Monday, January 16, 2012

Interstitial Parenting, Part One

Interstitial space: The gap between the principle and the reality. I've got a bunch of them, mostly in the realms of heterosexuality, femininity, oppression, and privilege: I recognize the inherent impossibility of relating to a man as an equal, but I'm partnered with one. I understand the role of conventional femininity in perpetuating the second-class status of both all women and unattractive women, but look at me and you see a fairly attractive, mostly feminine woman. I don't want to participate in causing oppression or experience unearned privilege, but all I really do when you get right down to it is try to treat all people well and continue to expect to be treated well by everyone.

When it comes to raising a daughter, I've always had excellent principles. No candy! Lots of vegetables! No television! No movies! No exposure to hypersexualized media images of femininity! No negative body talk! No music with inappropriate lyrics! One hundred percent edifying conversations! Books with positive images of strong, independent women! Excellent adult friend role models!

Well, you can imagine how well all that works. The candy embargo lasted until she was about a year old, when she discovered what candy is. Vegetables were a bit more successful, at least until school lunches became unavoidably more convenient. We've never had TV at home, but you'd be surprised at how many places there are for a kid to encounter the latest shows. Likewise with movies, media images, negative body talk, and don't even get me started on the sorry state of popular music these days.

We do okay with edifying conversations, unless you count the references to farts, gonads, and nail polish. We've got books by the dozens, depending on whether adolescent babysitters count as strong and independent. And then there's the adult role models part.

Twelve has a wide assortment of adults in her life. Well-educated adults. Nerdy adults. Adults she's known as long as she can remember and who have witnessed her ascent into awesomeness over the last few years. Ideally these adults would be anti-oppression advocates for social justice, totally committed to helping create a utopian alternate reality in which to raise Twelve.

Yeah, hasn't quite worked out that way. Not all of Twelve's adult friends are pillars of the social justice community. They're great people, by all but the strictest feminist standards, but they're not quite perfect. A few examples: Several of the women take pole dancing lessons occasionally, without so much as a canned third wave rhetorical justification. At least one of the 40-something men routinely chases after 20-something women with no awareness of the dynamics of gender, age, and power. One couple is composed of a cop husband and a DV advocate wife, while another is a male building contractor and a female therapist/homemaker - how much more stereotypical could we possibly get, right?

You know what, though? It's okay to live in the space between the principle and the reality. The wanna be pole dancers may not be able to articulate it, but they're living a third-wave reality to the extent that anyone can. The tail-chasing guy may be a stereotypical guy in some ways, but he routinely cooks for all of us and mixes a mean mojito. The cop dislikes emotionally taxing dramatic television and verbally processes everything. The women's advocate has short hair and is very nearly a blue belt in jiu jitsu. The builder does tend to look for biological explanations for gender differences, but he's not a total jerk about it. The therapist is, well, a bit crazy, and this is why we're such close friends. In another couple, he may be an engineer, but so is she - and she's the one who owns their home.

All in all, the adults in Twelve's life come closer than they realize to embodying the alternate reality that I'm going for; a reality in which people are people, with less regard for gender conformity than they probably realize. As a whole, feminism tends to define conventional gender roles as outdated and oppressive, which isn't wrong, but does oversimplify just a bit. As long as there's a reasonable sprinkling of guys doing girly things and girls doing guy things, I figure Twelve will be okay.

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