Moving away from instructional language when addressing gender opens opportunities for parents, children and media.
A few years ago I purchased an old British car. The intent was to fix it up and drive in the summer months, but more pressing obligations intervened and it was pushed aside. Taking up space we could use for other projects, it has been put up for sale a few times but never sold. Now, it sits in the garage waiting for our son to take over its restoration.
The first time it was put up for sale, few people stopped and looked. A few months passed and two men stopped to look and started asking questions. One of the men talked with my husband while the other looked it over with me. He asked lots of questions and I was ready to share what I knew. More than half an hour passed as I described the things it needed and what we had discovered about its quirks. When he was getting ready to leave he closed the conversation with a prodding, “do you have to know so damn much?”
They left and I never heard from them again.
It was more than a little annoying to be rudely poked in the competence and I think it is safe to assume he did it because he thought I was talking above my station. Here was this obviously gender conforming, well-off guy of notable purchasing ability getting shop talk from a hillbilly female instead of her husband, who will openly admit he couldn’t tell you half as much about the car. This guy’s reaction was to take me for all he could and be rude to me for not looking the part.
Not that he took anything I wasn’t offering; but notice the process. Unfortunately, this is often a common theme: They see what someone else has, butter them up, take what they want, then clock the giver over the head and move on. It’s almost as though they think showing gratitude grants others control over their life and must be avoided at all costs, like breaking the mold on a unique piece. This gentleman was trying to blind me to my own intelligence for not dressing to certain specifications – in my own driveway. It was a slight intended to get me to either sex it up his way or never speak of cars again.
Smash-and-grab behavior comes packaged with the idea that honesty is a crime and that the only way to get ahead is to be destructive. This is related to the idea that those who don’t imitate the popular are not real. That penny in the fountain is one of billions but isolation and elevation have left us thinking there are a rare few that shine better than the rest and everyone else should emulate or vanish. Every penny has the same amount of value even if they vary in appearance. Exemplars are chosen and reinforced, not inherent, but it can become inherited. In such cases the favored sometimes feel entitled and suppose they should be given the best no matter how awful they are to others. Our various types of celebrity are integral to this system. Historically, satirical roles have helped us define our culture and, as the process is known to do, those outside the favored few are to be mocked. If someone wears the prized stuff properly and don’t get the treatment it has promised they feel cheated and act out.
Being trained to do so, I can barely be upset that this guy was compelled to make a joke about my car knowledge. However, it does tell me media’s oversimplified representations of sex in marketing and entertainment has led to the mistreatment of some people who don’t perfectly conform to gender expectations. We don’t wear the stuff the way the hero does, so we are seen as stuff. It weighs on everyone, and while most of us are willing to play, it is also used to extremes to embattle the unwanted to inhumane ends. As people of conscience, if we want to change this pattern we have to hit above the belt.
As long as there is product to move and the ability to reach an audience the shapers of mass media’s advertising will have the ability to parent other people’s children through their storytelling. We create stronger individuals when we show our children that attraction is fundamentally decided by biology and that many types of relationships occur. Once they know what they have to protect and what consequences are aimed at specific behaviors we let them choose their own definitions. Then it becomes our job to respect them.
As long as there are ads and tv shows making magic stuff with attractive bodies and clever affect, there will be people thinking that what they are exposed to is the only way to live and children need to know there are more than a few types of people for them to emulate. I believe that through changing how we approach physicality in our products, our children (inner children included) will become more comfortable with our place in the world, our differences, and our social responsibilities. Gender and sexuality issues need to be portrayed more often, and more LGBTQ roles must be played by children in order to get past the damaged adult’s defenses and reach their inner kid – the person they knew they were. I’m certain a more inclusive representation of gender identities can enhance overall health and self-esteem without damaging the profit margin. The only change it requires is to get our minds out of each other’s underwear and cultivate care for people from whom we have nothing immediate to gain.
Genders as we know it are languages and all parents know each child begins with their own. Listen, if you try to overwrite it, the persona you replace it with is not them but instead your fantasies. Teach them what you know but DO NOT impose your likes and gender expectations on your children. Consider how much time you spend thinking about methods you use to get on other people’s good sides and just don’t. The abusive people you’re afraid will pick on your child are being dealt with, and allowing your child’s gender identity to shine will help eradicate those who forcibly prescribe their mating preferences to everyone.
Things are already beginning to change. Gender flexibility is treated as normal in the common language much more often than it was. Let’s cast a wider net by creating a language that weighs all things gender as normal somewhere, a language we don’t mind the media picking up. Get together with people of each type and come up with new gender identifiers that don’t include the -sexual suffix. Tone down the polarizing of gender and remove the notion that respect for being different can only happen in a magic time in the future. Most important, set aside your prescribed biases and listen to your outsiders. You will quickly discover this is a difference that really does make a difference.