

Ugly Baby:

dahliadrop2

 

Cute Baby:

 

dahliadrop 1

 

Ugly Baby & Cute Baby

bb1

Ugly Baby & Cute Baby

bb 2

Ugly Baby & Cute Baby

bb3

At least, I think this is what Baby Bangs is telling us with the production of fake hair for babies. Without fake hair, baby girls are UGLY.

And, seriously, who wants an ugly baby?

Not Baby Bangs, that’s for sure:

Our Philosophy
At Baby Bangs! we believe in the beauty of childhood. Our unique designs are sprinkled with MAGIC!~inspiring a world of whimsical wonder and mystical magical memorable moments for you and your baby girl to cherish Forever! For she is, and always will be, 
Your LiTTLe PRINCESS!

Babies can only live in a world of whimsical wonder and mystical magical memorable moments if they only look like girls. And, aren’t ugly.

Otherwise, their lives will suck.

Or, something.

 

<thank you to Sophia Greene for bringing this to my attention>

 

 

Girlie Glue: Because it’s never too early to be girly.

2

I thought this was a late April Fool’s rocking up in my Twitter feed. But, no. It appears to be an actual product with an actual website so you can glue shit to your babies’ head so they don’t forget they are girls. Granted, I’ve always been under the impression that babies don’t actually know what “girl” is since they do precisely four things: eat, sleep, shit and cry. But, that’s totally irrelevant. Now, you can ensure that your baby and the world around them know you’ve bought into majorly damaging gendered stereotypes and glue ribbons and bows to your kid’s head. Just so no one destroys their identity by mistaking them for a boy.

Because that would fuck them up for life.

Gluing shit to your kids head, on the other hand, is totally normal.

And this does not fill me this confidence:

Girlie Glue is made with Agave nectar and other all natural Ingredients

It’s safe, 100% Honey-Free and washes away easily with water.

I don’t care that it washes out or that it’s “natural” (and let’s be totally realistic here, all sorts of shit you wouldn’t want near your kid are called natural). You are gluing shit to your babies head.

Actually gluing shit to your babies head.

So people know they are a girl.

I can’t even begin to describe how fucked up that is.

You have a baby. Not a dress-up dolly. It doesn’t matter if your baby is bald and someone in Tesco thinks they are a boy. It’s a baby. You need to cuddle them  – not dress them up like freaking Barbie.

Girls have their entire lives to be groomed into passing the patriarchal fuckability test. At least give them a few years before you start gluing shit to their heads. images 2 Unknown 1

 

High School Musical: Disney Goes Feminist

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Granted High School Musical 3 has a rather unnecessary number of shots of Sharpay Evans’ arse and there is a very clear evidence of bullying by the two main male leads: Troy Bolton and Chad Danforth who steal the clothes of two younger classmates and make them chase them through the school dressed only in towels. In HS-land this gets the bullied boys detention. In my-land, it gets the two bullies an in-school suspension and a ban from participation in after school activities because it constitutes sexual harassment. And, I can’t even begin to describe the horror which is the Tiki song in High School Musical 2: racism a go-go there.

There are also very few non-white actors in the films. The best friends of the two leads are both African-American but they both are stereotypes. Chad Danforth is basketball obsessed and a loyal friend. Taylor McKessie is bossy, demanding and over-organised. Her character is also incredibly intelligent and loyal to her best friend which is a departure from many portrayals of African-American characters in Disney films. But, they are still only supporting characters living stereotypes of what “good” African-American teenagers are interested in: boys do basketball and girls do smart & over-bossy. On the other hand, the main character Gabriella Montez is Hispanic-American, which is a major departure for mainstream Disney programs. Disney does feature non-white actors but only in supporting roles and frequently as crass stereotypes.

We can’t forget the issue of class as every single one of the characters lives in a huge house, including Gabriella Montez whose mother is a single parent. Poverty is never an issue. In fact, the characters can afford to just hop on planes and fly 1000 miles without so much blinking about the credit card charge. Obviously, abuse doesn’t exist and no one has any disabilities. It is the American Dream: a white heteronormative culture.

There are also serious problems with gender stereotyping. The mothers of all the teenagers are shown in kitchens only bringing in groceries, baking snacks, serving food, and interrupting private moments between teenagers. Fathers, on the other hand, are actively involved in coaching sports and being ‘cool’. The drama teacher is OTT in the ridiculous and Sharpay, well, Sharpay is a blond narcissistic ice queen who treats everyone like shit. Because, that is oh-so-original.

Yet, High School Musical is probably one of the most feminist films Disney has ever produced. The main character Gabriella is a “good” girl who wears virginal outfits. But, she’s also intelligent, loyal and prone to speeches on everyone working together. She changes everyone for the better by encouraging them to be true to themselves. She’s also true to herself valuing her education over her boyfriend. Gabriella isn’t mean and she doesn’t take shit from anyone. Yes, there is an unnecessary amount of twaddle about boyfriends and girlfriends and loving one another forever but Gabriella is an inspiring female character. The value placed on friendships between the teenage girls is so very, very different. With the exception of Sharpay, the girls support one another through their dreams, their hobbies and their lives.  They work together for each other and they talk about the importance of valuing yourself as an individual over any potential relationship.

It’s not a perfect feminist film but it’s a start. And, in a complete departure from normal Disney narratives, the boy follows the girl to university.

 

<this rant is brought to you by my daughters who’ve been watching the trilogy together>

 

Vulvas, gender and the real price of being female

In my living room right now are two little girls playing Monopoly. So far this morning they’ve discussed the following: the existence of God, what happens to your vagina when you give birth, and whether or not they are talking about vaginas and vulvas. Granted, I could have done without the 6:30 am wake up call asking me where I fit on the vagina/vulva debate.

<note for children who may be reading this: it is always too early to wake up to discussions on mislabelling of body parts within a patriarchal culture.>

The first debate could have been any child, but the second is a conversation that little girls have constantly because they are taught from birth that having a vulva isn’t something to be proud of – and if you don’t believe me, just look at the sheer number of threads on Mumsnet by women worried about what to call their daughter’s vulva: a foofoo, front bottom, or flower being continual suggestions. Can we just look at how stupid the term front bottom actually is? We never tell boys they have front bottoms – it’s only girls who are told their reproductive organs are dirty and probably full of pooh from birth. And, flower, besides being linguistically stupid, isn’t a “nice euphemism”. It’s a ridiculous term which makes it difficult for small children to explain if someone is hurting them. After all, the statement “he hurt my flower” could mean anything.

Children need to know basic biology . They need to understand how human reproduction works – and it isn’t like flowers do it – regardless of what you learned from Grease 2. It isn’t basic biology which is harmful to children, contrary to this rather ridiculous article in Slate.  It is the coercive gender roles we assign to male and female which harm children, as Glosswitch so eloquently writes. It is the idea that male children are A and female children are B which damages our children. It is telling boys they can be as violent as they want without repercussions and teaching girls that they are responsible for becoming a victim of male violence. That is harmful; not labelling an infant male or female (unless the child is intersex which, whilst rare, has not been handled appropriately by the medical profession).

When I gave birth to my daughters, I didn’t think they could only be nurses or that they could be whatever they wanted to be. When i gave birth to two girls, I thought about the likelihood they would become a victim of male violence.

When I gave birth, I thought about the increased risk they would live with for being born female:

  • child sexual abuse
  • rape as a teenager
  • rape as an adult
  • sexual harassment in the street, school and workplace
  • their increased risk for contracting STDs through PIV
  • their increased risk of contracting STDs from a male partner ejaculating in their mouth or eyes (as is increasingly common via porn)
  • the fact that most UTI in women are a direct consequence of PIV since men don’t tend to wash their penis after urinating (or hands for that matter)
  • the risk of unwanted pregnancy (and having no access to birth control or abortion)
  • the increased risk of domestic violence, stalking and harassment
  • the increased risk of being killed for being female

I also thought about the “privileges” of being female:

  • earning less than men for doing the same work
  • being fired for being pregnant
  • being forced out of the workplace because of childcare commitments
  • living in poverty because of piss poor pensions
  • living in poverty because they are raising children whilst the father makes no financial contribution
  • being less likely to work in senior management or on a board of a FTSE 500 company

And a 1000 other things which women are punished with for the crime of being born female in male supremacist culture. These punishments are not because we have vaginas, rather its because of the gender coercively assigned to biology which creates women as an inferior class. Gender needs to be abolished – not the biological reality of women’s bodies.

Our girls should be playing monopoly and discussing their bodies without feeling ashamed – but perhaps not at 6:30 in the morning.

 

Glosswitch’s response: Boy or Girl? Why not have a stereotype instead is a must read.

This isn’t a “prank”. It’s just another part of the spectrum of male violence

An 18 year old called Jacob Dowdle has been expelled from school after shoving a creme pie in a teachers face. The expulsion came 2 days later after a video of the incident was posted online. The police have also questioned Dowdle about the incident. Dowdle threw a pie in a teacher’s face and was expelled (on the last day of classes) but will be allowed to sit his A-levels. I’d have thought a fairly normal response from a school to a student being an ass (and I checked with the teenager – she agrees with me on this and, by definition, this is  weird because she’s a teenager) but a bunch of people have started a petition because “boys will be boys” and holding them accountable is just mean.

Granted, Dowdle’s attack isn’t the worst thing a student can do to a teacher but it is being minimised and dismissed as irrelevant. We’re supposed to pretend that Dowdle’s behaviour is normal because he’s a “kid” and kids do stupid thing. Well, kids do do stupid things. Problem is, Dowdle isn’t a kid – at 18 years old he’s an adult. He has the right to vote, to drive and to drink alcohol and yet we think he shouldn’t be held accountable for harming his teacher. Dowdle made a choice and he needs to face the consequences of that decision. He isn’t being sent to prison for 20 years or banned from taking his A levels. He’s not being allowed to return to a school where he assaulted a teacher – not banned for life from having an education. Banning him from a building is hardly going to ruin his life.

The “boys will be boys” rhetoric is very dangerous. It is used constantly to minimise inappropriate behaviour in young boys. Instead of raising our boys to be thoughtful, considerate and to understand that there are consequences to their actions, we tell them that it was just a “prank” and that everyone will get over it. Well, I don’t want to get over it. I don’t want to live in a culture where an 18 year old is allowed to vote but not held accountable for his actions. I don’t want my children to attend schools where the teachers are having to worry about whether or not a male student will behave like a jackass. I want my children to attend schools where sexual violence is non-existent and bullying is dealt with appropriately.

I’m sick to death of the “boys will be boys” bullshit and I am so fucking bored of this idea that boys aren’t responsible for their own behaviour. That men can’t be held responsible for their actions.  Ched Evans doesn’t think he’s a rapist because he’s spent his whole life being told that he can do whatever he wants to whoever he wants whenever he wants. His fans believe they have the right to be as abusive and nasty as they want because they are men and men get to be assholes. Elliot Rodger killed 6 people because he believed he had the right to kill them. And, men rape and abuse women every single day because they believe they have the right. Dowdle’s action are part of the spectrum of male violence and he is being forgiven for his actions just as every other man is.

This school has made it very clear to their students that they will not tolerate the “boys will be boys” bullshit. Frankly, I’d like to write them a thank you letter.

<thank you to Karen Ingala Smith for tweeting this article out and raising her concerns this morning>

 

 

 

The Official Magnetic List of Acceptable Boy and Girl Words


Because gender stereotyping and hatred of women is just so fucking funny. God forbid girls like helicopters and aeroplanes. Probably their vaginas would dry up. Or something equally tedious. And, I do love the inclusion of sweets, sherbert, candy, ice cream and chocolate on the girls list whilst the boys only get sweets. Setting up our girls for a life time of eating disorders, self-loathing and low self-confidence. That way they will spend time failing to meet the heinous Patriarchal Fuckability Test rather than kick-starting the Revolution.

 Just for once I’d like to see this shit written about in terms of the emotional and psychological abuse of children.

This came via A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World on Facebook. They are pretty awesome and are well worth following.

The Lorax: Interesting Environmental Message Served With a Side of Sexism

I took small to see The Muppet Movie; an experience which was ruined by the inclusion of the utterly misogynistic Aquafresh Nurdle World ad. And, then we saw an add for the new Dr. Seuss film The Lorax. It looks brilliant fun; a film about being yourself, questioning authority and respecting/ caring for the environment. That would be brilliant fun right up until the point where there was a lurvely ‘joke’ about gender and violence.


It was the same tired old joke about not threatening violence against women unless they don’t ‘look’ like women: that is too say fat. Because, it’s just totally okay for children’s films to reinforce the same tired old stereotypes about women only having value if they are skinny and pretty. Or, that women can only ‘look’ like women if they are skinny. Or something.

It would be nice if just one film directed at children didn’t include threats of violence and gender stereotyping. Is that really so much to ask? Is Hollywood so lacking in imagination that they can’t imagine a world where people don’t run about threatening to punch anyone who disagrees with them or denigrating those who don’t fit Patriarchal Constructions of Fuckability?

It Doesn’t Make You a Special Fucking Snowflake:

This came from Being Feminist on Facebook. I just love this quote: