Tag Archive | Gender Roles

Betting on It

Author’s Note: This story takes place in roughly the same “world” as several other ones on this blog.  They’re not entirely related (that is, the same characters don’t necessarily appear in every story), but in my head, they all live in the same general location.  Just thought you’d like to know.

This story is included in the Creative Buzz Hop.  The theme for the week is “gender.”  To participate, visit Muses from the Deep or PenPaperPad and add your voice.

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It all started with a bet.

Tyler could never remember later whose idea it really was. It might have been Matty’s because he’d had a ginormous crush on Justine starting in fourth grade. Or it might have been Justine’s; she liked to see Tyler and Matty squirm. It might even have been Tyler’s—a stupid reaction to stupid Matty’s stupid teasing.

It didn’t really matter anyway.

The only important thing was that six days into the school year, Tyler was sitting in the top row of the bleachers in the Old Gym (which hadn’t been “old” since 1962) waiting his turn to try out for the seventh grade cheerleading squad. Matty was on his right and Justine was on his left. Somehow, it didn’t make him feel any better.

If he went through with it, he got eight dollars and Matty’s copy of Super Mario Zombies, and Justine would find out if Carly Dunbar liked him, liked him. If he didn’t, he had to make copies of his social studies notes for a week—for both Matty and Justine, neither of whom appreciated Mr. Connolly’s habit of outlining the whole text book.

Tyler sighed. There was nothing for it. He had no intention of losing this bet; he cared far less about the winnings than his pride. Anyway, it wasn’t as though he couldn’t do it. Tyler was pretty sure he stood a better chance than half the girls. He’d taken several years of gymnastics until his parents decided it was too expensive. At that point, he switched to hip-hop. That was considered respectable, though Tyler always secretly wished he’d been allowed to take some of the other dance classes. That was the fun part about being a preacher’s kid in a not-so-big town; there was pressure on his dad to make sure he grew up right. There was no way he was going to tell his father that he’d tried out for cheerleading—especially if he didn’t make it.

After suffering through several out-of-sync routines, the coach finally called Tyler’s name. There were a lot of poorly-concealed snickers. Even the coach looked like she thought Tyler wasn’t serious. He performed the skills she asked for and watched her make checks on her clipboard, her eyebrows slowly climbing her forehead. She dismissed him with an “I’ll let you know” and moved on to the next person.

“You so owe me,” Tyler said when they were out of the gym.

“Whatever.” Matty was scowling. “I didn’t think you’d actually do it. I was looking forward to sleeping through Connolly’s class.”

“You wish. Just think, now you can play Super Mario Zombies at my house.”

***

Two weeks later, Tyler was standing in Coach Pepper’s office, fiddling with his backpack while she talked.

“…just don’t see how it’s possible,” she was saying. “I mean, we don’t have a uniform for you or anything. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Tyler, but this isn’t going to work out. I’m sorry.”

Wait just a minute. Was Coach Pepper really saying Tyler couldn’t be on the squad because he was a boy? “Coach, that’s not fair! It’s discrimination.”

She glared at him. “Boys can’t have everything. Some things just naturally belong to the girls.”

He let his mouth hang open for ten seconds before he turned and marched out. No way was he going to stand for this. People staged protests all the time, right? Why not for keeping boys off the cheer squad? Time to take some action.

Without telling his parents.

That turned out to be easier said than done. By the time Tyler had organized a protest at the first soccer home game, put on one of the mini-skirt uniforms, passed out fliers at every lunch period (earning two detentions for cutting class), and called the local paper, his parents were well and truly informed.

Tyler was unprepared for the media circus that ensued. Apparently, the tiny town of Morton Ponds hadn’t seen this much excitement since the high school baseball team won the state championship back in the early eighties. Everyone took sides, including most of the teachers—and Tyler’s own family.

It didn’t help that every single one of them had an opinion. Helen thought he was attention-seeking. Charlotte said she was proud of him for sticking The Patriarchy in the eye, whatever that meant. His parents said they would support him, but it didn’t sound entirely sincere. Only Colby said he was staying out of it.

When all was said and done, Coach Pepper was forced to accept boys on the cheer squad, provided they could demonstrate the skill level she expected. There was a big press conference, and Tyler had to make a speech about how wrong it was to keep kids from doing what they wanted just because they were the “wrong” gender. He didn’t know how to answer the question about whether girls should play football; Morton Ponds didn’t even have a football team.

Afterward, Colby took Tyler out for ice cream. Colby was pretty cool, for a college guy. They sat outside the Dairy Queen eating Dilly Bars and not actually talking. That was okay with Tyler; he didn’t have anything else to say. Eventually, they tossed their sticks and got back in Colby’s car.

“Well, at least you made the team,” Colby finally said.

“Um.”

Colby glanced at Tyler. “What?”

“I didn’t actually want to be a cheerleader. I just wanted Matty’s copy of Super Mario Zombies.”

For six heartbeats, Colby said nothing. Then he roared with laughter, buckled his seat belt, and drove them both home.

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For those of you heading to SS in a couple of weeks (you know who you are), I’m auctioning a collection of stories that includes Betting on It and several others from this blog as well as a few new ones.

Being the Girl

I’m continuing my countdown to the official launch of A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans.  (I know; I’m like a kid at Christmas.  I’ve been looking forward to this book ever since I first read about it.)  Since I can’t offer a full review (having yet to finish the book), I will sustain you with other topics related to womanhood (Biblical or otherwise) until then.  Today: Our obsession with gender roles.

Have you ever experienced that awkward moment when someone asks, “So, are you the girl in your relationship”?  Yeah, me neither.  See, that’s because for most of us heterosexual cis-women, that question doesn’t even make sense.  Well, okay, I think I’d rather be thought of as a woman than as a girl, since I’m an adult.  But otherwise, I can’t think of a single time when I’ve been asked such a stupid question.

On the other hand, I can think of plenty of times when people have thought it was appropriate to ask me that question about my friends.

I’m not kidding.  I have a disproportionate number of non-het and non-cis friends for someone of my religious background.  For whatever reason, on more than one occasion and regarding more than one friend or family member, I have been asked which of my friends represented “the girl” in their relationships.  This usually happens after I’ve introduced them to someone, say, at a party.

What the heck is the obsession with figuring out what presumed gender roles a couple takes on?  I mean, when I’m with my friends and family, I don’t waste my precious minutes with them contemplating a) what their “roles” are in their relationship or b) whether or not they even have them.  I’m actually not sure why I should care.  Even back in my pre-ally days I never considered that sort of thing.

What surprises me even more is that it’s often people who don’t seem themselves to conform to strict gender-based societal norms who ask such nosy/inappropriate questions.  One of my less Hollywood-style-feminine friends suggested that her lesbian friend’s preferences for dresses must mean that she’s the “girl” in her relationship with her partner.  Resisting the temptation to ask whether this friend’s husband is the “girl” in their relationship, I politely suggested that I didn’t think that was the way it worked—both of them are women, not girls, and they are not role-playing at 1950s husband and wife.

It occurs to me that this is part of what bothers so many people about anything that isn’t heterosexual or cis.  I think it might be at the root of why so many strong women are often referred to as “bitchy,” “shrill,” or “emotional.”  Those are all things that challenge our long-established notions about what it means to be women.  Sometimes, we feel we have to know who’s the girl because we want to revert to something we can understand, something familiar.

How about we make some effort to become more comfortable with the unfamiliar?  I appreciate my friends who fail to conform to anyone else’s idea of what they ought to be or do.  It makes me feel far less of a failure at being a “real” woman when I see that non-conforming women are successful, happy, and fulfilled in who they are.  One day, we can let go of the notion that there are only two ways of being—”boy” or “girl”—and accept that there’s a whole lot more variety than that, even among those of us who consider ourselves entirely straight and cis.

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Be sure to check out the essay contest here on the blog, and don’t forget to order your copy of A Year of Biblical Womanhood!

A Line in the Sandbox

We love to categorize, don’t we?  There are rules, lines we’re not supposed to cross.  Increasingly, we’re seeing that in popular culture.  Being a mom, I see it mostly in the toy aisles.  There are rows and rows of pink and purple toys, dolls and stuffed animals, dress-up clothes and cooking supplies for girls.  There are cars and trucks, action figures, and power tools for boys.  Every single store I’ve ever been in that sells toys has them arranged this way.  Yes, there are a few gender-neutral toys that get their own aisles.  But not as many, and even those tend to be arranged with some gender segregation in mind.  For example, craft projects “for girls” are usually separated from the rest.  Packaging and marketing also have an impact, often featuring either boys or girls depending on the target audience for a particular item.

The following videos from January and February 2012 illustrate nicely what I have been saying about kids’ toys for a long time:

 

I really have nothing against the toys that are available for my kids to play with.  I don’t object to the fact that my son (despite his love for all things dance) enjoys monster trucks.  I’m completely cool with my daughter playing with My Little Pony.  But let me make it clear: I would be just fine with it if it were the other way around.  In fact, sometimes it is.  They often play with each other’s toys, or play together with one set or another.  It was my daughter who came up with the idea to make My Little Ponies go flying using a Hot Wheels car launcher.

The real issue is not the toys.  It’s not the cookware or the cars.  It’s not the pink or the blue.  The problem is that we’ve tried to give toys and colors a gender.  We’ve marketed toys to boys or girls as though it’s inappropriate for them to play with whatever they want.  We’ve color-coded them so that everyone is clear who it should belong to.  As a result, even the toys that are supposed to be for everyone, such as Legos, end up being labeled “for boys” or “for girls.”

Instead of trying to fight the toy companies, I have a better idea.  Let’s just lay off the stereotyping in our own families.  If we stop making a big deal over a boy who wants a cook stove, a Barbie, or anything that comes in pink, or a girl who wants an Incredible Hulk action figure, a remote-control helicopter, or something with swords and skulls on it, we’re already doing better than the companies that produce such things.

I’ve never told either of my kids that there are things they can’t have because boys (or girls) don’t play with those things.   Just like I don’t tell my daughter she can’t have wilderness adventures or my son that he can’t dance, I refuse to dictate their playthings.  And the best part is, it doesn’t change anything about what anyone else does.  If you have a daughter who loves pink and princesses, she is every bit as wonderful as a girl who likes mud pies and baseball (or one who likes mud pies and princesses).  If your son prefers football and monsters, he is just as awesome as if he enjoys ballet and dolls (or football and ballet).

What do you say, can we stop making toys (and life) all about gender?

What Boys Can’t Do

This morning, S and I took a break from school to just read together.  We cuddled up in what the kids call the “hot corner” in our living room.  (It’s a space between our sofa and love seat where the heating vent is.  The kids have it set up with a blanket and a large floor pillow.)  We read one of the American Girl books, the first one I’ve read to her.  She picked the one about the girl living during the Great Depression.

I have to admit, I think I enjoyed the story as much as she did.  We talked about how Kit, the main character, is a bit of a tomboy.  She doesn’t like anything pink or frilly, and she loves sports.  S told me about the things she has in common with Kit and the ways she is different.  We also had the chance to talk about the history, what it was like for many families in the 1930s.

It was such an engaging story that I wanted to find out if there was anything similar for boys.  J has read the My America books, but there are only two boy characters, and the stories cover a limited time period.  The American Girl books span most of United States history.  Sadly, there isn’t anything else like the AG books for boys.

As I pondered what I should do, I realized that I was doing exactly what I’ve said I wouldn’t do.  I was creating a literary box for my kids, and placing them in it.  I had decided that J needed “boy” books, as he couldn’t possibly read books about girls.  Right then, I made a decision.

I said, screw this.

Just why, again, can’t a boy read the AG series?  They aren’t especially girly, they just feature female lead characters.  But even if they were, why can’t boys enjoy them?

We don’t bat an eye at girls who want to read about Tom Sawyer or Jim Hawkins or Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins.  I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and all the Bunnicula books with both my kids, and didn’t concern myself with whether my daughter could relate to the male characters.  I even read the Ramona books with J, and we’ve enjoyed other books with strong female characters.  The other day, J was looking with interest at The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I told him we could read the series, but if he wanted to, he could read that one.  They don’t have to be read in order.

How are the AG books any different?  Why shouldn’t J read them?

I can’t think of even one reason not to let him.

Blast to the Past

Every so often, I hear people say (or I read in print) that they wish we could return to the values of fifty or sixty years ago.  On the surface, to many people that may seem like some kind of ideal world.  Children were respectful and had manners, families remained intact, faith in God was publicly acknowledged, and moral principles were upheld.

On the other hand, black people went to separate schools and drank from separate water fountains.  Women didn’t go to college or compete in the job market.  Adopted kids often either didn’t know they weren’t their parents biological children or were introduced as such, implying they were somehow less “real.”  Pregnant girls might be sent away to hide, then be manipulated into allowing someone else to making choices for them.  People were persecuted for unorthodox political views.  Families built fallout shelters and television ads showed children what to do in the event of a bombing (duck and cover, anyone?).

When we wax nostalgic about decades gone by, we fail to admit that we’re still living in ignorance.  “We want to return to an era when values were taught!”  Translation: We want to pretend that racism, misogyny, and homophobia don’t exist.  Brown people are okay, as long as they mix with other brown people and don’t cause us tax burden with their laziness.  Women can work outside the home, as long as it isn’t as a preaching pastor and as long as her husband is okay with it and as long as her man doesn’t take her place staying home.  And for God’s sake, those gay people ought to just go back in their closets where we don’t have to see or speak to them.

With every form of positive social change comes greater responsibility of the people to see it through.  By refusing to admit our own part in racism, we perpetuate it, despite the gains of the last sixty years.  By holding women back in the workplace, in ministry, and at home, we foster the very culture women have spent the last fifty years battling.  By denying basic rights to the GLBT community, we stubbornly turn our backs on the work of the last forty years.

When will we stop believing that life was idyllic in the past?  It reminds me of yet another wonderful quote from CS Lewis.  At the end of “The Last Battle,” when the Seven Friends of Narnia are discussing Susan’s defection, he puts in this gem:

“Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

That is exactly what we’ve done.  We’ve decided that 1950s America is the pinnacle of existence.  After all, the major wars were over, we had technology to make everyone’s life easier, and these pesky [insert your favorite race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation] people kept to themselves.  We could live in our middle-class, white, heterosexual bubbles, enjoying the finest life had to offer.

I don’t want to live in a bubble.

I want messy, complicated craziness, of the kind that only comes from embracing people unlike myself.  I want to understand the hardships faced by other people.  I want to work together for change, making a safe place for everyone to be exactly the people God intended them to be.  I want our churches to be safe havens, unsegregated by any kind of prejudice.  I want my kids to know a world where people respect one another, even when we are different.

Restore Factory Defaults

You know how when you buy a new computer or cell phone, it comes with default settings?  When you get it home and set up, you have to decide whether the defaults suit you.  You play around with the power settings, change the background, set the screen saver, create a ring tone.  Instead of whatever settings came installed, you now have your own.

Our culture has some default settings, too.  One is that the automatic default is the male perspective.  Now, I sense there is already some eye-rolling.  Many men probably don’t recognize themselves as the default because it’s so ingrained.  Many women may not believe it because they see so much out there that is aimed at the edification of women.  So allow me to explain.

It is generally assumed that male lead characters are more universally appealing.  This idea of the male form as default can be seen nearly everywhere: clothing, art, literature, music, sports, comic books, video games, advertising.  It is beyond a mere “this is what men want, this is what women want.”  The underlying theme is that whatever men want is good enough for women; whatever women want is unappealing to men.

To illustrate this idea, let’s look at books.  An overwhelming majority of well-known literary figures are male, even when the books are written by female authors.  When there are female characters, they are often “flat” (undeveloped, supporting, stereotypical) characters.  If I asked you to name some famous heroes in your favorite works of fiction, who would you name?  What if I asked you to list the female characters in your favorite books.  Would you be able to do so?  Would you be able to list books with strong female protagonists which appeal to both men and women?

I will concede that the majority of universally appealing male characters are not the “guy-guy” type, and their fictional situations are not necessarily unique to boys or men.  But why, then, wouldn’t similarly “androgynous” female characters with broadly relatable adventures appeal to both boys and girls?

One unfortunate side effect of this male-as-default mentality is that female authors have been limited in certain ways.  Many women succumb to the pressure by writing male characters; writing under assumed names; using initials instead of full names; writing “women’s” fiction; failing to be published at all.  This is intolerable.  We live in twenty-first century America.  There is nothing wrong with boys being able to relate to the adventures of a similar-age female any more than girls enjoying books about their male age-mates.  And there ought to be nothing wrong with women being strong forces in the realm of writing, without compromising themselves.

We have to start young.  Today, if you have a family, go to the library and borrow some books with great female lead characters and read them to both your sons and daughters.  Here is a list of some of my favorites to get you started:

-The Ramona books, by Beverly Cleary

-The Little House books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

-The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

-3 of the 5 books in the Time Quintet (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and An Acceptable Time), by Madeleine L’Engle

I would love to hear what other books with strong female leads you might recommend for both boys and girls.

Wives, Submit Your Hair to Your Husbands

I had another Adventure in the World of Female Submission not long ago.  Even though the incident was ultimately inconsequential, it stuck with me.

Allow me to back up for a moment.  To be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with my hair.  It’s very thick and wavy, bordering on curly.  Trust me, it is a Giant Pain in the Ass.  When my hair is long, most days I just put it up so I don’t have to deal with it.  My hair reacts to every minor change in humidity.  If it’s too wet, it frizzes.  If it’s too dry, it frizzes.  If you’ve ever seen those old ads for Chia Pets, that is an accurate description of what my hair does.  When my hair is short, I have to go to a lot of extra trouble to style it because I don’t have the option of hiding it in a ponytail or clip.  On the other hand, because my hair is semi-curly, it holds its shape well (especially if I use enough hairspray).

Not long ago, for reasons I’d rather not go into in a blog post, I was forced to cut off most of my hair, which had previously been just past shoulder length.  It was fairly disappointing, especially considering that now I can’t just conceal a bad hair day by putting it up.  Thankfully, most people seem to have responded positively to my new ‘do.  There are, however, a select few very rude people who seem to think that hairstyle is a sign of deeper unrest in a person’s life.

One such person posed this bizarre question:  “Does your husband mind that you cut it short?”

Um.  What?

I was so startled by the query that I think I mumbled something like, “No, not really.”  Wow, that was a brilliant response.

What I should have said was, “Why on Earth should my husband care what I do with my hair?”  My husband is not in charge of my hair.  What I do with it is not his decision.  And what I do with my hair has nothing to do with whether or not I am submitting to his authority in our home, which seems to have been the underlying sentiment.

Because that it what the whole conversation reminded me of.  That in all things, I must consult with and answer to my husband, as he is my “head” in our home.  The funny thing is, I am not convinced that we even have much of an idea what that means.

I remember asking, back in high school, what “submission” meant.  One of the men at my church responded, “The way we handle it is that whenever there is a major decision to make, and we don’t agree, we just go with my opinion.”

So, instead of talking about it, making compromises, negotiating, or listening to each other, he just makes a decision and she goes along with it.  I suppose if that works for them, more power to ‘em.  But what if the choice he is making is utterly wrong?  Or sinful?  Or causes unnecessary pain and loss in her life?  Would he even listen to her side, or would he just plow though with it and refuse any of her counsel?

Too many people seem to want to return to the values of the 1950s.  Christians, particularly those around my age and about ten years older, believe that the ’50s embody the kind of wholesome values that our society is now lacking.  This includes a picture of family life that bears striking resemblance to “Leave It to Beaver.”  In that universe, Dad is a strong, “manly” man who works hard to provide for his family.  Mom is a gentle, nurturing woman who actually enjoys spending her day in an apron.  In that world, Mom would *always* consult with Dad about her hairstyle and whether he would prefer that she leave it long.

The reality is that we don’t live in that place.  Nor should we.  It is not some sign of spiritual distress that I make my own decisions regarding my hair, or that my husband has far better housework skills than I.  We aren’t somehow failing to keep God’s commandments about marriage because we make decisions together, or that—gasp—I sometimes take the lead.

The truth is, God knows what we need in a mate.  I happen to be a woman with a bold streak and a fiery temper.  God knew I needed, and provided for me, a man who is generally my opposite, in terms of personality.  And, most importantly, this works for us.  I am so blessed to be married to someone like my husband.  We fit together; we work.  Not once has he ever said to me that I need to be more womanly, and I have never said that he needs to “be a man.”  We both believe that we are the people God intended us to be, and we have the marriage God intended us to have.

As long as society, or our friends, or the church keep pushing for men to have authority over their wives in all things and for women to submit willingly in all things, we will never make progress.  Women will still be paid less for the same jobs.  Women will be barred from serving in certain roles in the church.  Women will be seen as weaker, less intelligent, and less capable.

We need to stop asking women every time they make a change in their lives whether or not their husbands approve.