a boy is a boy or a girl, who is a girl or maybe a boy. or neither or both.

by renegademama

So we’re at the checkout line in the Goodwill this weekend and I’m chatting with a couple people behind me – somehow we get on the topic of girl versus boy children (oh right, they told me they raised 4 boys and I said “I think I’d shoot myself” and they said “we considered it” and then we laughed.). Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my little man, but he drives me around the bend sometimes.  So we chatted about the differences between boys and girls, the way a girl at five seems so oddly capable of just doing a task (even a complicated one, like putting socks on without first throwing them across the room a few times, or sitting in a chair without tipping it backwards or otherwise flailing around). The lady behind the counter agreed, having mothered 5 boys. Then this blonde woman behind us, who we didn’t exactly invite into our little discussion I might add, gets all condescending and pipes up “You know, I don’t think it’s a boy/girl thing. It’s just a person thing. It’s just an individual personality difference – it has nothing to do with being male or female. I raised a boy who is so sensitive and gentle. It’s just a human difference.”

She’s impressed with herself.

I’m less impressed, and I feel like saying “Look, bitch, don’t play the gender equality social justice card with me. I’ve read more Judith Butler and bell hooks and studied more queer and feminist theory than your sorry ass could fathom, so if you really want to throw down some identity politics right here in the Goodwill check-out line, I’m in, you out-of-touch wannabe intellectual shit-head. Otherwise, shut the hell up and let me and the toothless worker lady banter in peace.”

But I kept that inside.

For the good of all mankind, I’m perfecting that skill.

Just to clarify, I haven’t read that much queer or feminist theory. But I’ve read enough to intellectually bitch-slap somebody dumb enough to think the Goodwill store is a good time to question gender construction. Plus, when people treat me like an empty vessel into which they shall altruistically pour their enlightened parenting skills, I get defensive and self-righteous with an overwhelming urge to retaliate irrationally. (That’s what happens when you’re mature and well-adjusted.)

But really the bottom line is this: theory is theory and real life is real life. I want to believe that there is no difference between male and female, that my son and daughter function in exactly the same way with the same instinct, mental approach, etc. But when you have a son suddenly chewing his pretzels into the shape of a gun, you begin to wonder. I mean I can’t blatantly deny what’s in front of me. That would be wrong. There are 12-step groups for that kind of behavior.

Of course I agree that there are no across-the-board, unwavering gender identities inherent in either sex, nor do I believe that there is a “right” way to be a “man” or a “woman.” Rocket went through a phase where he loved to wear Ava’s princess dresses – he’d parade around proudly in pink ruffles, a hard hat and cowboy boots. Loved it. And I took the same women’s studies class that Captain Justice took, you know, the one where the professor explains that gender roles are social constructs of the male hierarchy with no basis in reality and there’s no such thing as mother’s intuition (that one kinda hurt my feelings) and there are no inherent differences between the sexes. And I believed that for a long time. But then I got married (um, different blog post) and I had kids. And I’m not sure I believe that anymore.

Because in my experience, there is a HUGE STARTLING difference between Ava and Rocket, even though I tried to give them gender neutral toys and raise them the same way. And while it could be just personality differences, my experience seems to be shared with lots of other parents, who have experienced similar phenomena in their families. I do however have a huge problem with the idea of excusing rude or thoughtless or physically rough behavior because “boys will be boys” or overly dramatic, silly behavior because “girls will be girls.” Lame. Not cool. Period.

Anyway, I’m sure there are exceptions – boys who don’t place their penises in funnels or collapse on the floor in hysterics when the dog passes gas. I’m sure there’s one who has more than a 12-second attention span when it comes to tasks he’s not interested in. And I’m sure there are girls who aren’t generally organized, “on task” or helpful with siblings. I just don’t have one of those kids, and there appear to be lots of other mothers who don’t have one either, and it’s fun to chat about it.

It’s fun to be human with other humans, to commiserate and laugh for a moment even if it isn’t politically correct or right or progressive. Sometimes I just want to be real, with other real people. I don’t want to be enlightened or deep. I just want to laugh about my life, exactly as it is. Right or wrong. Maybe I am furthering the male hegemony. Maybe I am dead wrong and holding onto archaic 1950s ideas. But I’ll tell you one thing I don’t doubt, and that is that the toothless lady behind the Goodwill counter, making 8 bucks an hour trying to support her grandkids, probably isn’t too interested in engaging in theoretical discourse surrounding the nature of gender identity. She, like me, probably just enjoyed a good laugh.

 

Word.

 

17 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | February 21, 2011
  • julie

    LOL….YAY Janelle! I too would have wanted to throttle and call bullshit on the ‘gentle son’ woman…

    • renegademama

      I did! (inside). On the outside I just gave her the stink-eye. You probably would have had the guts to actually call her out, which I love. Cheers.

  • Christina

    I am laughing so hard at this I can hardly type this response.

    Ok so I have a calm, quite, sensitive son and a balls-out, rowdy, hard core daughter. However I am a preschool teacher and my children are the exception to the ‘rule’. Most of the time in the real world, (the playground) those gender lines are drawn by the children themselves. The girls are doing art or making nature pies and the boys are running and spitting as they make the sound effects for their weapon of choice.

    I love how raw and innate this is. I especially love to hear the parents talk about how “this is not the case in their house and how they keep things gender neutral”. Clearly they have not spent 5+ hours on the playground with their child and 20 other 3-6 year olds…. Fun times.

    • renegademama

      Awesome, thanks, Christina. I always enjoy your comments. That is beyond cool about your kids — I’d love to meet them. I once visualized (before they were born) having some sort of Zen children, all gender neutral and such, so I could impress the yuppies with my gender-neutral parenting techniques. Yeah. No such luck.

      I’m glad you wrote this comment, because it makes me feel better to hear that an actual preschool teacher (somebody who knows what they’re talking about) has witnessed the same differences.

  • Neena Hanchett

    The difference between little boys and little girls is pretty universal in my grandmotherly experience. I remember one instance with your children quite clearly. We were waiting in line for the Super Slide at the Cloverdale Citrus Fair two or three years ago. Ava was holding her ride ticket and gazing at the interesting people and sights. (That’s putting it mildly.) Rocket was climbing the cyclone fence, digging in the dirt trying to dislodge some stubborn rocks, and playing with his light sabre all at the same time. He wasn’t being destructive, he was just being a boy. His motto: Just gotta move!!!!!

    • renegademama

      Aww, Neena, I can see that now! How precious. You painted a perfect picture of those two. Love you.

  • Jess

    “Plus, when people treat me like an empty vessel into which they shall altruistically pour their enlightened parenting skills, I get defensive and self-righteous with an overwhelming urge to retaliate irrationally”

    This may be, hands down, the most fantastic statement about parenting advice I’ve ever heard. I want to put it on a card, glue it to a popsicle stick, and carry it around in my diaper bag to hold up when they put their asshats on.

    • renegademama

      Thanks, and that was an awesome image. I can just see it — hanging out at the park and some asshat (well said!) starts mumbling something profound and “helpful” regarding my parenting – and I just reach down, grab my popsicle stick sign and hold it up, without saying a word. Perfect!

  • anastasia mcdonnellism

    When you hypothetically went off on that woman, all I could imagine was the bar scene in Good Will Hunting where Will calls that jackhole from Harvard out in front of Schuyler – remember? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymsHLkB8u3s

    You /get/ it. I really like that about you. 🙂

    • renegademama

      Indeed. Great scene. I doubt I’ll ever have the balls to actually say the shit that crosses my mind (I mean, in person, at the moment – I tend to write WHATEVER), but damn it’s fun to pretend. 🙂

  • Shannon

    “Just to clarify, I haven’t read that much queer or feminist theory. But I’ve read enough to intellectually bitch-slap somebody dumb enough to think the Goodwill store is a good time to question gender construction.?”

    Janelle, you are so brilliant and hilarious I think you need your own word – ‘brillarious’. Cinamon told me about your blog and now I’m hooked, hooked, hooked. I’ve been laughing so much reading your posts I’m getting smiley-wrinkle-cramps. Thank you!

  • Kristine

    Oh my god, Janelle, you are pure awesome. I find myself reading your posts, with my head nodding along, and I’m thinking, ‘it’s like she’s inside my brain’ only she’s way more funny and astute and generally rad!

  • Jaclyn

    Hilarious, loved this post. I have just spent the last hour reading through all your old posts(shooing kiddies away) laughing my arse off. As a mother of 4 kids and a day care provider I can completely relate to your blog. Thanks for sharing the chaos and not so perfect mummy moments (of which I have PLENTY).

  • Eve

    Haha it is great to know there are intelligent people who understand that theory is theory and reality is reality. I do wonder though, if you still feel this way? Given that Georgia goes by George now. I never read a post about that specifically but picked up on through reading many of your posts. I’m addicted to your brilliant banter and it has gotten me through many hard times with my first baby, and life in general. You are amazing!

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