The Love, Recorded column takes on gender. Cute baby pictures are included. Dolls are another story.
There was a news story going around just before my daughter’s birth about a Canadian couple raising their baby “genderless.” I shared it on Tumblr and Twitter and Google+, but I didn’t share it with my pregnant wife. I knew better. Koreans can have strict ideas about gender and sexuality, often stressing differences over similarities. It is more culturally acceptable to see two male friends holding hands than a couple kissing in public, or a woman smoking. My wife wouldn’t kiss me in front of other people until we moved to America.
That said, there’s a strange period of grace for babies in Korea, where they can be raised against gender, or rather, between. Collecting hand-me-downs from our two nephews, for our daughter, we received quite a few outfits that one might classify as “girly.” Yes, baby clothes are designed for gender, too, beyond mere pink and blue—though I’ll get into pink and blue. My sisters-in-law would do their sons’ hair, tying it up, or perming it. They would dress their sons up like girls, the reasoning being they couldn’t get away with this later.
Now that the nephews are 3, they insist themselves on wearing blue or, if pressed, green, on playing exclusively with dinosaurs and cars and sharks. They both have girlfriends. On his birthday, the younger one leaned in and kissed his girlfriend on the mouth in front of his entire class. I remember an incident about a year ago, where the older one, slightly autistic, was overseeing an argument between his cousin and his friend. Boys in Korea are always hitting each other, but our older nephew is the weaker one, never much for violence. This time, though, he wobbled in and punched his friend in the head. This was secretly celebrated as loyalty to blood.
My wife and I are not the type to try to do away with gender roles. They exist. We have to acknowledge that. The roles may be slightly different in America, but it only takes a single advertisement to show that they are no less strict, or deeply embedded. I am not sure about this “end of gender” theme we have this week—from Merriam Webster: “gender (noun): 2.b. the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.” By “end of gender,” do we mean the end of gender as a construct, or an association, the beginning of gender as a choice? Do we believe that we can opt out of the normative models that drive what we buy, how we dress, how we act? How our parents have raised us?
The genderless baby in the news, is it going to choose between man or woman, or can it choose to continue to be an it?
This is what our baby looks like dressed in blue:
This is what our baby looks like dressed in pink:
And we can’t help looking at these pictures and thinking, she looks like a boy. She looks like a girl. My wife and I recently had the chance to switch roles—I stayed home with the baby while she was away, but at the end of the weekend, we both agreed we preferred the roles we had. I remember hearing Matt Damon talk on a late night show about his (then) three girls and his relief not to have boys. When a boy comes over to the house, he ends up on top of things the girls never thought to climb.
Surely raising a boy is different. I wouldn’t know.
What I do know is that we have to get over our own ideas. I have this thing about dolls that keeps bothering me about my daughter’s future. I’m terrified of them, truth be told. They’ve scared me since childhood—I’m not even sure this relates to Chucky. I have a large uncanny valley, for one. When I was young, I had a doll that looked like me and was about the size of a five-year-old, and I hid him in the back of my closet and made sure the door was always closed. I didn’t pass my sister’s room at night if I could help it. If I did, I clung to the wall, so that nothing could sneak up on me. I don’t like that dolls look like they might come alive. I don’t like that they blink, or laugh, or say they love you. Nothing that was once inanimate and then is suddenly alive could possibly be other than evil, I think. Look at our history of things that come back from the dead.
And yet my wife loves dolls, and we have a little girl who will take after her. There is an inevitability, and I have to man up or whatever. I see girls on the bus holding little doll versions of themselves and I just fear for their subconsciouses. But my daughter will be fine.
She will grow up with skin care, with dolls, with the color pink, but also with football, with action figures, with blue. And there is no getting around the fact that she will know the associations. If you have a baby, the end of gender seems barely, if at all, in sight. But maybe my idea of the end of gender is to make sure she will always, no matter who, or what, is influencing her, be able to want what she really wants.