Tag Archives: Gender

If the shoe fits…

In late August our little family trooped off to the kids’ shoe store at the mall.  We were there to get Tadpole a new pair of shoes.  His last pair (awesome bright yellow ones that look like dump trucks) were starting to fall apart, and we wanted him to have new ones before the new school year.

We’ve been to this store before, and have always shown Tad both the purple/pink/sparkly section and the blue/brown/orange/superhero section, and avoided labeling them by gender.  As feminists it’s important to Roo and me to not close off gender options for either of our kids based on their sex.

In the past Tad has generally opted for shoes from the “boy” side of the aisle.  He has dearly loved a series of vehicle shoes–he had ones that looked like fire trucks a few winters ago, followed by race trucks followed by the current dump trucks.  But he did pick out a pair of purple sandals a few summers ago and wore them until they fell apart.

This time around, Tad’s first stop at the shoe store was a pair of light saber sneakers that not only lit up, but also made light saber sound effects.  I told him that they seemed very cool, but that we wouldn’t be buying them because his teacher would not be thrilled if we sent him to school with shoes that made noise.  Tad was disappointed, but soon picked out a pair of blue and green light-up sneakers, tried them on, and seemed satisfied.

blue shoe

But the he started chatting with a little girl on the other side of the store and she showed off the pink and purple light-up sneakers that she had picked out (coincidentally the same model of shoe as the blue-green ones in a different color scheme).  Tad reported to his new friend (as he tells anyone who asks) that his favorite colors are “pink and purple and magenta and gold.”  Then he turned to Roo and me and asked, “can I get the pink and purple ones?”

pink purple shoe

My heart sunk.  I was filled with conflicting thoughts and feelings:

  • I love my boy and am proud of how thoroughly himself he is.
  • But he is about to start at a new school, bigger and less sheltered than his cozy little preschool.  We don’t want our sweet boy to be teased by his new classmates.  Plus, he could potentially go to this school for 9 years.  Will he want his 7th grade classmates to remember him as the boy who wore pink sneakers?
  • Our whole family will be starting relationships at this new school.  We’ll already stand out as a two-mom family.  What assumptions will people make about us if our boy also shows up in pink and purple light-up shoes?
  • What if he decides in a few weeks that he doesn’t want these?
  • But our principles mean that we should support Tad wearing what he wants to.

We explained to Tad that some people might tease him about the shoes because they incorrectly think that some colors are just for some people.  He insisted that he still wanted the pink and purple ones.

Roo and I held a whispered conversation about how to handle our dilemma.  Roo had a very wise idea–to buy both pairs.  The store was having a “buy one, get one half-off” sale, so it wouldn’t be a huge difference financially.  And this way Tad could decide each day which pair he wanted to wear and how much gender-bending he wanted to do. Roo and I thought about how we all make decisions every day about how much of true selves to show, and how much to compromise in order to avoid standing out.  Neither of us have been boys, so we don’t know how to navigate these gender issues from that perspective.  But we have been girls and women, and so we have experiences every day in making decisions about how much to fit into the appearance that is expected for our gender.  Some days I shave my legs because I like how it looks/feels.  But on other days I do it because it’s easier to not worry about getting funny looks.  And there are other times when I decide that I don’t want to shave and am okay with potentially standing out.

Tad proudly wore his brand new pink and purple shoes to day camp at the Y the next day.  He came home in tears reporting that other kids at camp had made fun of his shoes–and that staff had joined in.  I felt so sad for my little boy and furious at the camp staff.  I was sad but not surprised that the other campers had teased him.  Kids Tad’s age are exploring a lot about gender and trying to make everything follow simple rules–“girls do ___” and “boys do ____.”  But we had hoped that staff would protect my son rather than joining in the bullying.  Roo spoke with senior staff and they promised to look into the issue, but they couldn’t make it never have happened.

Still, Tad wore his pink and purple shoes to his first day of kindergarten.  He told us that some kids had laughed at him and had told him that his shoes were girls’ shoes.  We repeated our family’s “party line” which is that anyone can like any color.  For the next week or so, Tad wore his blue and green shoes.  Then, a few weeks into school, he tried the pink and purple ones again.  He came home saying that a few kids had teased him, but that he had told them that anyone can wear any color.  We emailed with his teacher, who told us that she had not seen many problems, and that she had been impressed at the way Tad stood up for himself on the few occasions when she saw some teasing.

Now Tadpole wears his pink and purple shoes to school almost every day.  I’m so proud of him as I watch him walk into school each morning–my little boy in a sea of older kids, his blue shark backpack on his back and his pink and purple shoes on his feet.




Filed under Gender, Parenthood, Tadpole, Uncategorized

Public Property

I had a midwife appointment last Thursday, and afterwards had a few extra minutes before I needed to be at work.  So I stopped at a fast food restaurant along the way to treat myself to a fruit smoothie.  Below is the ensuing scene:

Woman behind the counter: Are you having a boy or a girl?
Me (consider saying “right now I’d like to be having a fruit smoothie” but bite my tongue):  A girl.
WBTC (turns to her co-worker): That doesn’t look like a girl belly, does it?  I heard it’s boy bellies that are usually right in front like that.
Co-worker:  Yeah, that’s what I heard too.  I don’t think that looks like a girl belly.
WBTC: Are you sure you’re having a girl?
Me (really hoping my smoothie shows up soon):  That’s what they said.
Random other customer:  I think boys are usually carried low, so that could be a girl.
Third woman behind the counter: Yeah, it’s boys that are carried all the way around, and girls that are just in front.
Yet another random customer:  Yeah, I think that looks like a girl belly.
(I turn away from what’s starting to feel like a mob of people wanting to share their opinions about the size and shape of my body and head for the door.  But make the mistake of stopping to get a straw, where I am interrupted by an employee who had been sweeping the floor.)
Floor-sweeping employee:  So did you want to have a girl?
Me:  We would’ve been happy either way.
FSE: (seeming disappointed that I’m not going to share my innermost thoughts on gender with her): Oh.  When are you due?
Me (over my shoulder as I escape out the door): December.

It’s fascinating to me that so many people think it’s totally fine to comment on the shape and size of a pregnant person.  There’s not really any other circumstances in which that is socially acceptable.  We don’t walk up to strangers and say, “wow, you sure do have big feet!” or “wow, what a tiny belly you have” or “your head is way out of proportion with the rest of you.”  But somehow, a pregnant person’s body is public property and lots of people think it’s acceptable to examine and comment on it.

Last Thursday was certainly not the first time I’ve had conversations like this.  And this one was actually fairly benign in that they were debating the sex of my baby (which I don’t have much doubt about after the ultrasounds we’ve seen) rather than the size of my belly (which tends to come with all sorts of emotional baggage attached).

Over the summer a man in line in front of me at a rest stop in Delaware wanted to know when I was due, and promptly expressed his disbelief that I could have so many months left to go.  I considered going into detail about IUIs and vaginal ultrasounds and the other reasons that I am definitely sure of my due date, but decided that I’d rather just get my pizza.  I’ve had many people tell me that my bump is “so cute” and “so little” and many others tell me it’s huge and they doubt I’ll make it until December. One of the joys of being pregnant is that, in addition to the societal pressure that women face all of the time about not being too big, there’s also negative feedback if you’re too small. I feel fortunate to be relatively comfortable in my body, because all of these comments could make me very self-conscious.  Belly’s too small–am I giving the baby what she needs?  Is the baby okay?  Belly’s too big–am I eating too much?  Is the baby going to be obese?  Is it going to take forever for me to loose all of the baby weight?

Many women have jealously compared the shape and size of my belly to the way they remember carrying their baby/ies.  All of this examination (and especially the jealousy) tends to feel uncomfortable because I don’t have a lot of control over how my body carries pregnancies.  It’s not like I’m doing anything particularly virtuous that is giving my body this shape that they think is ideal.  I usually mumble something like, “isn’t it interesting how different people’s bodies are and how little control we have over how it happens.”  I certainly understand how much pressure there is to look a certain way when pregnant, but it’s not so fun to have other people’s insecurities projected onto me.

I will admit that there are occasional moments when I like feeling special and like the center of attention.  But in moments like the scene above, I just want to get my smoothie and go to work in peace without having the shape and size of my body closely examined and commented on by every employee and customer in the McDonalds.



Filed under Gender, Pregnancy, Uncategorized

Men, men, men

Our financial planner, Mike, came to our house the other day to help us figure out what changes we need to make since I got my new job.  Tadpole was beside himself with excitement.  He wanted to ask Mike what color car he drives.  He wanted to see if Mike would read him a book.  He wanted to show Mike his latest dance moves.  And days later, Tad is still talking about how “Mike came to our house and sat over there.” 

Tad is a friendly guy, but this kind of enthusiasm is generally reserved for men.  It’s fascinating to watch.  Random men in the grocery store, dads at the park, the mailman.  Tad will strike up a conversation with any of them, and is tickled if they respond at all. 

I know that a lot of this is developmentally appropriate.  And Tad has great uncles and grandads and friends who he gets to spend time with.  But I’m worried that there’s still something he is missing out on.  I try to remember that no parent can give their kid everything–we find someone else to give our kids piano lessons, if that’s not our thing.  We hook our kids up with coaches to help them learn their favorite sports.  Most parents expose our kids to lots of interesting grown-ups (extended family members, teachers, church members, etc) so they can have lots of role models.  And many many kids grow up just fine without a dad in their homes for a variety of reasons. But is there something that Tadpole is missing out on by not having a dad in his home? 

Part of me is terrified to admit (in public, no less), that our son might be missing out on something by not having a dad.  And the politically progressive me absolutely supports the rights of families of all shapes and sizes to raise kids.

But as a parent, I want to provide Tadpole with everything he needs.  And it makes me worried and sad that he seems so desperate to have connections with men, which is something neither Roo nor I can provide.

Does anyone else have this experience?  Any ideas about how to handle it?  Does this play out differently in two-mom families where one parent is more butch/masculine-identified?


Filed under Gender, Tadpole, Uncategorized