Tag Archives: gender

10 Everyday Sexisms and What Do You Do About Them

 
Posted: 07/31/2014 4:44 pm EDT Updated: 4 minutes ago
CONFIDENT WOMAN

This post is updated from an earlier version that appeared on Role Reboot.

Research shows that most people don’t see sexism even when it’s right in front of their noses.

“Women endorse sexist beliefs, at least in part, because they do not attend to subtle, aggregate forms of sexism in their personal lives,” wrote Julia C. Becker and Janet K. Swim, the authors of this study about the invisibility of sexism. “Many men not only lack attention to such incidents but also are less likely to perceive sexist incidents as being discriminatory and potentially harmful for women.”

How do you think about and respond to these 10 examples?

1. Religious sexism and discrimination. Do you really believe women are incapable of religous authority? This ritualized silencing of women is practiced by practically all major religions which, with minor exceptions, bar girls and women from ministerial leadership. That means access to the divine is mediated exclusively by men and their speech. This is legally unchallenged discrimination and its effects go way beyond places and practices of worship. From the moment a girl realizes that she is not invited to participate in clerical rituals because she is a girl, she learns that her voice is powerless and not respected. So do the boys around her. But, hey, at least we pay to undermine the public good through tax credits and subsidies. What if you objected? And stopped supporting this discrimination?

2. Double standards — lots of them. We live with an infinite number of hierarchy-building double standards based solely on gender, which restrict women’s freedom and impair our ability to lead secure, rewarding, autonomous lives. 50 of these are explored in Jessica Valenti’s book, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut. They range from expecting girls to exhibit more self-control and politeness to grossly different treatment of men and women when they age and when they use their bodies to express themselves, to distorted ideas about boys and girls “natural” capabilities.

3.  Chivalry, otherwise know as benevolent sexism, is part of our “manners.” A man who opens a door for you and doesn’t mind if you do the same for him is one thing. But, one who categorically refuses your offer speaks to a much bigger problem. Benevolent sexism, the kind that is passed off as “protective” and “gentlemanly,” is a core characteristic of how masculinity (and by binary contrast, femininity) are constructed in conservative cultures. Studies have shown that themore entitled people are, the more likely they are to hold sexist beliefs — which says an awful lot about #WomenAgainstFeminism. It’s defined as “the negative consequences of attitudes that idealize women as pure, moral, pedestal-worthy objects of men’s adoration, protection, and provision.” A lot of this starts in childhood and comes under the mantle of teaching girls and boys to be “ladies” and “gentleman” instead of just civil and kind human beings who care for one another equally. In other words, what many people think of as chivalry, gentlemanly and “real man” behavior. The negative effects on women are well documented, particularly in the workplace.

There is a well-documented correlation between benevolent sexism and women’s acceptance of biased gender roles. Take the ways in which denial of the wage gap is expressed. For example, Phyllis Schlafly recently announced that closing the pay gap (she admitted it was real) would result in women being unable to find husbands. Ideas like this are deeply related to systemic support for an ideal worker who is male and a single breadwinner. That idea is a recurring theme of conservative policies about work and gender.

Our not seeing sexism where it is evident enables people with power to speculate out loud that “money is more important for men” and not lose their jobs for incompetence. I want you to imagine a political today saying money is more important for Jewish people. Or Black people. Or tall people. The pay gap amounts to $431,000 over a lifetime. Men make less than women in only seven of 534 job types, so, of course, Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander recently demanded to know what gender gap legislation would do to help them. Benevolent sexists are definitively hostile to women’s workplace success. If we don’t challenge this very quiet form of sexism then we make sure it pays, but only a very small portion of the population. How much is chivalry worth to you? Because you can, after all, open doors on your own. Giving yourself a raise however, is impossible.

4. The high costs of “staying safe.” Every day women absorb, and are expected to pay, the costs of the safety gap. This gap costs us time and money and limits our movement. It can limit our employment opportunities, because some jobs can become very dangerous in an instant if you are a woman. Just ask reporterstruck driversmigrant workersactivists.

Ask yourselves, men, do you feel safe on your neighborhood streets? Do you choose where and when you shop or commute carefully? Do you have parking strategies, like not parking near vans? Do you use your keys as a weapon or take other similar measures? Do you avoid paying for a gym because you can exercise outside with no problems? We teach our children that these things are “normal” and to be expected. Talk about the costs to you with the people around you.

5.  Sexism in media is entertaining. “Family-friendly” media marginalizes and objectifies girls and women, creates damaging ideals of masculinity for boys, and sustains mythologies that support a violent, male-dominated status quo. Not only do we live with this media, but most people, genuinely otherwise concerned with their children’s well-being and future livelihoods, don’t actively challenge entertainment companies or related media to do better. When you see a movie and there are 20 men for every one woman (usually just one or two) on screen, do you say something? Do you think about the fact that that’s 20 times the number of onscreen jobs for men than for women? Or what that imbalance means on and off screen?

6. Women pay more for “our” products just because we are women and considered not “standard.”  A Jezebel article put it like this a few years ago: “Being born a woman is a major financial mistake.” Marie Claire published a similar list. Until recently gender pricing for insurance, which resulted in women paying up to 31% more for apples-to-apples coverage, was perfectly legal. Think I’m kidding? Here’s a 10 pac of Bic Cristal ball point pens for $5.89. Here’s the $10.14, six-pack version “for her.” Stop buying this sh*t.

7. Our language is profoundly biased, related to our social structure and affects the way we think. We pervasively use male generics and that has negative effects. I do it all the time — I can’t seem to break the “guys” habit. We still use male words, usually to denote positive categories, like “mankind,” but female terms for negative ones, “hos,” and “sluts.” We don’t, for example, sit kids down and talk to them about the social harms of “b*tch,”even when used affectionately. Women are routinely referred to as “girls” (childlike and dependent) and men “men.” This is part of a larger problem with the infantilization of adult women. We’re more likely to be referred to as animals, and with a purpose. It goes on and on. But, words are important — if only because they show the dynamic interplay between ideas. This may sound trivial until you consider that Japan has gendered terms for all three pronouns, whereas the Nordic countries are trying to introduce gender-neutral ones. Why does this matter? Well, Japan is the least gender equitable place when it comes to men and women’s labor and the Nordic countries the most. I’m not suggesting causality, just significant cultural correlations that we are not immune to.

8. We engage in prejudice against men that inhibits equality. I’ve seen women take babies away from their fathers in parks in order to change their diapers because “men aren’t good” at that sort of thing. Or maybe you’ve listened to men call themselves their children’s “babysitters,” or sat through television ads that portray men as incompetent idiots, slobs, sexist dolts or children when it comes to taking care of domestic life. More dangerous, however, is the repetition of rape and abuse myths that endanger boys and men by perpetuating discriminatory ideas about who gets raped — drunk girls who ask for it or make the mistake of stumbling into dark alleys.

9. We pretend street harassment, the public regulation women and LGTB people either doesn’t happen or doesn’t matter. I’d warrant that very few people talk to their daughters or non-gender conforming sons about street harassment before it happens. The effects of this harassment and really can’t be underestimated.

10. We let our schools teach sexist lessons and perpetuate gender hierarchical systems of organization. First, our education system erases the contributions of women in history and fails to provide an accurate portrayal of the past or sufficient role models. Girls go into our schools with assuredness and ambition, but they don’t leave that way.

Second, schools are filled with social norms that, if left unexplored, undermine diversity and equality, for example, dress codes enforcement.

Third, many remain structurally based on complementary models for men and women, from boards, which tend to be run by more men (because, you know, that’s where the hard job of money is done) to everyday volunteering and PTA involvement(mainly, still, women). School administration and coaching continue to be male dominated in an industry, education, that is made up mostly of women. So, children are immersed in educational environments that continue to sideline women’s historical labor, that sexualize girls with outdated rules about appearance and morality, that provide gender hierarchal examples of social structures and, for good measure, where classroom dynamics have been shown to fail at fairness in ways that hurt both boys and girls.

By the time boys and girls leave high school and enter college, boys are twice as likely to say they are prepared to run for office. I know hardworking individual teachers trying their hardest to offset these effects, but as institutions and cultures, many of our schools remain profoundly patriarchal. What if you challenged your school to make paying attention to core gender issues a priority instead of dancing around symptoms like homophobic and mean girl bullying, math problems, boy crises and more?

***

This is a short list. Setting aside the real physical harms that people can and do encounter, living with everyday sexism is like fighting a low-grade infection for your whole life. When women take note of sexism during their daily lives — for example, talking openly about street harassment or workplace bias — and name it for what it is, they stop accepting it as “normal.” For female politicians dealing with biased commentary and political opponents all too comfortable in the boys’ club of the public sphere, openly confronting sexism works. When men start to notice, when they think about the differences, they can empathize. Its the first step to understanding, as Jamie Utt put it, that “as it currently exists, masculinity is fundamentally an expression of patriarchal oppression.” But, before this can happen, women have to tell their stories and register their legitimate objections and people have to listen and understand why its important. Prevailing cultural attitudes continue to minimize gendered harms.

However, women are clearly in a double bind because calling out sexism can result in real penalties. A recent study very depressingly showed what we all know: Women who advocate for equality, in the workplace, for example are actively penalized for doing so.

The sad fact is that while it is polite to express sexist ideas, confronting them is considered the height of rudeness and humorlessness and this social politeness prohibition is a significant impediment to positive, everyday change. When a man at a neighborhood party comments openly and rudely on my breasts or when another in a meeting interrupts me incessantly, it is me, not them, who is considered hostile, “strident,” and unpleasant for saying, “My face is up here,” or “Would you please stop interrupting me?”

The fact is, we are engaged in a tidal process of awareness-raising that requires everyone to look at the role that sexism plays in their lives. Are you acknowledging it when it happens, and what do you do about it if you do?”

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How Men on Tinder Reacted to Three Different Levels of Makeup

How Men on Tinder Reacted to Three Different Levels of Makeup

Verrrrrrry interesting…

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Mind the Gap: How One Employer Tackled Pay Equity

Mind the Gap: How One Employer Tackled Pay Equity

“…To recalibrate its paychecks, McGill spent years sorting employees into 150 job classifications, then ranking each job’s importance according to the education and skills required…”

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10 Words Every Girl Should Learn

10 Words Every Girl Should Learn

“This article updated from original, which appeared in Role Reboot.

“Stop interrupting me.” 

“I just said that.”

“No explanation needed.”

In fifth grade, I won the school courtesy prize. In other words, I won an award for being polite. My brother, on the other hand, was considered the class comedian. We were very typically socialized as a “young lady” and a “boy being a boy.” Globally, childhood politeness lessons are gender asymmetrical. We socialize girls to take turns, listen more carefully, not curse and resist interrupting in ways we do not expect boys to. Put another way, we generally teach girls subservient habits and boys to exercise dominance.

I routinely find myself in mixed-gender environments (life) where men interrupt me. Now that I’ve decided to try and keep track, just out of curiosity, it’s quite amazing how often it happens. It’s particularly pronounced when other men are around.

This irksome reality goes along with another — men who make no eye contact. For example, a waiter who only directs information and questions to men at a table, or the man last week who simply pretended I wasn’t part of a circle of five people (I was the only woman). We’d never met before and barely exchanged 10 words, so it couldn’t have been my not-so-shrinking-violet opinions.

These two ways of establishing dominance in conversation, frequently based on gender, go hand-in-hand with this last one: A woman, speaking clearly and out loud, can say something that no one appears to hear, only to have a man repeat it minutes, maybe seconds later, to accolades and group discussion.

After I wrote about the gender confidence gap recently, of the 10 items on a list, the one that resonated the most was the issue of whose speech is considered important. In sympathetic response to what I wrote, a person on Twitter sent me a cartoon in which one woman and five men sit around a conference table. The caption reads, “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” I don’t think there is a woman alive who has not had this happen.

The cartoon may seem funny, until you realize exactly how often it seriously happens. And — as in the cases of Elizabeth Warren or say, Brooksley Born — how broadly consequential the impact can be. When you add race and class to the equation the incidence of this marginalization is even higher.

This suppressing of women’s voices, in case you are trying to figure out what Miss Triggs was wearing or drinking or might have said to provoke this response, is what sexism sounds like.

These behaviors, the interrupting and the over-talking, also happen as the result of difference in status, but gender rules. For example, male doctors invariably interrupt patients when they speak, especially female patients, but patients rarely interrupt doctors in return. Unless the doctor is a woman. When that is the case, she interrupts far less and is herself interrupted more. This is also true of senior managers in the workplace. Male bosses are not frequently talked over or stopped by those working for them, especially if they are women; however, female bosses are routinely interrupted by their male subordinates.

This preference for what men have to say, supported by men and women both, is a variant on “mansplaining.” The word came out of an article by writer Rebecca Solnit, who explained that the tendency some men have to grant their own speech greater import than a perfectly competent woman’s is not a universal male trait, but the “intersection between overconfidence and cluelessness where some portion of that gender gets stuck.”

Solnit’s tipping point experience really did take the cake. She was talking to a man at a cocktail party when he asked her what she did. She replied that she wrote books and she described her most recent one, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild WestThe man interrupted her soon after she said the word Muybridge and asked, “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?” He then waxed on, based on his reading of a review of the book, not even the book itself, until finally, a friend said, “That’s her book.” He ignored that friend (also a woman) and she had to say it more than three times before “he went ashen” and walked away. If you are not a woman, ask any woman you know what this is like, because it is not fun and happens to all of us.

In the wake of Larry Summers’ “women can’t do math” controversy several years ago, scientist Ben Barres wrote publicly about his experiences, first as a woman and later in life, as a male. As a female student at MIT, Barbara Barres was told by a professor after solving a particularly difficult math problem, “Your boyfriend must have solved it for you.” Several years after, as Ben Barres, he gave a well-received scientific speech and he overhead a member of the audience say, “His work is much better than his sister’s.”

Most notably, he concluded that one of the major benefits of being male was that he could now “even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”

I’ve had teenage boys, irritatingly but hysterically, excuse what they think is “lack of understanding” to [my] “youthful indiscretion.” Last week as I sat in a cafe, a man in his 60′s stopped to ask me what I was writing. I told him I was writing a book about gender and media and he said, “I went to a conference where someone talked about that a few years ago. I read a paper about it a few years ago. Did you know that car manufacturers use slightly denigrating images of women to sell cars? I’d be happy to help you.” After I suggested, smiling cheerily, that the images were beyond denigrating and definitively injurious to women’s dignity, free speech and parity in culture, he drifted off.

It’s not hard to fathom why so many men tend to assume they are great and that what they have to say is more legitimate. It starts in childhood and never ends. Parents interrupt girls twice as often and hold them to stricter politeness norms. Teachers engage boys, who correctly see disruptive speech as a marker of dominant masculinity, more often and more dynamically than girls.

As adults, women’s speech is granted less authority and credibility. We aren’t thought of as able critics or as funny. Men speak moremore often, and longer than women in mixed groups (classroomsboardroomslegislative bodiesexpert media commentary and, for obvious reasons religious institutions.) Indeed, in male-dominated problem solving groups including boards, committees and legislatures, men speak 75% more than women, with negative effects on decisions reached. That’s why, as researchers summed up, “Having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice.”

Even in movies and television, male actors engage in more disruptive speech and garner twice as much speaking and screen time as their female peers. This is by no means limited by history or to old media but is replicated online. Listserve topics introduced by men have a much higher rate of response and on Twitter, people retweet men two times as often as women.

These linguistic patterns are consequential in many ways, not the least of which is the way that they result in unjust courtroom dynamics, where adversarial speech governs proceedings and gendered expression results in women’s testimonies being interrupted, discounted and portrayed as not credible according to masculinized speech norms. Courtrooms also show exactly how credibility and status, women’s being lower, are also doubly affected by race. If Black women testifying in courtadopt what is often categorized as “[white] women’s language,” they are considered less credible. However, if they are more assertive, white jurors find them “rude, hostile, out of control, and, hence [again], less credible.” Silence might be an approach taken by women to adapt to the double bind, but silence doesn’t help when you’re testifying.

The best part though is that we are socialized to think women talk more. Listener bias results in most people thinking that women are hogging the floor when men are actually dominating. Linguists have concluded that much of what is popularly understood about women and men being from different planets, verbally, confuses “women’s language” with “powerless language.”

There are, of course, exceptions that illustrate the role that gender (and not biological sex) plays. For example, I have a very funny child who regularly engages in simultaneous speech, disruptively interrupts and randomly changes topics. If you read a script of a one of our typical conversations, you would probably guess the child is a boy based on the fact that these speech habits are what we think of as “masculine.” The child is a girl, however. She’s more comfortable with overt displays of assertiveness and confidence than the average girl speaker. It’s hard to balance making sure she keeps her confidence with teaching her to be polite. However, excessive politeness norms for girls, expected to set an example for boys, have real impact on women who are, as we constantly hear, supposed to override their childhood socialization and learn to talk like men to succeed (learn to negotiate, demand higher pay, etc.).

The first time I ran this post, I kid you not, the first response I got was from a Twitter user, a man, who, without a shred of self-awareness, asked, “What would you say if a man said those things to you mid-conversation?”

Socialized male speech dominance is a significant issue, not just in school, but everywhere. If you doubt me, sit quietly and keep track of speech dynamics at your own dinner table, workplace, classroom. In the school bus, the sidelines of fields, in places of worship. It’s significant and consequential.

People often ask me what to teach girls or what they themselves can do to challenge sexism when they see it. “What can I do if I encounter sexism? It’s hard to say anything, especially at school.” In general, I’m loathe to take the approach that girls should be responsible for the world’s responses to them, but I say to them, practice these words, every day:

“Stop interrupting me,” 

“I just said that,” and 

“No explanation needed.”

It will do both boys and girls a world of good. And no small number of adults, as well.”

 

I experience this every single day which is why, when I participate in online comment boards, I use the user name “CJones” so that no one knows whether I’m male or female.

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LEAN OUT: THE DANGERS FOR WOMEN WHO NEGOTIATE

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June 12, 2014 · 4:56 pm

The Day I Became a Men’s Rights Activist

I never thought the day would arrive when I considered myself a Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) as well as a Feminist. I always knew that the two were inextricably related: both movements fundamentally fight for gender equality. But I never thought I would actively identify myself with a movement that is largely known for its male (white) supremacist supporters. Little did I know that I was treating MRAs how they often treat Radical Feminists (the portion of feminism generally believed to be run and circulated by female supremacists). 

Calling MRAs “sexist white supremacists” is just as bad as calling Feminists “man-hating lesbians” (both phrases that are thrown around often in gender rights debates). This point didn’t really hit home though until I found myself in the middle of a Feminist v. MRA debate on the comment board of “Study Reveals Discrimination Starts Before Grad School” by Lisa Winter. While the article itself covers academic discrimination based on gender and race, the comment thread quickly snowballed into a gender rights debate.

I wanted to participate in the discussion as the avid Feminist that I consider myself to be, but as I read through all the comments I discovered that both sides of the debate were vitrolic, disrespectful, and spreading outright lies and misinformation. One “feminist” was calling all the male commentators “sexist pigs,” while some MRAs referred to men as “innately superior” while “feminists” were “man-hating homosexual women.” I started by replying with short comments that addressed the misinformation, sprinkling verified facts here and there in response to both the Feminist and the MRA commentators. Before long, however, I was spending more and more time researching and looking in depth at the arguments each side was presenting.

My initial comments received a fair amount of anger and defensiveness from each side, one commentator even going so far as to imply that I was “clinically paranoid.” Wow, thanks. After that comment, I found myself knee-deep in articles ranging from the FBI being accused of sexist and racist remarks in the workplace, to articles on experimenter and researcher bias (it truly does exist, guys, look it up).

A different commentator and I were simultaneously debating about everything from how taxpayer money pays for public education, to if birth control should be covered by healthcare, to what exactly the goals and definitions of feminism was and if Obama is truly a “leftist messiah.” (Sure, you can argue that he is, but Obama’s not the only president to reap the benefits/criticism for Gene Healy’s “Cult of the Presidency.”)

Before I knew it, I spent 4 hours of my Saturday educating myself with an impromptu crash course (courtesy of Google) on Feminism and MRA. My response ended up being 22+ paragraph essay, citations and all. You can take the girl out of academia but you can’t take the academia out of the girl, eh?

I came across some fascinating articles, two of which framed my research:

“The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey and the Perils of Advocacy Research” By Bert H. Hoff, J.D.

“The Helpseeking Experiences of Men Who Sustain Intimate Partner Violence: An Overlooked Population and Implications for Practice” By Emily M. Douglas and Denise A. Hines

Very interesting pieces to look at if you’re coming from the Feminist perspective like I was. Another great article I found after the fact was “23 Ways Feminism Has Made the World a Better Place for Men” by Elizabeth Plank.

If you go to Lisa Winter’s article on the IFLScience website, you can view my in-depth comment by “Sort by Best”-ing the comment section. It’s about 15 or so comments from the top. 

The point of this post, however, is to offer up what I discovered in my research to the public. More often than not, the gender debates, and any social rights debate really, are hogged by a highly vocal minority more concerned with winning the argument and degrading the opposition than growing their knowledge base with accurate facts and evidence and trying to understand the other side’s point of view.

Consequently, I’ll end this post with one of my favorite parts of my comment: 

“All in all, policy and practice seemed to be more influenced by ideologies and political values than actual research and evidence. Patently false factoids have guided policy more often than not.

If feminists are not supposed to advocate for superiority over men, then MRAs are not supposed to advocate for superiority over women. Fundamentally, we’re all fighting for the same cause: to have equal weight & influence politically, socially, sexually, educationally, and in all aspects of society. Unfortunately, this mandate often gets horribly skewed in the process. Unfortunately, as well, these two sides of the debate often exclude those who fall in the middle: hermaphrodites, transsexuals, and those who suffer from gender dysphoria (some cultures – even “Western” cultures – accept these “middle” people into their culture and give them equal respect as well).

If I want equality, I do know that government preference is not the answer. We agree on that point. By definition, “preference” means a “greater liking for one alternative over another or others.” So therefore if I want equality then I am essentially anti-preference.

I have to say my eyes were opened to a lot while I was researching and formulating my response to your comment. I have consequently changed some of my views in accordance with the new information that I have discovered. And I want to thank you for that.

I want to thank you for challenging my views and thus prompting me to critically think about feminism and men’s rights activism. I just hope that this discussion can open the eyes of those who come across it. Yes, there are biases against men in our social and legal systems. But there are also biases against women in the same systems.”

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I Do Not Want My Daughter to Be ‘Nice’

July 31, 2013, 9:31 am
By CATHERINE NEWMAN

“My 10-year-old daughter, Birdy, is not nice, not exactly. She is deeply kind, profoundly compassionate and, probably, the most ethical person I know — but she will not smile at you unless either she is genuinely glad to see you or you’re telling her a joke that has something scatological for a punch line.

This makes her different from me. Sure, I spent the first half of the ’90s wearing a thrifted suede jacket that I had accessorized with a neon-green sticker across the back, expressing a somewhat negative attitude regarding the patriarchy (let’s just say it’s unprintable here). But even then, I smiled at everyone. Because I wanted everyone to like me. Everyone!

I am a radical, card-carrying feminist, and still I put out smiles indiscriminately, hoping to please not only friends and family but also my son’s orthodontist, the barista who rolls his eyes while I fumble apologetically through my wallet, and the ex-boyfriend who cheated on me. If I had all that energy back — all the hours and neurochemicals and facial musculature I have expended in my wanton pursuit of likedness — I could propel myself to Mars and back. Or, at the very least, write the book “Mars and Back: Gendered Constraints and Wasted Smiling.”

But it is not one thing or another, of course. My mostly pleasant way might get me more freelance work. And friendliness tends to put people at ease — loved ones, neighbors, waitresses — which is a good thing. Plus, smiling probably makes me feel happier, according to all those studies about self-fulfilling emotional prophesies. I know that our sweet-hearted son, who is 13, has always had the experience of niceness being its own reward. What can I do to help? he asks. Please, take mine, he insists, and smiles, and everyone says, “Oh, aren’t you nice!” and “What a lovely young man!” (Or sometimes, because he kind of looks like a girl, “What a lovely young lady!”) But, if I can speak frankly here, you really don’t worry about boys being too nice, do you? He still has the power and privilege of masculinity on his side, so, as far as I’m concerned, the nicer the better.

Birdy is polite in a “Can you please help me find my rain boots?” and “Thank you, I’d love another deviled egg” kind of way. But when strangers talk to her, she is like, “Whatever.” She looks away, scowling. She does not smile or encourage.

I bite my tongue so that I won’t hiss at her to be nice. I tell you this confessionally. Because do I think it is a good idea for girls to engage with zealously leering men, like the creepy guy in the hardware store who is telling her how pretty she is? I do not. “Say thank you to the nice man who wolf-whistled!” “Smile at the frat boy who’s date-raping you!” I want my daughter to be tough, to say no, to waste exactly zero of her God-given energy on the sexual, emotional and psychological demands of lame men — of lame anybodies. I don’t want her to accommodate and please. I don’t want her to wear her good nature like a gemstone, her body like an ornament.

And, currently, she is not in danger. She is decisive and no-nonsense, preferring short hair and soft pants with elastic waistbands. Dresses get in her way, and don’t even get her started on jeans, the snugly revealing allure of which completely mystifies her. She’s the kind of person who donates money to the Animal Welfare Institute and attends assiduously to all the materials they send her, including their dully depressing annual reports, which she keeps in a special folder. Gender stereotypes, among other injustices, infuriate her. “This is so stupid!” she sighs at Target, about the pink rows of dolls and the blue rows of Lego. “Why don’t they just put a penis or a vagina on every toy so you can be completely sure you’re getting the right one?”

She is tender, fierce and passionate — the kind of person who can stroke our pussycat with gentle fingers while she growls at you, her eyebrows a menacing shelf, about bedtime and her plans to avoid it. Even as a 2-year-old, she had the determined wrath and gait of a murderous zombie gnome — and my husband and I grimaced at each other, afraid, over her small and darkly glowering head. She will lift knife and fork, sighing, only if I scold her about eating with all 10 fingers like a caveman, and I have mixed feelings about that.

“She’s very moral,” a friend said recently, and it was not a compliment. She is the kid who can be a pain the neck at a play date, insisting on the rigors of turn-taking, of fair-sharing, of tidying up before the guests vamoose and leave her with an afternoon of mess to deal with. That said, though, she’s got your back. She is a patron saint of babies and animals, of the excluded or teased. “That’s not right,” she’s not afraid to say. “Stop it.”

She is a beautiful kid, but she is also sure and determined in a way that is not exactly pretty. Which is fine, because God help me if that girl ends up smiling through her entire life as if she is waitressing or pole-dancing or apologizing for some vague but enormous infraction, like the very fact of her own existence.

I picture her at the prom in stripy cotton pajamas, eating potato chips with both hands. I picture her slapping a patriarch-damning sticker on her jacket. I picture her running the country, saving the world, being exactly the kind of good bad girl that she knows herself to be. And I think: You go. I think: Fly! I think: Take me with you.


 

Catherine Newman, the author of Waiting for Birdy, writes atwww.benandbirdy.blogspot.com.”

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August 8, 2013 · 9:54 pm