Fightin' Feminism or Fighting Feminism - it works both ways, see what I did there? Clever, clever.
So yesterday I discussed the virtues of two doodle books - one for boys and one for girls - and what messages might be deeply implanted in each.
Today, my good friend Real OC Mom responds. Go check it out. I'll wait.
Read it? Okay, good, now let's discuss.
First, I fundamentally don't understand any woman who claims not to be a feminist. I assume maybe women say this because feminism can conjure up some images of militant, unshaven, angry yellers. I don't want to tell Real OC what she is - but from what I know, she's a whip-smart Athena with a thriving business, a fantastic family, a sassy smart little girl, and time to blog. Seems feministy to me! And to me, rejecting feiminsm is like saying "I'm cool with roughly 76% of the life, rights, income and whatnot that men get." Is anyone cool with that?
Also - I think a lot of the current discussion of feminism - a thicket of concepts, philosophy, public policy, and politics - gets shorthanded too simply.
I love being a girl. Real OC Mom loves being a girl. She loves the idea of wearing a cute dress and pearls while she cooks and takes care of her family, I love that idea too (though right now, I'd settle for just being showered and cooking and taking care of my family). Has anyone here seen my closet? I love me a handbag and don't start on the shoes. I can love all of these things and still be a feminist. And I would NEVER call anyone shallow for nesting, regardless of sex or gender, because I spend far, far too much time reading design websites and daydreaming of feathering our nest as well. A love of beauty and design is a great virtue. The decorative arts are arts - and really, I don't think it's overly dramatic to say that seeking beauty is the highest human virtue. (That and Olympic athleticism. I go way Greek on these things. Art and Sports - at the end of the day, that's all we got.)
I also don't have a problem with feminie things. I know I frequently lusted after the girl-versions of things as a child (like why couldn't I have the pink walkman, etc). I'm pretty sure my daughter is going to want pink sparkly things too. I don't think that is bad or wrong or less-than. I think that's just fine.
The problems I have with a lot of toys is the assumption creators make about who will play with them and how. Or the assumptions about what a boy and a girl might imagine. Maybe if you combine the boy and girl doodle books, a girl would leave blank the robot and alien pages. Or maybe a boy would do what my husband did.
The crux of the discussion comes when Real OC Mom, discussing how a boy might turn a toy doll into a gun or a girl might swaddle a toy gun, says "perhaps [these are] learned behaviors." THEY ARE!
Boy and Girl brains aren't that different. But in a million imperceptable ways, we socialize our chidlren as masculine and feminine from the start. From the way we coo with them, to the way we play with them, to what we expect from them, to what we'll tolerate from them. Pretty much everything we do with our kids is more coded than we give it credit for - and that's necessarily bad or wrong or, frankly, something we can really hope to change because it's culturally pervassive and time-honored by now.
Where we can, however, improve girls' futures is in how they play. And that's my problem with the doodle books (to the extent it's a "problem") There are plenty of facially gender-neutral toys out there, like legos. But those sorts of toys - architectural or engineering in nature - tend to go to boys more often than to girls. Or, the company feels it must make a set in pink hues to make them girl-acceptable. That's silly. Plenty of girls play with legos and love it - like Real OC Daughter! - but plenty of other girls out there get dolls for Christmas and never get a structural toy or a scientific toy or anything that encourages them to play at much besides homemaking.
[Aside: Dear Mom, because I know you're reading this thinking, why is my daughter doing ths to me, I don't think homemaking is a less-than occupation. It takes a hell of a lot of work. As does raising kids full time. But there's an assumption that girls will love doing this and that boys will love building dams or spaceships. No one is giving our girls a chance to build dams or spaceships or teaching our boys that homemaking is not less-than.]
I want my daughter to have all the stuffed animals and dolls she wants. But I want her to also want microscopes and tinkertoys and lincoln logs and legos. I want her to be able to plan a response to an alien invasion. But she won't if the girl doodle books in life never ask her to think about it.