Enabling Femininity?

Going on from bluemilk’s post on Masculinity and the fear of losing it and Mena’s comment is allowing our girls to wear nail polish and dress up in pink enabling femininity? Are we giving our daughters the wrong message?

From a personal perspective, I would say no because I allow both my son and daughter the opportunity to dress up if they like. If I’m playing around with nail polish [yes I’ve discovered a liking for polished toe nails, it makes me happy] and my daughter wants her toe nails polished too, then I do it. If my son is interested then I paint his nails as well. Although increasingly he is going with the flow that is the onslaught of masculinity that bluemilk mentions. I don’t think that I am necessarily teaching my daughter a bad thing i.e. women sometimes have polished toenails. Nor do I worry if she is wearing pink. She looks good in it and she likes bright colours. Some days she will choose pink, other days green, blue, brown, red, orange, purple or yellow. Same as her brother although finding bright clothes for boys is a right PITA. I don’t think completely banning pink from our girls wardrobes (very difficult any way) is the solution as then there is just one less colour choice in a limited range of choices and it seems a little silly to say that pink is only for boys who are being bought up by feminist mothers. I’m not actually suggesting that anyone has said this, but taking it well past its logical conclusion… I prefer teaching my children that pink is just another colour, a lovely bright colour that anyone can use and wear.

I think that the urge to decorate ourselves has been around for eons and as such I don’t have an issue with it. However, when it becomes an expectation that society holds that Person A will dress in this way and do this that and the other so that she is acceptable I have an issue with it. For example I don’t have an issue with school uniforms because it means that all students are easily recognisable as belonging to a particular school and a host other reasons that are O/T for this post. I do have an issue with a work place that stipulates that women must wear high heels, pantihose and skirts. I think you can still have a uniform that is practical, smart and comfortable without telling your female workforce that they must injure their feet, legs etc and wear clothing that at times can be quite impractical. I don’t have an issue with skirts, I’m wearing one today, I have an issue with skirts being the only option. 

Likewise with dolls. I don’t have an issue with either of my children playing with dolls, or with cars or whatever toy one has that the other then immediately wants. Today it was an orange ball with green stars.  My tactic is to say to them both – yes you can [play with dolls, cars, lego, Star Wars], rather than to one – no you can’t.  I just hope that it works. Sometimes it is hard.

So, what do you think?

Categories: Culture, culture wars, gender & feminism, history, Life, parenting

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47 replies

  1. Bear with me on a tangent? A point I made a few years ago in the post that’s popped up in the Related Posts list, Creeping pinkification: “the persistent feminization of unisex commodities” , is an extension of a point made by Twisty – that femininity cannot even begin to be performed without “stuff”.
    The decorative instinct you mention I agree is one that’s basic to humanity. But the gender role binary sets it up so that it’s only women who are supposed to be unable to function unless they’ve expended decorative effort. Or at least what we see over and over is that women who don’t expend decorative effort are derided as “unfeminine”.
    Where this comes into parenting, I think, is that often a lot more effort is expended on getting daughters ready to go out – even just to school, but certainly out to restaurants or parties. This is one of the temptations to watch out for, I think – spending much much more time on grooming rituals for daughters rather than for sons.

  2. I *do* have a problem with school uniforms that leave girls in impractical and action-restricting dresses (or skirts with tights) and boys in practical pants and shirts. Fortunately, a vast numbers of schools seem to now have the pants/shorts option for girls, too – I campaigned hard for that when I was in high school (and managed to change the sports uniform at least). I’m very pleased when I go past our local K-12 school and see teenage girls running in long pants and little girls playing cricket in baggy shorts, not restricted by the cry of “I see London, I see France…” whenever they happen to move vigorously.

  3. I actually think this is more of a father thing. I have definitely known more men who have expressed at least a weak aversion to their daughter wearing pink or skirts, or playing netball rather than soccer or doing dance lessons rather than tumbling or etc. Once I heard a preference for “at least gender neutral” which turned out to mean things like cycling and soccer, which are actually numerically somewhat male dominated activities.
    These men tend to relate this to a fear that they will not be able to bond with or empathise well with feminine daughters. It’s different from the fear they may have for their sons (either an explicit statement of distaste/disgust for the possibility of a gay son or gender atypical/ambiguous son or trans daughter or a fear that their sons will be victimised). I think it relates quite closely to BM’s post actually, that masculinity’s boundaries are sufficiently strict that men do not believe they can cross it and have a relationship with feminine daughters, that their daughters must at least be “boy-enough” for them to relate.
    Having a daughter is currently theoretical for me (acknowledging the possibility that the child I currently describe as my son is a daughter), but given that she would/will live in the current construction of gender somehow just as we all do, I think if nothing else some practice experiencing/negotiating being stereotypically female is not necessarily a bad thing.

  4. I agree that this is an interesting question. I have always been a bit bothered by the thought that hating on pink, fairies etc actually feeds into the patriarchy’s belittling of “things girls like” (while recognising that “things girls like” is also not independent of the patriarchy).
    I tend to think that pink/fairies are not the problem per se, but that having them both compulsory for and exclusive to girlhood is the problem. And a nice way of undermining that problem is for boys to be allowed/encouraged/set free to enjoy pink and fairies too.

  5. This is an interesting and difficult topic for me as I am kind of all over the place with my own thoughts. On the one hand, there is nothing inherently wrong with the colour pink or dolls or whatever (except maybe there is – more on that later). But we also know a) this stuff is a problematic choice to make because our choices and desires are socially constructed rather than biologically determined and society is patriarchal, and b) it is a representation of the kind of femininity we are trying to reject (passive, narrowly attractive, controlled in appearance etc). This stuff does not happen in a vacuum no matter how “liberated” a particular individual may be.
    In addition, some objects/clothes etc are inherently encoded with femininity – short skirts are physically restrictive (we know “girls” shouldn’t move too much or take up too much space); dolls give a problematic representation of physical beauty etc. In other words, many things have been created for womyn/girls’ consumption and are representations of narrow conceptions of what it is to be a womyn/girl.
    But I also would hate to say that womyn (any womyn) should not do something – an expression of agency is an expression of agency, no matter how much it reflects something I personally don’t like. I guess I toss this in with the “people can make their choices but I don’t have to like them” category. To me, feminism is about expanding choice not limiting it, and I guess it would be more appropriate to argue against the meanings rather than the actual choices.

  6. @ lilacsigil – I have to admit I was thinking of my son’s school uniform when I wrote that – all the kids get to wear shorts (or tracksuit pants) and polo shirts and the girls have the option of a school tunic but as it is a) made to order and b) reasonably pricey compared to shorts and shirts not that many of them bother.
    The creeping pinkification of things really chaps my hide too (to borrow a Twisty saying). I don’t understand why women aren’t supposed to be able to wield a hammer or screw driver unless it is pink. At least in the tool set we use at home the flat blade screw drivers are yellow handled and the phillips head green. Makes it much easier when looking through all the junk that has accumulated in the garage for a screwdriver.

  7. Personally, if I had a daughter, I’d never ever let her wear pink. Dressing a girl in pink is basically child abuse, and dresses just guarentee that she will be seen as a victim. I’d never want that for any child: being weak sucks.

    • That level of extreme response seems problematic on multiple levels, Politicalguineapig. (eta: especially the buying into at least one level of the what-she-was-wearing-made-her-a-victim blaming behaviour we tend to denounce rather a lot around here)

      Pink is just a colour, and in other cultures and in other centuries it has been a colour for boy children rather than for girl children. Deconstructing the gender stereotypes currently surrounding pink so that it takes its rightful place as just another colour option is surely preferable to demonising it outright.

  8. I have been too cautious to wade into the related conversation on performing femininity going on over at IBTP, where no one is game to defend a person’s right to wear heels, but my secret attitude is that I intend to continue performing femininity and to allow, though not encourage, any daughters I may have to do so too, because of that very word ‘perform’. My whole life is about the art of theatre, and its surrounding activities (dressing up, makeup, glitter, theatricality itself) are often coded feminine, so I can’t chuck them out without chucking out my specialist area of work. Instead, I work to acknowledge these activities as performance. Not as a natural expression of the female, but as the history of how cultures have sought to work through a range of things that require expression, some good, some bad. Frame it, contextualize it, critique it, understand it, instead of simply avoiding it.

  9. Politicalguineapig – just on a basic parenting level – trying not to dress your daughter in pink could almost be a full time job, unless you dressed her exclusively in camo gear from the boys section which is in itself problematic. Besides pink is a lovely bright colour which all kids would wear if someone didn’t tell them it was only for girls. It’s those people we should be stopping, not little kids who happen to like pink.

  10. As a mother of two daughters this is very relevant and fascinating for me. Orlando, I too have been following the IBTP discussions with interest, but seeing as how I am not likely to move beyond being a “novice blamer” I am lurking only. I also feel that one aspect of life I enjoy, along with my children, is that of personal expressions and play through costume and personal decoration. It seems it would be a shame to ditch it – wouldn’t the world be a little more boring and colourless without those activities? I also feel sad for boys whose natural instinct to dress up and be a riot of colour may be suppressed.
    As for my partner, my observation is that he loves having daughters and is making every effort to give them all sorts of opportunities, including sporting ones. Not so that he can feel close to them, but so that they can enjoy things that he has enjoyed.
    As for getting girls ready to go out, our main concern is that their hair isn’t in their eyes. Other than that, whatever. I suppose if they had short hair this wouldn’t be a problem, but then we’d have more trips to the hairdresser so that’s a trade off.
    And finally, I hate being sold pink stuff just because I’m female.

  11. On the de-gendering the pink thing, I reckon I’ve seen just about every Gen Y guy in my office wear pink, so perhaps it *is* slowly changing?
    I like your approach Mindy.

  12. Just came back to add – because it had been bothering me since yesterday when I read the comment about dolls giving inaccurate representations of female beauty etc – that not all dolls are in this category, and so I went looking for an example and found this, which I don’t think anyone could suggest was distorting a girl’s body image.
    I have fond memories of my brother and I playing all sorts of imaginative games with dolls, in which the dolls were anything from astronauts to champion Olympic equestrians – dolls are great for imaginary play and shouldn’t be written off entirely just because many of them are ridiculously proportioned women.

  13. Tigtog: I meant that pink tends to tag children as female, and it makes them easily identifiable to predators. I always feel very insecure in skirts for that reason: I don’t like being easily identified as a woman and all that air down there makes me very uneasy.
    Mindy: The heck? Unless I’ve missed quite a bit, department stores ALWAYS have stuff in red, blue, yellow, green and purple, so I would have a lot of options. And I don’t really think of pink as a lovely color: it’s sickeningly sweet and disgustingly cheerful. I don’t think anyone should wear it.

  14. Really? Disgusting? Roses, sunsets, cherry blossom, galahs, pink butterflies, little pink piglets, all a disgusting colour?
    Surely it’s the cultural associations you think are disgusting, although I suppose there’s no accounting for taste.
    As for all that air down there, personally I wear tights or leggings, or at the very least underpants, and have never noticed a surfeit of air. I think dissing things just because they’re associated with the feminine – unless of course there’s a very good reason for dissing them, like high heels for example, is a little silly. Mindy’s approach of opening them up to boys/men instead, and breaking down the barriers of cultural association so we get to keep the things that are good that are currently associated with either gender but without the gender associations is a much better approach.

  15. Rebecca: Pink in nature is ok, though I’m not fond of live pigs. Pink on people and houses though, is really tasteless. And let’s not even start on the disgusting thing called bubble gum.
    And even though I do wear shorts and underwear- and occasionally pantyhose depending on the season/place- I still feel nervous in skirts or dresses. I don’t wear them very often because I am so concious of my vulnerability in skirts or dresses.
    And how do you suggest we break down the gender associations? Stuff little boys in dresses-again? The gender associations are kind of irrevocable at this point.

  16. Politicalguineapig, I’m not speaking for Rebekka here, but I think the point is that understanding femininity, and those things associated with it, as lesser, disgusting, tasteless, or whatever, is not a neutral stance on those things: it’s a stance that is drawn from the patriarchal diminishment of women and all that is associated with them. Whilst yes, feminism needs to work at undoing the requirement that women be feminine in this limited sense, it also needs to work at undoing the devaluing of all that which is associated with femininity as well. Leaving out the latter bit winds up replicating misogyny, just in slightly different ways, I reckon.

  17. Politicalguineapig, please help me better understand your point. Your last comment suggests that your stance on pink is, to a degree, about your aversion to the colour based on “taste level”, and not purely on culture/politics?
    I don’t like lime green. Can’t stand it. I think it marks people out as either human highlighters (pens) or visible from space. I may not agree with it, but I will vehemently defend people’s right to dress like they’re trying to ward off scurvy.

  18. Perla: yeah, apart from it’s connotations, I do dislike pink a lot. Particularly the day-glo variety of it which is often found in children’s clothes. It’s like a dentist’s drill for the eyes.
    Wildly Parenthetical: Why shouldn’t we just drop femininity entirely? Skirts and dresses are annoying, makeup wastes time (and is occaisionally irritating in the medical sense) and being weak isn’t good for anyone. I can’t see the point to being feminine, although I may occasionally play dress up. (I do wear makeup more often- kinda a requirement if you have to interact with the public while female.

  19. So according to politicalguineapig I am an absolute failure as a woman. I wear skirts in the Perth heat, and sometimes when ornamenting myself for fun. I make my own tinted lipgloss, and have been known to wear makeup for decoration and/or for sun protection, though not for interacting with the public (despite that having been my job for a decade or two). And I’m really, really weak these days.
    PGP? It’s actually ok for anyone, including women to embrace masculinity, femininity, or whateverthehellelse they want. Shitting on individuals who are being screwed over by compulsory femininity, and blaming them for being raped (how dare you wear a pink skirt, you hussy, dontcha know it drives them wild?) is a douche move. Fight the oppressor, not the oppressed, you know?
    BRB, putting a chastity belt under my flowing skirt, lest a rapist come to my door.

  20. Because if we ‘drop femininity entirely,’ we’re saying that patriarchy was right all along, that we should all really be and behave exactly like men, that patriarchal assessments of the worth of masculinity and femininity were entirely correct. I just don’t buy that, and I’m not prepared to have patriarchy define my worldview like that. Your perception that skirts and dresses are ‘annoying’ doesn’t fit with my (and others’, including menfolk I know who wish they could wear skirts and dresses without censure) experience. I’m not sure that everyone would agree with you that makeup is a waste of time (again, not just women), and besides, since when does everything we do have to fit some cost/benefit analysis of time to be legit?? As for being weak, don’t you think you’re assigning worth to people on how well they’re fitting with this ideal of masculine strength, like Lauredhel points out? Quite aside from the ways that a focus on physical strength avoids looking at the useful and positive capacities that have developed alongside the alleged ‘weakness’ of women (and it *is* alleged, and depends a lot on what kind of women you take as defining femininity), historically—capacities that negotiated conflict, for e.g., without simple might-makes-right. Oh right, but they weren’t valued by patriarchy, so they don’t even figure as relevant.
    And Lauredhel, I’m starting to feel like you’re right… HIBT too??

  21. WP: It’s not like PGP doesn’t have a long, long history of saying trollish stuff and sledging women, in this space and others.

  22. WP, you summed up my point perfectly. Personally, I find skirts and dresses much more comfortable than pants, too, unless we’re talking yoga pants or PJs. And I quite like pink. Looking into my wardrobe of work clothes, I have more black and white than any colours, but I do have a purple shirt, a pink shirt, a green top, a light blue top and a magenta top. Why the hell should I not be able to wear pink – a colour I quite like as a colour – as part of my wardrobe, just because it’s associated with being female? A hundred years ago or so it was associated with being male, so I also quite fundamentally disagree with the assertion that those cultural implications can’t change.
    And I’ve had a variety of jobs, some of which have meant interacting with the public, including my current job, which occasionally involves appearing in public, and not once has it ever crossed my mind that I “have” to wear makeup. I’ll very rarely use a bit of makeup if I’m dressing up for something special, just like I’ll very occasionally wear a ballgown. My mother, who was a lawyer and appeared in court as well as seeing clients every day, never wore makeup except if she was going somewhere special, and my aunt, a professional manager and eventually a CEO never did either. I guess I never learned from my role models that it was essential to wear makeup, so I never did.
    I’m thinking that’s probably an important point there somewhere.

  23. Lauredhel: I just think women need to be a little more wary, and consider their surroundings and available transportation. If you’re walking, don’t wear skirts or dresses or heels that’ll trip you up. If you’re on your own in a city, it’s probably not the brightest idea to dress flashily and draw attention to yourself. One of the best ways to avoid predators is to blend in with your surroundings. I’m not saying it’ll work all the time, but I wish women would remember that when they step outside the door of their house they are in a war zone and should dress accordingly. It’s no one’s fault if they get attacked, but I’m all for reducing one’s risk.
    WP: Might always makes right, that’s just the way the world works. Most people’s worth is judged by how well they act their role in society. While I wish more women could be judged by their honest selves- as opposed to their public selves, that just isn’t gonna happen.
    And it still doesn’t excuse putting a target on one’s daughter’s back by dressing her in pink and frills.

  24. Argh. ARGH! What’s true in the wild is therefore true of society? I’m not even sure it’s always true in the wild (any biologists out there want to help me out?). But given that we KNOW that the vast majority of rapes and other violent attacks on women are perpetrated by men they know…given that women and girls are at risk at home in their trackpants, therefore what they wear has nothing to do with it, and rapists being opportunistic, and playing on trust/positions of power has everything to do with it, don’t you think that your comment smacks just a little of making women responsible to do the impossible; to not get attacked by dressing down, being unassuming, hoping to ‘blend in’? Won’t they be just as unable to avoid attack, feel responsible for faulty ‘camoflauge’ and have spent their lives trying to avoid ever being noticed for their bright/flashy clothing (blending in with your surroundings). And do you really think rape is triggered by ‘Look there: bright colours’? Or that women in trench coats, fake moustaches and trackpants and beanies ‘blend with their surroundings’? The ‘war’ as you put it isn’t going to be won by top grade cammos! And really how the hell DARE you suggest that mothers and fathers ‘put a target’ on their daughter’s back by letting her wear pink? Anyone who would rape a child would rape a child regardless of what clothing they were wearing, and I know a number of men molested as young boys. Pretty certain they weren’t dressed in pink and frills. If you want to reduce something scary and large and complex to ‘pink’ then I’d say ‘bully for you’ except that it completely blames women yet again. So you get no ‘bully’

  25. It’s no one’s fault if they get attacked, but I’m all for reducing one’s risk.
    Yeah. Men are innocent, and women ought to watch themselves lest they make them attack them. With all their pink skirts. And make up. Right. No misogyny there, oooh no.

  26. Politicalguineapig, your comments are vile, unwelcome, and potentially triggering for members of this community. Go back to 101, and carefully consider S(ing)TFU until you can stop the lies, rape apologism, and victim/parent-blaming.

  27. Politicalguineapig just left a comment responding to other people upthread and totally ignoring Lauredhel #27.
    That’s transcendentally rude, and has been unapproved.
    You need to improve your netiquette, stat, if you wish to have your comments published here.

  28. More pink for boys would be great. And dresses for infants make a lot of sense, so much easier for nappy changing! – Just discovered this, having girl child after boy. I so would have put him in dresses to avoid all those buttons!
    Like Bluemilk, I hate the angry boys clothes, but love the practicality of shorts and t-shirts for kids. I always wince when I see girls hampered by skirts and dresses and impractical shoes on play equipment, or shivering in a sleeveless dress in winter and risking sunburn with same in summer, not to mention the scrapes that can be avoided with a little extra clothing.
    I wore stubbies shorts, knickers or bathers growing up in Darwin and was often mistaken for a boy. I want to give my daughter the same freedom, sadly I think clothing choices for kids have become a lot more constrained in the last decade or so. I’d at least like to avoid a complete pinkwash and keep clothing practical and as gender neutral as possible for both my kids. I love me some practical clothing :).

  29. Following the OT stuff – I have never understood the idea that skirts trip you up. I wear skirts more often than pants, due to having endometriosis and disliking the way most jeans and pants cut into my middle. If I want to get somewhere quickly, I merely hitch the skirt up elegantly with one hand. It’s become second-nature to me, and I can move far more freely in a skirt than I can with pants. I understand, however, that not all women share my point of view. Some of them can’t be bothered with all the skirt-hitching. Some mightn’t have the mobility for that. I don’t think any of them are traitors to their gender or bad feminists.

  30. Sigh. I missed the femmephobia debate. Summary: It’s a real thing, and it’s closely tied in with misogyny. Femininity is not in itself a bad thing, the problem is when it’s made compulsory for one gender and denied to any other.

  31. Does it have to be femmephobia though? Both femininity and masculinity have their faults. Discussing the ways in which femininity can be limiting and how it ties in with consumerism (see tigtog at 1) isn’t necessarily about hating the women who practice femininity.
    Sometimes I think this debate gets overheated because these criticisms, from the “unfeminine” feminists to “feminine” feminists, feel like a more holier than thou kind of one up woman ship. It’s a bit like the debate about the need to eschew heterosexuality and the nuclear family for revolutionary ends. Straight feminists might feel that lesbians are somehow privileged within feminism. I think it’s important to take a step back and recognize the where the real privilege lies and make room for that argument in a heteronormative world without taking it as a personal attack.
    Likewise, listening to feminists “brag” (and maybe there is a bit of that about it) about rejecting femininity might feel like a dismissal of the feminism of more feminine feminists but it needn’t be. Again, taking a step back, sometimes we all just need to vent in what should be a safe place in a world of compulsory gender conformity.
    In other words: I suck at hair and clothes and makeup, I’m a born dag, and sometimes I just want to shout- hooray for feminism! I can feel good about not doing that crap finally. At the same time, I admire the artistic instinct in those who enjoy a little self decoration and who dress well 🙂 I also recognize that even though those women who practice femininity in the big bad world might be more privileged in some ways, that privilege is extremely limited.
    (haven’t covered the argument re: femininity as economic necessity. Figured I’d taken up enough space with my slightly OT ramble)

  32. @ Amelia – if you would like to cover femininity as economic necessity the floor is yours. Sounds quite interesting.
    I am so with you on the hair and makeup thing. Once saw a woman in the chemist and though ‘geez love you could at least done your hair’ and then realised, to my horror, that I was actually seeing my own reflection. Judgemental karma kicked my butt that day.

  33. I think the thing is, Amelia, that ‘limiting’ isn’t a neutral thing: skirts are clearly limiting for some people, and just not for others. Likewise for all the other traditional (and quite white and middle-class, often) markers of femininity. And claiming that you’re putting yourself at risk – and really, are you at risk, limited, or privileged, or some complicated mixture of the three? – by participating in femmey stuff really is victim-blamey and misogynist (after all, only femme women are asking for it, apparently). And as FP points out, talking about trackies on the couch, this story about femme being the problem really obscures the way that violence is not about femme, it’s about women…
    Sometimes I do very femme indeed, wiggle-skirted and red-lipsticked. Sometimes I do quite the opposite, with jeans, heavy boots and singlet tops. I actually really love that I have space to do both without feeling like either of them can be taken to define me absolutely; I’m a fan of juxtaposition. And someone very dear to me, and a man, loves wearing dresses for pretty much these reasons: would we say that they’re limiting for him? In what sense? I always want to start referring to Captain Mal and his emphasis on ‘airflow’ at this point!! All of which is why I got tempted, when a friend of mine had a boychild, to buy an AC/DC pink frilly dress for him. ;-P
    The question about consumerism is a good one, of course, and whilst I agree with tigtog that being aware of the differences in time and money that are spent on differently gendered kids is important, I have to say that other discussions of consumerism often wind up being used to mark women as frivolous, vain and selfish. I’m not just talking about clothes and makeup, but also about houses and stuff too. I think it’s worth wondering whether one of the advantages experienced by some straight men, especially in coupledom, is that there’s a woman around to take care of the decorative stuff, so they get to have it around, to enjoy and appreciate it without having to pursue it or do it themselves, with the possible ‘risk’ to their masculinity (demonstrated by the ‘gay home decorator’ stereotype) in being concerned about appearance. And of course these efforts can then be dismissed as women’s consumerism. All of which is not really about gendered clothing for kids, I know, but we seem to have stretched the topic of conversation a little 🙂

  34. Whoa, I do go on! Also, Amelia, I’d love to hear about the economic necessity of femininity! Please do wax lyrical 🙂

  35. Nice one Mindy! Sometimes when I leave the house I can hear my mum’s voice, floating behind me, “brush your hair Amelia!” and I think oh crap, forgot to look in the mirror, hope I’m not too much of a disaster today!
    WP ” complicated mixture” is where it’s at isn’t? It’s hard not to use shorthand and talk about masculinity and femininity, hoping we’re all on the same page and talking about the same things. But after all we are talking about a complex range of behaviors interwoven with perhaps even more complex identities and with our own individual histories, informing our arguments. And who wants to mess up the page with clunky, unwieldy sentences like those??
    When thinking about the limiting nature of some performances of femininity above. I was still thinking really of the example of the girl on the playground. It’s really just a range of movement thing. For my own little girl I’d ask;
    Can she leap from that stone to that stone?
    Kick a footy?
    Do a cartwheel or handstand?
    And because I’m kind of a kook, I also ask that of myself.
    Sometimes I’ll be down at the park with a nice summery dress on and think, rats, no
    cartwheels today! I may be a little odd, but I don’t want to shock people ;). So I say rock on to your dear man in his frocks but would he feel free to cartwheel? In a just world we’d both be cartwheeling down the main street and people might shrug and think red undies? No undies?? Whatever…
    In all seriousness though, I get your point about victim blaming. There really is no sure fire way to avoid violence against women as a woman, except maybe to be a man. What a kicker.
    Don’t know if I really have much to add about the economic necessity of femininity, even though now I apparently have the floor, thanks Mindy! It’s really just the argument that there can be economic penalties for not performing femininity. Harder to get an office job without the right hair and makeup, or sufficient submissive posturing I might add. Harder to keep said job without continuous performance of same. And of course the intersection right there with class, race and ability, tightens those screws even more so. Much easier to shrug off the risk of rejection or career stagnation by being non-conformist, when you are able-bodied, comfortably well off and white. It was covered a whole lot better by people way smarter than me in the recent IBTP threads.
    And that brings me back to Orlando at 9 and parenting. The choices we make as parents can be a minefield. As Orlando points out, we bring ourselves to parenting, including our individual strengths and weaknesses. Might be athleticism and really crappy drawing for me, technowizbangadry and poor co-ordination for you. That affects the way we parent.
    While I had my hopes for my son to show an interest in dolls and we do play with them from time to time, I loved it when he got really interested in trains. I could build tracks all day! But why can’t I get him interested in balls? And if my daughter is a girly girl, then I’m at a loss. But will she be?? Parenting is such a paradigm shifter.

  36. Yeah, great thoughts, Amelia! And yes, the capacity to be extra-flexible about how one presents is a definite privilege!
    I guess I’d just point out that it’s not really the skirt that’s at issue with the cartwheels. When I was a kid, up until I was around, oh, 11, I’d reckon, I did cartwheels anyway. Sometimes with skirts tucked into the bottom of knickers to hide them, but sometimes not. And just like my parents let us wander around naked on the beach or after baths or whatever, til we were 4-ish and sometimes older, I’d kinda hope that, if I ever did the parenting thing, I wouldn’t be helping my kids to worry about people seeing their knickers (because even these days, I feel bravest and most feministly me when I don’t care about such things, but just get on with bike-riding, or dancing, or wading into the water, or whatever it is I’m doing. The refusal of shame isn’t consistent for me, but I like it when I manage it!). I know people who are worried about predators around every corner, and negotiate their kids being in public accordingly, but avoiding frills ain’t gonna make it better, and I would prefer to parent in a way that convinces my kids that attacks are really, really seriously, never about what they wear. Because really, they’re not.
    I guess the point I was trying to make, in the end, is that yes, there are sometimes punishments directed at, for example, the sweet boy I was talking about, who likes to wear dresses, or at girls who wear skirts that are supposedly ‘too short’ … but those punishments are about misogyny and homophobia, not the skirts. And while teaching kids to handle the world, unfair as it is, is important, it’s also important to let them believe the world could be changed. With the nekkid at the beach, or the pink frillies that haven’t been coded as causes of attack, or the denim overalls… 🙂

  37. Thanks WP. I think that’s a really good concept – the refusal of shame. In Darwin we grew up with “shame job” which had it’s origins in the Aboriginal community. Sadly, I probably needn’t explain how or why. Almost any public behavior becomes “shame job” when you’re faced with that level of oppression.
    For women, it’s the shame of our bodies, and yes, it’s the sickos of this world who should be feeling shame and not my daughter.
    Now I’d better go to bed, so I can re-read your excellent “Tackling Misogyny” post and have a good think about it while I ‘m out muckin’ around with my kids 🙂

  38. Just to reinforce the point that it’s NOT about what you wear and that saying it is is outrageously misogynistic please see the below:
    I like that point about other things aesthetic WP – we’re going through this at the moment. I think prior to our relationship TBO would have moved into any utilitarian building and got on with it. In negotiating what we’re interested in within our price range and location range, a ‘vibe’ of pleasantness has driven me as much as all the layout/location etc, (ie if I strap myself in to pay that much I want to come home and go ‘Ahh…great to be home’ and as I’ve raised these issues he’s begun to light up and respond and to look for those things themselves and value them and to rethink aesthetics and the joys of decorating things as we like them. But prior to this I did feel that I was going to be viewed as shallow or selfish: but it’s an investment in the comfort, relaxation and enjoyment of our home, for all of us, to hear birds, see trees, have light and enjoy the kitchen where we spend so much time (and yes, at the same time I *absolutely* see the race, class and income privilege in being able to cover this/afford a house/a nice house in Australia at all).

  39. On the topic of creating an aesthetically pleasing home, I want to say that I haven’t observed much gendered behaviour in my social group of hetero couples. The men appear to be just as interested in buying nice things for the home and making decorating decisions. I suspect that this is influenced by a number of things including us living in Auckland where macho culture isn’t as strong as in other places, the socioeconomic class we’re in, the prevalence and popularity of home renovating shows (Grand Designs is huge here) etc.

  40. Yes, it’s funny but I suspect those shows do change things a bit. TBO has always cooked constantly and been very good about healthy eating but his food was on the bland side. Then he started watching Master Chef with his daughter and suddenly he’s far more creative and intuitive and invested in flavours and food that ‘hums’. 🙂

  41. Yeah, Tamara, I know lotsa men like that, too (yay for that!). Though my dad occasionally tries to disavow an interest in ‘decorative’ stuff by placing responsibility for it at my mum’s feet (most memorably, after having chased down a breeder of pretty chickens (lacewing wyandottes), when one got broody, he told my mum and me that he would have been more than happy with plain brown laying hens because he was all about functionality, and thus it was kind of our fault for wanting pretty hens. I mean. FFS. He was, for the record, openly mocked and snorted at). My point is more that the configuration of femininity as decorative and frivolous and, most of all, self-absorbed, to the extent that that story remains present in social conversation, can make it look like men never get into likin’ on the pretty, which is convenient for certain kinds of masculinity. 😉

  42. Ha, my partner did something like that re adopting our cat. At the time it was his idea to get a cat, and I was keen so we did. Then a couple of years later he told someone that I suggested we get a cat and he went along with it. What rot! It’s as if masculinity requires him to deny his need for a cuddly widdle kitteh. Cue me mocking and snorting etc.
    I do get your point. Because of this femininity story I made the assumption that a female friend had been responsible for the cool redecoration of her house, but she pointed out that her male partner made all the decisions and she doesn’t really have much of an eye for such things! That taught me a lesson.

  43. Now I want lacewing wyandottes more than anything in the world.

  44. @ Orlando – me too!

  45. They are truly awesome, I should say. 🙂 And of course slower layers are longer layers anyway.

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