The Masculinity Patrol

Over at The Huffington Post, Soraya Chemaly absolutely nails one of the great injustices of childhood (and adulthood, although it's less visible by then): the masculinity patrol. She makes a fabulous proposal: National Let Your Boy Be a Girl Day:

Because every other day of the year they have to make sure they are NOT girls. Because if a boy acts like a girl the national press gets involved ...

I love this piece of writing; if I could, I'd quote it here whole. Chemaly points out that, because of the feminist movement, girls now have a range of acceptable gendered behavior: They can wear pants, choose pink or blue, play sports and take ballet, go crazy with both Barbies and trucks, "grow their hair as long or as short as they want and decorate it." A girl can wear long basketball shorts and oversized jerseys and decide to be an engineer. But a boy can't wear a skirt and decide to be a nurse without being bullied. Girls are allowed a full spectrum of behaviors and interests (with, perhaps, a hiatus during adolescence, when the mean girls ridicule all). Masculinity, however, is still patrolled and enforced as if the slightest hint of femininity would end the universe.

A number of moms have been writing about learning to accept their boys who like girls' things. Consider the outrage over the woman who wrote about her son's Halloween costume, a post titled "My son is gay." Or the woman who felt pushed to write a book about her "princess boy." Or the mom of the "pink boy." And those are just boys who feel strongly about wanting to wear sparkles. What about the ordinary boys who want to explore the universe more fully? One glance at an aunt's blue toenail polish, and the masculinity patrol descends: A man acts this way, not that way.

Here's the funny part: These boys get called "gay," used as a slur. But I don't think the ridicule really is about sexual orientation; it's about gender presentation. "That's so gay" is a slur on femininity, not on sexuality. It's manliness that's being patrolled, not sexual behavior.

Boys have to button it all up. They can't cry. They can't express compassion. They can't be soft. Man up. Toughen up. Listen, I'm not the kind of person or parent who encourages lots of emoting. You might not be able to tell from my author photo here, but I'm not exactly a pink girl myself. But we lose a lot of humanity by forcing boys into the masculinity vise, cutting off anything that doesn't fit that narrow range. Yes, it especially hurts transgendered children and boys who will grow up to be gay, but that's not all.

Putting boys in the masculinity box leads to bullying, cruelty, mockery, and an increased inability to accept others. If masculinity is natural -- and I believe it is, even if it's not always a 1:1 correlate with being male -- it can survive a day of wearing toenail polish.

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