Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Daughter Reminds Me That Women Are People, Too

My daughter, Miela, being not quite three years old, does not always get her words right. One place this shows up a lot is in her use of pronouns, in particular with regards to gender.

Most of the time, Miela chooses to use "she" instead of "he," even in places where that's clearly incorrect, like in reference to her brother (who will quickly let her know she is wrong).

That doesn't seem that unusual, given her age, and since she is a girl, she probably has heard she more than he.

But where it gets interesting for me, is when I notice my own unconscious tendencies to correct her.

Certain people or animals or characters are clearly supposed to be he and him, not she and her. Her brother, her dad, my mother's dog, the prince in Cinderella, Kai-lan's wise Grandpa YeYe. I think it's pretty safe to assume all of these are appropriately referred to as "he." So Miela may refer to one of them as her, but I will refer to them as him.

But a plastic elephant? A fuzzy orange monster? An unfamiliar dog across the street? Why the hell do I find myself wanting to refer to these as him? Even after she's just said she about the elephant, sometimes it still feels hard to go along with her choice and stick with she.

This little thing says so much about my ingrained view of the world, and I know I'm not alone in it.

For something to be female, it has to be "special" somehow. It has to be pink, or have a bow or eyelashes. Look at the generic symbols on public restrooms. The men's room shows a person. The women's room shows a person wearing a skirt.

(And let me just put an aside in here that I'm not even going to attempt to make a specific comment about the whole two gender view of the world. I know this doesn't work for a lot of people, and I support that view, and it's related to what I'm talking about, but I don't have clear enough thoughts on that to really say anything, nor do I really feel qualified.)

As has often been noted, it's built into language. It's hard to escape.

I have a very clear memory of being in 4th grade Spanish class and learning the word for boys is "niños" and girls is "niñas" but children, or rather boys and girls together, is "niños." The girls in the class argued about this with the teacher at length. She was sympathetic, but emphasized it was just the way it was. The boys mostly smirked and chuckled.

I remember thinking that there was an entire language where if boys are around, suddenly I don't count.

I'm not trying to pick on Spanish, there are lots of examples in lots of languages. My point is just that we're pretty surrounded by this worldview: males are the norm, females are different.

So here's a genuinely radical idea: stop assuming everything and everyone is male. Male is not normal. Neither is female. We're all basically just people. Or animals. Or cartoon characters or whatever. And actually, none of us are "normal."

And I am completely serious in calling this radical. I believe all big change starts small. And shifting cultural views is freaking ginormous. Be a part of it.


Anonymous said...

I wrote awesome and my iPhone ate it. :/

I am teaching Hunter about people and life. It's weird to teach the gender binary. I'm genderqueer but prefer "she". He'll grow up around lots of trans folks of various types. I'll just have to teach him to ask which pronoun they like.

It's weird because I find myself twitchy just teaching him Boy and Girl. But there are no convenient trans pronouns anymore. They died out with the prude bitch of the Victorian era. Which was terrible for sexual mercuriality.

I call most cats girls and dogs boys. Silly. But I feel ya.

Dreadful Red said...

As someone married to someone who identifies as gender-both, I interchange the pronouns frequently. Sometimes I'll default to "spouse" for fun.

It's not the pronouns or whatever that get me, it's the gender roles that bug me. Girls have to wear pink or have pink things. I grew up loathing pink for that reason. I just hated being told how I was supposed to act or what to like because I'm a girl.