Why My Son Bobby Needs Feminism Too

I’ve noticed something as the mother of two children, one daughter and one son. I can dress my preschool daughter in girls’ clothes or in boys’ clothes, but if I dressed my baby in purple or put him in a dress, well, I’d get some serious stares.

We often say that “patriarchy hurts men too.” It’s true. For example, I grew up in a community where boys were expected to grow up to be providers and girls were expected to grow up to be homemakers. Girls didn’t have any options, but boys’ options were curtailed too – they were pushed toward careers that would make enough money to support a wife and multiple children, and away from careers in the arts that were seen as less financially sure. Patriarchy makes women’s only option homemaking while allowing men to choose from a variety of career paths, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t also limit men’s options.

And patriarchy limits other things too. If I took time off of my career to focus on my children, that wouldn’t be seen as odd. If my husband did the same, he would face questions. Women are encouraged to express their emotions, but men are expected to be strong. It is seen as natural for a woman to cry in a stressful situation, but men who cry are seen as weak. Of course, there is the flip side of each of these: men benefit from being seen as strong, and while a woman taking time off from her career is more accepted the result on a wider scale is that the “mommy track” contributes to the pay gap between men and women.

Men are expected to follow the one option that is generally valued most highly in our society – to have a full time career, to keep their family name, to be tough and strong. But that doesn’t change the fact that if they choose other, less valued options – staying home with their children, changing their name upon marriage, or being sensitive and emotive – they face questions and possible ridicule. Sally is allowed to do girl things or boy things, but Bobby is expected to just do boy things. Sally is allowed to be either sensitive or tough, or even both at once, but Bobby is expected to simply be tough.

While we still have conversations about how hard it is for women to “do it all,” I don’t think we can achieve true equality unless we expect men to “do it all” too. In other words, reaching equality means more than just girls adding trucks to their repertoire of toys. It also means boys adding dolls to their repertoire as well. Reaching equality doesn’t just mean finding ways for women to both parent and have careers but also asking men to both have careers and parent as well. Reaching equality doesn’t simply mean giving women the option to work rather than stay home with their children but rather offering men the same option as well, and with the same expectations and acceptance.

We talk a lot about the pay gap. Well, it strikes me that if a manager has the choice between promoting a man or a woman, and he knows that there is a decent chance that sometime in the next few years the woman may have children and at the very least have to take maternity leave, but that the man’s performance and presence will not be affected if he has children, then the rational choice is for him to promote the man. Because of this, I don’t think we can get rid of the pay gap until we expect fathers to invest the same amount of time and energy into parenting that we expect mothers to invest in parenting. If that same manager looks at the man and the woman knowing that if either has a child their performance and presence will be impacted the same way – parental leave after the birth, and perhaps a need for more flexible hours afterwards – he will no longer have any reason to prefer the man to the woman when it comes to a promotion.

I am not trying to minimize the negative impact patriarchy has had on women. In the past, women have ceased to exist legally at marriage, and in many societies children have functioned as their father’s property. Patriarchy has always meant that women have had less power and men have had more, but patriarchy has also always been about roles. Women have specific roles and men have specific roles. We’ve made good progress breaking down women’s role and giving women a greater array of choices, but the truth is that we also need to break down men’s role.

Fortunately, we are already seeing progress on this front. The number of stay at home dads is growing, and fathers are increasingly expected to be just as involved in parenting as mothers are, or at the very least, more involved than in the past. There is more acceptance for boys breaking through gender norms by wearing female clothing or playing with female toys. But we still have a long, long way to go.

In discussing both feminism and the reaction against feminism, Melissa of Permission to Live wrote the following:

Somehow society has become convinced that there is a right way and a wrong way to be the sex you are. Boys are told to toughen up and quit crying, girls are showered with messages about how their value is tied to their beauty (as defined by the surrounding culture). These are just a few examples of the stereotypes that have been around for some time in the western world. While men are still largely stuck in the role created for them, recently there has been some effort to fight back on behalf of women. But instead of seeing this as a good thing, and doing the rest of the work to debunk these stereotypes, many people see this as a major step back.

As Melissa says, we need to go the rest of the way and debunk all of the stereotypes. Girls need to be encouraged to be tough as well as sensitive, yes, but boys also need to be encouraged to be sensitive as well as tough. We’ve taught girls that it’s okay to be like boys. Now we need to teach boys that it’s okay to be like girls. Liberating women from the restriction of female gender roles without liberating men from the restriction of male gender roles is a one-sided revolution that can never be completed.

As I see it, feminism is about breaking down patriarchy, and that means smashing the box patriarchy puts men in every bit as much as it means smashing the box patriarchy puts women in. It doesn’t matter whether one box was roomier or more comfortable to begin with. Both restrict and both need to be done away with.

I look at Sally and I look at Bobby and I know that the world still has different expectations of the two of them simply because of their gender, and completely irrespective of their talents, passions, and abilities. The world I want is a world where both of them have the same choices, receive the same reaction, and face the same expectations. I want a world where people are seen as people first, rather than immediately typed by their gender. I want a world without boxes, a world where we are all just individuals.

We’ve (mostly) liberated women from the restrictive gender roles of the past. It’s time men were liberated too. Feminism isn’t just for Sally. It’s for Bobby too.

A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
The Radical Notion that Children Can Have Anxiety Too
Stop Stressing Out and Give Your Kid a Snuggle
Red Town, Blue Town
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://brokendaughters.wordpress.com Lisa

    When I was younger we knew a family who had a little boy toddler and he had a doll. Not one that he took from one of his sisters but his actual own doll. He loved it and would not leave home without it – he took it everywhere and played with it like a girl would – explaining things, feeding, dragging it around. I remember my parents remarking that they were raising their son to be gay and that it was a terrible mistake to abstain from explaining the evilness of his behavior to this boy – who could barely talk. I thought it was strange to see that and I remember many laughing about it. As far as I know he did not “turn gay”. Since living here I realized that it’s not extremely exceptional to see boys with dolls. It’s not the regular occurance but you can see it – or maybe I just didn’t meet enough normal families back in the US were playing with dolls as a boy was not a sin.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      My lil bro had two barbie dolls when he was a todler and he liked them more than the one I had (I just bit her ankles). Now he is a cis straight nerd. People should just let kids play with what they want.

      I find gender creative kids very interesting since I started learning about them after reading a manga called Hourou Musuko (Wandering Son) and there’re plenty of parent blogs now that are awesome. For example Raising My Rainbow in which CJ’s mom relates his adventures.

      There’s some statistics and studies (I don’t know how good or reliable they are) that say that AMAB (asigned male at birth) children that love/play with typically girl things like dolls/pink dresses/ … will later identify as: 1/3 cis straight men 1/3 gay/bi cis men 1/3 trans*; AFAB children who eschew stereotypes are more frequent and tend to be cis (a smaller percentage bi or gay and an even smaller percentage trans*).

    • Carys Birch

      My brother got a cabbage patch doll when I did, and later when my mother and I were sewing rag dolls, he sewed one too. I don’t remember there ever being any discussion or surprise about it.

      I have a second brother, much younger, who never was interested and was obsessed with trucks, trains, and airplanes as a kid, but because I watched one brother with his buddies “Dennis and Frankie” I suspect that’s more because he was genuinely not interested than because anyone was pushing him toward a certain set of toys.

      For the record, my first brother has a career in the humanities, my second brother in shipping/marine engineering.

    • Rae

      For all that my parents pushed gender roles on us, they didn’t discourage my brother from playing with baby dolls – in fact, the mothers of our social groups were proponents of it, saying it would prepare boys for fatherhood just as well as it’d prepare the girls for motherhood. And, I was old enough to catch the unspoken implication that maybe boys who played with baby dolls would grow up into men who didn’t act like they were allergic to infant care ;-)

  • veganatheist01

    THANK YOU. Especially for the paragraph connecting the pay gap to parental investment. Not only is it true, it’s also something that’s been nagging me for a while – somehow children are still expected to be primarily or solely the mother’s responsibility so working for a woman means working outside of home as well as at home, doubling her work load, while men are still only expected to work outside of home (and get paid for every minute, of course).

    • Anonymouse

      My husband is the youngest in his family of 4 (3 boys, 1 girl) and I noticed that my older sisters-in-law all work fulltime, then come home and do all the housework and all the child-raising and all the social-secretary stuff all by themselves. One of my brothers-in-law is very threatened by me because I am a software engineer who’s also hardware-savvy, and I know more than he does (he’s a hardware tech). He’s always trying to “bring me down to my place” and seems to think he’s in competition with me even though I don’t give a hoot. It’s hilarious at family gatherings.

  • http://www.kisarita.blogspot.com ki sarita

    You bring up some reasons why many men would actually be resistant to feminism. They lose power and entitlement, as in your example of the potential promotion.

    • http://natehevens.wordpress.com Nathan Hevenstone

      What “loss of power”? What Libby Anne talks about would actually be a *gain* in power… except that it would be gender-UNbiased power, which means we men would find more and more women as our equals.

      I don’t see how that’s a *bad* thing.

      • ArachneS

        The loss of being automatically seen as the preferred promotion- that gives a man more economic power and financial staying power. (Also- Divorce overall is advantageous to a man’s financial status, disadvantageous by a looong mark for women)

        It would not be a “bad” thing to have men actually competing on their merits, also they would be more free to be themselves. However… I’m willing to bet quite a few men are happy to not bother and just be willing to take advantage of the system.

  • Tyro

    Libby Anne, I cannot thank you enough. Cis gender roles limit -everyone-, and the persecution surrounding androgynous sensetive males like myself are extremely restrictive. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go as a culture before the majority of men realize this.

  • Christine

    This is something that bothers me. I’m rather glad I have a daughter, because it’s a lot more socially acceptable for me to ignore gender roles if I have a girl. The problem is that if I just go to the “boys ” section of the store I’m not being post-gender or enlightened or etc. I’m just being sexist. So while I dress her in a lot of obviously boys’ clothes (I love the collars, they’re the cutest thing ever), if she has a brother I may be taking some of her clothes out of circulation, because I don’t know if I’d be able to deal with putting a boy in girls’ clothes.

    I don’t know if my husband is cooler about this than I am, or just more out if it with regards to fashion. I explained once “yeah, I really love those blue pants, but of course, if we have a boy, I wouldn’t use them on him.” He sees nothing wrong with putting a boy in pale blue, linen blend (visibly so) pants with ruffles. I’m going to try to follow his lead, but we’ll see what happens.

    As for the “mommy track” thing, it’s the main reason that I sometimes feel guilty about staying home. In a month I will be officially a SAHM, and while we could probably afford to have me work (only one child), it’s not practical for us. I’m not the one staying home because we feel it has to be the mother (although that probably exists somewhat at a subconscious level), but by us choosing to have me stay home & put DH through school (rather than the opposite) we are reinforcing the idea that women need to be the ones who stay home. It’s a toughie.

    • Anat

      My nephews wore hand-me-downs from my daughter, at least for play clothes, up to about age 6 or 7. Their parents bought whichever outfits looked nice and matched their coloring, even if they were pink or somewhat frilly. No skirts, though. Then again, my daughter wore hand-me-downs from my youngest brother, and the clothes I bought her in her younger years were as likely to be boys’ as they were to be girls’. Her grandmothers compensated by buying dresses.

  • jose

    I think the imbalance of power between the two classes is the reason why boys behaving girly is frowned upon more generally, whereas only conservatives tsk-tsk girls not being girly. There is a hierarchy in terms of sex, men upper up and women down. A man behaving like a girl is going down in the hierarchy.

    When the dictator doesn’t want to be dictator anymore, he establishes a democracy, which means giving people power they didn’t have, so the dictator becomes a citizen like the rest. In other words, you liberate men by liberating women. For instance, if you want to fight the expectation of men to be the primary providers, then end employment discrimination, glass ceiling, pay gap and workplace harassment. Then you get just as many women working as men do and the imbalance in expectations naturally fades away on its own.

    The trouble is gender-roles enforcers want it both ways: they want no expectations but they also want to maintain the current power imbalance. One doesn’t go away without the other.

  • Angela

    My 4 year old son is obsessed with cars and trains and has shown little interest in most traditional “girl” toys or activities but I still try to be pretty gender neutral in that I try to offer a variety of experiences and allow him to pursue whatever interests he will. One thing he does really enjoy is having his finger and toenails painted in bright sparkly colors and I see no problem with this. We live in a fairly conservative community though and already complete strangers have felt the need to inform him that boys shouldn’t paint their nails. I know it’s only a matter of time before his peers begin to notice and likely tease him about it. He’s a pretty self-conscious kid and if I told him that other kids might tease him he probably would ask me to stop painting his nails. So I’m torn. On the one hand I want to shield him from gender stereotypes but on the other hand feel a bit guilty allowing him to remain ignorant of the possible ridicule he may face.

  • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

    This. And some of us have been running our lives this way for 30+ years (and keep wondering why the rest of the world hasn’t caught up with what’s obviously right).

  • luckyducky

    We went out to eat with our 2 children — 7yo girl and 6yo boy — to a nearly empty restaurant with a belly dancer two nights ago. The dancer tried to coax both children into dancing but focus on my daughter. Both declined, being too shy, and she gave my daughter a bangle. My son was so disappointed because he really wanted a bangle too and was actually interested in dancing.

    I was disappointed for him too and not sure what to do. It is turning out to be easier it many ways to attempt to challenge strict gender roles with my daughter than with my son. He is a boy’s boy – big for his age, rough and tumble, always dirty, into balls, trucks, and sticks (can’t go down the block without picking up a stick!!!) and despite the prohibition against guns and shooting (I don’t think it is productive but school asked us to back them up) about anything is turned into a weapon. But before he’s informed, he show interest in things that didn’t fall into strict gender roles. He wanted to take up ballet for quite a while (just wasn’t in the cards). He was very invested in the Disney princesses (keeping up with sis). He asked for his own baby doll when he was 3yo (we had one in the communal toys) and he still plays with it though very differently but more frequently than his sister does her’s. And he loves sparkly, pretty jewelry, he made 2 very pretty bracelets at one of my friend’s the other day while his sister opted for board games.

    But we live in a conservative Midwestern city and know how pernicious the “boy’s things vs. girl’s things” is. My daughter has already decided that no one is going to tell her she can’t like something — aided by having a couple of girl friends who were into “boys things” before they knew any better :P and parents who support that — buying boys’ school supplies because they have realistic dinosaurs on them, etc.(none of them have brothers!). But my son’s peers have consistently more into the traditional roles and he frequently comes home telling us (never his sister) that something is a boy or girl thing and went through a period when he refused to play with the girls at school despite wanting to play what they were playing. Not unusual, I know but my daughter, though tending to gravitate toward the girls, plays with boys when she wants to play what they are playing.

    • Carys Birch

      People who give a gift to only one child and not the other make me so upset! No matter why they do it!

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Great post- there is so much double standard going on, and it hurts both men and women.

  • TheSeravy

    Gender roles are really the main obstacle to equality and your post has really highlighted that fact. It’s fantastic that you are devoting attention to this subjedct, Libby Anne! Women’s issues have been discussed so often that it’s really preaching to the choir at this point and the people who do need to listen automatically tune out and think it’s another “femi-nazi-man-hating” rant. Focusing on patriarchy’s effects on men is so important in terms of expanding the movement and letting men understand feminism isn’t something that’s out to get them. I’m very interested in your take of male reproductive rights and responsibilities in light of the recent election and how all the focus and criticism was on women when men play a role in it as well.

    Legally speaking, men and women are equal for the most part but many traditional ideas about masculinity and femininity are still prevalent. Except this time around, we have children and young adults who believe that equality has been achieved while gender roles continue to perpetuate sexist expectations, attitudes and unequal results. This situation has created quite a bit of confusion, double standards and hostility between the sexes. (Unless of course you take the Debi route of divine godly contentedness.)

    Gender roles also hurt men in terms of certain critical resources that are available to them. Many stay-at-home dads feel unsuppported and isolated as supports available are predominantly designed and used by mothers where the dads are often ridiculed by those who should understand the hardships of being the main caregiver. There is very very little available for men who have been abused or raped; many crisis resources are designed for women and have (ery regretably) refused their services to men.

    Many people within the community has worked hard to create these supports and services precisely to address problems created by patriarchy (e.g. domestic abuse, sexual assault). If feminism is indeed the right answer, we need to open up these resources to men so they can be supported in breaking gendered stereotypes and confront the issues of patriarchy/gender roles.

    On a more personal scale, many young women around me still think that their dates should foot the bill for dates… and lots of guys are confused and pissed about this. A lot of men are overwhelmed with the fact that they alone have to provide for the family; in this economic setting, it’s a lot of pressure. not to mention if their girlfriends/wives make more, they feel bitter because they are not meeting expectations and are often ridiculed by those around them.

    I don’t think men have an avenue to speak up about these things and usually turn to their same-sex peers to discuss it. These private vent sessions only further the divide and reinforce sexist attitudes to the point when they do speak up, they are very angry and very reluctant to discuss the root causes.

    • Ms_Morlowe

      “many young women around me still think that their dates should foot the bill for dates”

      Really? I thought the general rule was the asker pays. And alternate once you’re in a relationship. I would be offended if a guy took me to a nice restaurant and asked me to pay for my own meal, but that’s more because hey, he picked the place and he has no way of knowing whether or not I can afford it! I think a lot of girls say that they want the guy to pay, and for him to make the first move, but I don’t think this is how it actually usually plays out.

      • Kate Monster

        Hee! I remember having to INSIST on paying for dinner once when I asked a guy out (well, he asked me out for drinks, but I was hungry and suggested dinner instead, which in my mind, put the “asker” tag on me). He kept telling me that he should pay because he was the dude and I was like, “Nope. Asker pays. Them’s my rules.”

  • http://www.radicaldog.com Thomas

    Perfect article. ‘Feminism’ has become a dirty word as the issues have become more complex – we can no longer solve gender issues with a movement only focusing on one side of it.

    This is the new feminism. It has to be.

    • jose

      “we can no longer solve gender issues with a movement only focusing on one side of it.”

      Yes we can. See comment above.

    • http://ramblingsofsheldon.blogspot.com Sheldon

      I hope that people like Libby Anne will become the new normal in feminism, her perspective is much better than 99% of feminists out there now.

  • Sarah-Sophia

    I like the term ‘humanism’ better than ‘feminism’ because the prefix fem implys that it pertains only to females. Today I came across a quote by Corliss Lamont that Humanism is the “philosophy of enjoying, developing, and making available to everyone the abundant material, cultural, and spiritual goods of this natural world.”

    • Sarah-Sophia


    • http://discerningspiritualist.com Cado

      I myself prefer the term egalitarianism. That’s largely because I’m unconvinced that the way modern feminism frames a lot of things is actually conducive to progress, at least in parts of the world where legal oppression is almost non-existent.

      For example, the term patriarchy doesn’t really apply to the larger culture anymore. Women have taken over in parts of our society, and their influence is only going to grow with time. A big part of what keeps women from advancing is the social game, but I think it’s fair to say that as more women manage to reach the top of various fields, it will be easier for the rest to climb up.

      When it comes to something like rape culture, I tend to think that it’s an incendiary term that doesn’t address the larger problem. There are valid phenomena that get placed under that umbrella, but I think that the US’ culture of violence is where most of the abhorrent attitudes stem from, and that addressing that will have the effect of eliminating many of the problems that exist between the sexes.

      In some ways I’ve come to think of modern feminism the same way I do the men’s rights movement, except I do so with a far greater respect due to the many hard battles feminists have actually had to fight. Men who think that they’re being oppressed or that they have ever been oppressed are flippin’ mad; there are inequities with social and legal structures that can bite us in the ass, but men – especially white men – have a far easier time avoiding those pitfalls than nearly any other group. Their problems exist but they don’t really warrant a movement; they warrant hyper-focused activism with a clear end goal that won’t extend their efforts beyond what actually needs to be accomplished. The reason I don’t identify as a feminist is because I think it has become overreaching in some ways and that too many of the prominent voices within feminist spheres tend toward the extreme. It’s not that there’s no more work to be done, it’s that the most prominent problems that exist today have to be tackled from a larger perspective, and that means getting rid of the exclusive focus on one gender or another. LGBT groups still have significant legal battles to win, but once they’ve done so I’d say the same about that movement.

      It’s my opinion that true equality can’t result from movements dedicated to specific groups. Instead we need to engage in a bigger conversation within an all-encompassing group that acknowledges individuality while seeking to create social structures that provide an even playing field in the world at large. Humanism and egalitarianism are perfectly suited to that, and I think they’ll supersede other movements as we progress.

  • emjb

    One of the things that has helped us is banning “(gender) is icky” talk in our house. Girls are not icky. Boys are not icky. When my son started up with that stuff from school, which a lot of adults encourage and think is cute, I let him know that as a girl, it hurt my feelings that anyone would think I was icky. He hadn’t thought of that and took it to heart, and it stopped. He’s pretty gender-typical in his playing, although he does have a baby doll that plays a comedic/villain role in his games :). He has never really wanted to dress girly, though we have talked about the fact that some boys and men do, and that it’s ok if they do. Mostly I just want him to know that there’s no better/worse, just different. Girls and people and boys are people, and they can both do whatever they want.

  • Karen

    My 11-year-old son’s best friend is a girl, and he loves “My Little Pony.” (I think Aaron and Willow like that cartoon in a pro to-hipster, ironic way, but still.) Next year they go to different middle schools and I dread it. My older son’s best friend decided in the 6th grade to quit liking Andy and to spread the rumor that Andy was gay, simply because Andy didn’t play team sports. Aaron, who is serious about studying art and music and likes cartoons about purple flying ponies? How well is that going to go?

    I agree with the commenter above who says that girls can mimic the higher-status gender, but boys who like cooking or needlecraft or pastel colors, or, for heaven’s bleeding sore’s sake, PLAYING THE PIANO, are doing something lower status and therefore get policed sharply. The strange thing about this, to me, is that so much of what is now acceptably masculine would have been considered vulgar* years ago. The borders of acceptable boy stuff have narrowed since I was a girl. At one time, a talent for drawing, or playing an instrument, or an ability to memorize Shakespeare was considered appropriately masculine. Now, I see from popular culture that eating with implements, bathing, and refraining from swearing every other word are now all “girly,” even though bad table manners and BO are markers of being below middle-class. Why did that happen?

    * I can’t think of a word in general use that carries the meaning I intend of unpleasant and tacky and at the same time doesn’t also convey the meaning of “typical of poor people.” Words like “tacky” don’t convey the grossness aspect, but “dirty” also carries a sex component. I went with “vulgar” as the closest to my meaning with the least contemporary association with “doesn’t have much cash.” I would love some suggestions from the other commenters.

    • HelenaTheGrey

      “The borders of acceptable boy stuff have narrowed since I was a girl. At one time, a talent for drawing, or playing an instrument, or an ability to memorize Shakespeare was considered appropriately masculine.”

      I love classic literature, including the works of Jane Austin, and you really hit on a point with this. I mean, you look at refined society of a couple hundred years ago and while it certainly wasn’t a “feminist” friendly place, men who had a talent for singing, art, music, literature, good conversation, good fashion sense, grooming etc, were valued. Even as short of a time at 70-80 years ago, when my grandpa was growing up, an interest in the arts /music was encouraged. My grandfather loved music, art, and was an amazing cook. I am not sure when our society (American society) moved to this version of “manhood” that encourages belching, farting, swearing, and vulgarity as the ideal of masculinity. It’s like somehow, instead of the “gentleman” being seen as the picture of manliness, we’ve adopted the dumb bully as the ideal.

      • M

        It has a lot to do with a backlash against feminism, I’m afraid. Women proved that they too could be good at singing, art, music, literature, good conversation, good fashion sense, grooming, etc. But men competing with women? A woman maybe being better at something than a man, when men were trying to be good at it? Gasp! The horror! As women started to publicly excel at certain professions and arts, men were told those were “womanly” things and they shouldn’t do them anymore. Then those arts and professions were devalued. Key professions would be nursing, teaching, and secretarial work. You’ve covered the arts well.

        It’s still going on today. Being like-a-woman is still one of the worst insults you can sling at a man in the US today. Today, most biology majors are female, and we see that biology is rapidly turning into not-a-real-science in media coverage of STEM fields. Male-dominated fields like physics or computer science? Oh yeah, those are *real* science.

  • smrnda

    I did work with children for a while and I saw lots of gender-nonconforming boys; the great thing was that we simply accepted the interests of each child and didn’t editorialize or freak out.

    I’m also unsure if there really is any consistent standard of masculinity. I do see lots of toxic stereotypes out there, but I know men who are interested in literature, art, fashion, cooking, working with kids who do so and who also don’t feel like they’re strange, but this might just be my age or the fact that I’ve lived in a lot of liberal college towns which have their own distinct culture. In my family I remember our father taking us out to the theater and art museums and encouraging us to read (and rewarding both myself and my brother for memorizing poetry) and who encouraged my brother in music, but we’re not really part of *mainstream US culture* (at least I felt like we weren’t.) So I think that feminism has already liberated some men, but I think there’s a lot of push-back from more reactionary types since they no longer feel they can count on ‘men’ to act as a single block in their interests.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia


      I work with children too and, more often than not, they aren’t confused in the slightest over non-gender conformity and other things that most people think too controversial for children to understand. It’s the adults in their lives that make it confusing for them by imposing their standards on the child.

  • http://natehevens.wordpress.com Nathan Hevenstone


    This is incredible. May I please reblog it at my blog?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Thanks for the interest, I appreciate it! As for your request, I’d simply ask you to post a lengthy excerpt with a link for the rest rather than reblogging the entire thing. Thanks!

  • Seda

    This post resonates strongly with me. As a trans AMAB (Assigned Male At Birth), I enjoyed playing with my sister’s Barbies and other dolls, and I would have loved to be able to wear dresses and other pretty clothes. Growing up in rural Wyoming, though, that would have been social – if not lethal – suicide. It took many years, drugs, alcohol, therapy, and self-exploration to deconstruct the harmful gendering I’d been subject to, and to find and become myself.

    Though we still have a long way to go, at least it’s getting better, at least in my community. A neighbor’s young son used to wear skirts regularly, though he’s if anything more rough-and-tumble than the average boy. No one thought much of it, and he was widely accepted among the parents and kids in the neighborhood. But he also abruptly stopped wearing skirts as soon as he started going to school. Not hard to imagine why.

  • http://radicalcentristblog.wordpress.com HeatherN

    Yup. I really like this article by bell hooks which examines patriarchy, specifically with how men are affected by it. It starts out: “Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation.”


  • Matt

    The trick is, that honestly no child should be playing with “Girls Toys”. they’re horrible.
    They don’t develop motor skills, or brain functions.

    Girls toys routinely take something that could be great for a childs development, take that out, and then replace it with the colour pink.

    Have you seen lego marketed for girls? its pink, and it takes about 5 peices to create a salon, in which you play dollies. no creativity involved. no challenge.

    You should be concerned when your child wants to play with girl toys regardless of what you beleive their gender role is, because in truth, neither girls nor boys should be playing with “girls toys”

    • Uly

      Dolls don’t develop any creativity? Jacks, inexplicably coded as female, does nothing for fine motor control? There is no benefit whatsoever to, say, kits for making friendship bracelets?

      Sheesh, and I thought that the gender segregation was bad enough.

      • Matt

        Sorry. I’ve never seen jacks marketed towards girls, and in fact I played with them as a boy.
        Similarly crafts can be marketed either way, boys play with crafts all through highschool.
        You’re right, boys should sit down and make stuff at a craft table, would probably help.

        It’s the stuff thats coloured pink and that parents try to take off the boy that I was mostly talking about. fashion dolls, barbie, lego-for-girls, when I walk through the “girls only” pink/purple aisle in the toy store, most of it seems stunted, as though male toy-execs were sitting around thinking of female tropes, colouring them pink and flogging them.

        Thats all I meant to say. I don’t have a daughter, so obviously haven’t had to try it all in detail.
        When I do shop for a female child, I try to get puzzles, or crafts, or an actual icecream maker. something that gets them to actually do something.
        Christines post below is pretty much spot on with what I was trying to get at.
        It’s weird that a boy gets a waterpistol, and a girl gets a plastic kitchen.

      • Uly

        But if you go through the boy only aisle, things are little better. Legos are in closed sets with specific movie plot lines, action figures are no different from barbies.

    • Christine

      Actually the problem is with modern toys. There’s nothing wrong with dolls (and I fail to see how playing salon with them wouldn’t be creative). However when the doll is constrained to one use there’s a problem. For example, the breastfeeding dolls. I object. Not because I think that little children shouldn’t be pretending to nurse their dolls, but because they shouldn’t need a toy that does all the imagining for them.

  • PostPatriarchalMan

    The three major patriarchal male roles are provider, protector, and head of household. The feminist or post-patriarchal vision of masculinity that you outline here envisions men sharing these roles with their wives or partners and assuming their share of the patriarchal female roles of child rearing and domestic labor. The egalitarian partnership and stay at home dads are featured in these discussions. But what if that’s not what happens? What if heterosexual men simply reject their patriarchal roles without assuming any of the female roles? What if they walk away from committed relationships with women entirely?

    There’s evidence that this is happening now. The taxonomy of modern heterosexual masculinity contains such types as Peter-Pans, players, pick-up artists (PUAs), men going their own way (MGTOW), and herbivore men. In all these groups, the rejection of the patriarchal roles is accompanied by a rejection of committed relationships with women. The Peter Pan will engage in quasi-committed long term relationships but shuns marriage and family life; the players and PUAs seek only no-strings attached and casual sex with women; and the MGTOWs and herbivores eschew relationships with women altogether. All of these groups tend to dismiss the importance of striving for economic success, as they see no need to assume the role of provider and are happy to simply provide for themselves, and none are motivated by the role of protector, as they are often indifferent to the well-being of women.

    A world were this type of masculine behavior was commonplace might be a feminist dystopia. While women would be able to have it all, those who wanted families would have to do it all by themselves. The men, though no longer patriarchal oppressors, would be off doing something else.

    • Rosie

      I think it’s worth noting that at least some of these groups (the PUAs, at least) have very narrow definitions of “men” and “women”. They consider “men” only to be male-bodied people who think like they do, and “women” to be conventionally-attractive single heterosexual female-bodied people between the ages of 18 and 25 without children who frequent bars.

      If you expand the definitions somewhat, you’ll find that it’s only a very noisy minority of men who are going their own way, and I for one am plenty happy to let them do so. They were never interested in me anyhow as I never fit their definition of “woman”, and I’m not interested in them because I’m not interested in meeting their definition of “woman”. Being single would be a VAST improvement over trying to relate to a member of any of the groups listed above.

      • PostPatriarchalMan

        I agree with your assessment of the narrow definitions of the PUAs. However, that only re-enforces my point – their interest in women is limited to sexual interactions with a select few. That represents a complete break with the patriarchal norm of finding a wife to be one’s helpmeet and mother of one’s children, but in a manner that is incongruent with feminist expectations.

        I don’t know what portion of the hetero male population falls into one of these groups. As far as I know, there hasn’t been any real sociological study of them. They are certainly a growing internet and media phenomenon. But I was posing a hypothetical question, so their actual numbers right now aren’t the issue. The question is, what will society look like if those behaviors become the norm? The destruction of the patriarchy may have consequences unanticipated by feminist theory. Radical feminists will rejoice if most men go their own way, but a lot of other women may not.

    • Red

      I think the problem (which is exactly Libby-Anne’s point) happens if men’s roles are deconstructed without then giving them an alternate narrative for their lives. If you take away the title of “sole breadwinner and decision maker,” give them the option of “co-breadwinner, childraiser, decision-maker, housecleaner, life liver” instead of just hoping they figure it out.

      I believe part of the reason some men are confused on their role is that they’ve been raised with the narrative of privilege, and once their special privilege is gone, they aren’t sure what to do (or, worse-case scenario, are so upset by their loss of special status that they refuse to play along anymore and simply refuse to be responsible for anything).

      This isn’t about people being unable to function outside of their role. This is really about people learning to be responsible, even when that responsibility doesn’t come with the privileged seat at the table. People sometimes say that if you take a man’s “role” away, then of course he won’t want to be responsible…but the truth is, women are expected to be responsible (and manage to pull it off, too!) even without getting the reward of being seen as the responsible provider. Many women do so much housework and childcare and family secretary service that their households would fall apart without them. They’ve been holding up their end of the bargain regardless of whether society sees them as the primary provider of their household…I don’t think it’s too much to expect men to do this also.

  • Red

    Libby Anne, thank you for writing this. Thank you so much. I found this post quite awhile after its original date, but it was exactly what I needed to hear tonight.

    I have struggled tremendously with the knowledge that moms are generally expected to do more and be more once kids come along, while men sometimes get a free pass to keep their life exactly as is. I have struggled with this so much that at times, it has made me afraid to become a mother, despite my husband’s fervent belief in co-parenting, gender-equality, and distaste for gender-based roles.

    It frustrates me that the conversations about working women always focus on how women can or cannot “do it all,” while ignoring the fact that if men would step up and shoulder half the sacrifice, BOTH genders really could have it all. It frustrates me when people tell ME not to fall into the “trap” of “wanting it all,” and tell me to figure out what I can reasonably afford to give up in my life, but then turn around and assume that my husband will NOT be faced with these tough choices, simply because he has a penis.

    Rather than discussing how women can achieve better balance, or how they can come to grips with their motherhood sacrifices, why don’t we have conversations that focus on what both parents should do as a team to ensure family-wide harmony once children come??

    Is that so hard??

    If someone would write that book, I would read it. Maybe I’ll have kids and write the damn book myself.

  • Red

    Oh goodness, and here’s another great example…working with young children as a career. Something that women do all the time, but for men, it can be seen as ‘weird.’ Someone I knew was studying to be an early childhood teacher. He was told by many, many female teachers “Yes, please do! We have so many kids whose fathers aren’t involved, and they need loving, affectionate male role models at school while they’re young.” Meanwhile, many people outside the teaching profession looked at him and actually asked him if he were a pedophile (because apparently no man would ever want to be around little kids unless he is a a pedophile? WHAT??)