Thursday, May 26, 2011

Storm over Gender...Media Madness

My father in law, born in 1922, almost-professional hockey player, WWII air force pilot, liked to say that his mother brought him up, in the early years, as a girl.

Obviously, pictures like this led him to this the conclusion. By the 1930's, boys no longer wore skirts, so he had no frame of reference.

"She didn't like boys," he told me.

Well, his Mom (May Hardy Fair Wells, a first cousin of General Douglas MacArthur, a clothes-horse who once got kicked out of the Woldorf Astoria in New York for smoking a cigar in the lobby) may not have liked boys, but she didn't bring her only son up as a girl. She merely dressed him in the appropriate attire for a young male child in the Victorian era.

May was also a crack seamstress, and she made her children's clothes, even their winter coats, which were often trimmed in fur. (She was from the Deep South and worried they would freeze in the Canadian winters.) Her daughters adored their sumptous elegant coats, her son hated his. Fancy outerwear did not impress the other young hockey players at the rink.

Herb Nicholson, Flora Nicholson's brother, also got to wear a skirt as a child in the 1880's. He grew up to be a bit of skirt chaser, from what I know. (I write all about it in Flo in the City.)

And Stanley Hill, in and around 1908, also wore a skirt. Here he is with Flora Nicholson, the heroine of Flo in the City, with her nephew and niece.

Well, I notice a Toronto Couple has got some world-wide press for choosing not to divulge their baby's sex to the world. The child is 4 months old.

People around the world are reacting to this, mostly negatively, and experts around the world are pontificating, once again, on the issue of gender.

(This past week, I've done the same while reading all about the 'style' of Michelle Obama (pink bolero!) and Kate Middleton, (high-street elegance) during the Obama's visit to the UK. La plus ca change. For woman it's all about what they lo0k like in clothes. What ambitious man,today, would dare marry a fat frumpy gal, because, say, she is funny and smart and loving and loyal?)

I've written many essays on the subject over the years, as I raised my two sons. One of them is called Shall We Dance. I wrote in for the Montreal Gazette in the 80's.

This Toronto couple who caused this Tempest in a Pink China Teapot, or Tempest in a GI JOE Tank -with small nuclear device attached, are a progessive couple, it seems, not above putting their actions where their philosophy is. They are 'followers' of one Alfie Kohn. They also Un-School their other children, a philosophy where you let the kids decide how they are raised. (Come to think of it, I 'unschooled' -without really wanting to.)

Most of us parents are not that fearless. Most of us parents, despite our belief in gender equality, tend to bring our kids up following the norm and leave it to them, in later years, to stretch the boundaries if they are so inclined. (And then we pretend we are not embarrassed.)

So we let our girls play with Barbie Dolls, despite the outrageous proportions of said doll and our desire to have our daughters grow up loving their bodies, and we don't encourage our sons to do the same. We let our sons play with guns, in stylized war games, or play violent video games, even though we don't want them to grow up to kill other people, as soldiers or psychopaths. But if a girl takes a tiny pink toy gun and shoots her Barbie (or a baby doll) in the head, we really worry. (Not so much if the boy does it.) Ah, it all makes no sense, unless we're hardwired to raise (potentially) violent males and passive females.

My first impression, when reading this news story was this: "It's the Press that can't stand not knowing what the gender of the Toronto baby called Storm is. Because the Press loves papering the front pages of it's newspapers (well, websites) with pictures of pretty blond and blue eyed girls.. 2 to 32.

That's the iconic image of our age, whether we like it 0r not. Barbie or Barbie in waiting.

Boys aren't interesting, apparently to put on the front page (or, conversely, readers don't click on their image and raise advertising revenues). Neither are females who are brunettes, homely or non-white, unless they are Kate Middleton and Michelle Obama.)

So, in short, the Press is confused.

But there's more to it. As one expert in the Toronto Sun said, our ideas about the importance of gender are bedrock.

So true. If I met Storm's parents on the street and they had Storm in a pram, even I, gender-philosopher, expert in the New Woman movement of 1910, wouldn't know what to say... "Such a cutie poopoo girlie girl so pretty in goo." Or, "what a BIG boy, here, show me what you got.. take this rock and hit me on the forehead. HARD."