Friday, May 13, 2011

Freedom off the Top

For most of our lives, the two of us have been glad to be female. Yes, we may not have had access to some advantages that top-of-the-gender-hierarchy males have. But wow, we have had so many more options as to what we can be, what we know, and how we act because we are in the lower group.

The recent furor about the J. Crew president's young son painting his toenails pink follows predictable rules in hierarchyland. Whatever applies to lower groups are specific only to that group and is demeaning for the upper group (i.e., no pink for boys, only for girls), but we know that what applies to higher groups is considered to be universal (i.e., blue is fine for boys or girls).

No one seems to argue that for little girls and their parents, there are healthy choices across gender lines - ultra-feminine toys and activities, along with an ever-growing range of "tomboy" sports options and other pursuits that in the past were mostly the domain of boys. But conservatives warn that boys could be hurt for life if exposed to what is considered appropriate for girls.

Quotes from NPR article (link below) underscore these rules. "For girls nowadays, it's OK to play with boys' toys, dress like boys, talk like them — it's often encouraged," said Isabelle Cherney, a Creighton University psychologist. "Boys have to walk a much finer line, and their fathers tend to be more stereotyped, telling them not to deviate from what's typically seen as masculine."

"The norms of femininity have expanded much more than the norms for masculinity — a lot more androgyny is allowed for girls," said Judith Stacey, a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University. "With boys, it's not seen as OK to wear skirts, play with princesses' wands," she said. "There's still a lot of anxiety about being sufficiently masculine."

NPR's "Gender Stereotypes Easing More for Girls Than Boys" (May
11, 2011)