gender norms


Three years out of the paid workforce and I started to want back in. Is it a mistake?

Everyday, I am so busy as it is. I am exhausted. My head is spinning with all the things I’m trying to get done, trying to think through. I have a long list, my finger in many pies. It is difficult to explain to people what it is I do, but please believe me when I say: I do a lot.

And if I get a paid job, even a very small teeny-tiny part time job, what will change? What can I stop doing? Yes, someone will else will have the pleasure of minding Wren while I am at work. But I will still have to make his lunch, get him dressed, get him there. Will Turtledad do more cleaning? more laundry? more anything?  Nobody but me will put the time and mental energy in to do all the research in to Wren’s health care needs. And I just don’t trust the professionals.

My volunteer and activist work will probably suffer. My social life will suffer. The dog will get even less attention, no doubt – poor old thing. And this already very-intermittent blog will suffer.

I do hope that my garden won’t suffer. I hope that my mental health won’t suffer. I hope that Wren won’t suffer.

I think there’s little doubt that life will be even more busy. I can only hope I’ll learn to cope.

So why do it?

To develop another side of myself, to help me feel like a more-rounded multi-dimensional person, because somehow the many, many things I do now are not enough.

So that I can say ‘I have a job’. I don’t believe anyone should need to say that, because there are so many other things of value in the world – but right now, I do.

To keep myself employable, with the possibility of financial independence, because who knows what will happen in the future.

Because it’s been three years out of paid work, and each day I feel my confidence is dwindling and that world is becoming scarier. If I don’t do it now, it will just get harder.

Because full-time parenting is too much for me now. I need time away from Wren. Oh yes, there’s the mama guilt as I write that, but that’s how it is. And I feel like I need a paid job to justify having someone else care for him for more than one morning a week – even though I could easily fill that time in other ways.

Because I live in a town where it is surprisingly easy to get work right now, even possibly interesting and meaningful work.  That may not always be the case, so I feel I should take advantage of the situation while it is here.

And I have a beautiful wonderful friend who will care for Wren for at least some of the time while I work, so I feel like I should take advantage of her while she is her. Um, no, I didn’t mean it like that. I just know that Wren will be happy with her. Ah, easing mama guilt.

So there you go. Are you convinced?

I have applied for a job. I had to do it, but I am terrified of what will happen next.

When my mother-in-law, Wren’s Granma, came to visit recently, she brought Wren a toy truck and some little plastic people that fit in the truck. He was excited and played with it enthusiastically for a few days, as he does with most new toys. On one of these days, Turtledad came home in a big new work car, which he was using for a few days. Wren was excited and wanted to sit in it and press all the buttons.

Granma announced: Wren’s really into car’s and trucks! I could see her head ticking as she said this, thinking of her next car/truck-themed gift for Wren.

And thus gender stereotypes can become self-fulfilling, as each gender-normative gift generates gender-normative behaviour and, oh, it all just seems so natural, so innate.

But is Wren really into cars and trucks? Yeah, he’s into them.

But he’s into almost everything. He loves horses, tools, gardening, music, dancing, dolls, books, cooking, cleaning, balls, animals, shoes, jewellery, water, running, climbing, babies, the moon and stars, anything with buttons, anything that rolls or moves or crawls, anything that anybody else is doing. He’s a sponge soaking up knowledge about everything he can. He will investigate anything novel. He will keep doing anything that gets him attention.

So yeah, he’s into cars, but not like some toddlers I know, who are so excited by them they will run onto the road just to get closer. I’m not doubting that some kids do have definite interests from early on, but the subtle ways that these are produced or encouraged are usually overlooked.

If you really want to play the gender-stereotypes game – and most people do – you could try and fit most of Wren’s interests into ‘boy’s things’ and conveniently dismiss anything too ‘girly’ as a passing interest. But I reckon it’s a load of crap. If there is anything innate about gender, I’m pretty damn sure it’s not an interest in cars. He’s forgotten about Granma’s gifts by now.

Perhaps I should add that I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with giving boys (AND girls) toy cars, diversity is great. My main concern is actually environmental because, (a) they were cheap plastic, that will surely end up broken and in landfill before too long, and (b) if I have any power at all to steer Wren’s interests, it will be towards environmentally friendly things, like plants and animals, and away from polluting cars.

Back to gender-stereotypes, I have been wondering why they are so much stricter for kids than for adults, like any progress takes longer to filter through to childrearing. For example, these days, it is not uncommon to see men around pushing prams or carrying babies, yet dolls and doll-prams are still considered girls’ toys. Likewise, there is more diversity in women’s clothing than there is in girls’ clothing. Many women have short hair, but it is still rare for little girls. I figure it is still important for the kyriachy to get that strict gender divide clear for kids early on, and then it’s okay to stray a little. Fathers can push prams, as long as they’re just doing it to help out the mother – it’s not their real job. Women can have short hair and wear trousers, as long as they keep up their feminine appearance in other ways. But as for kids, let’s not confuse them: its gotta be black and weight, pink and blue, cars and dolls.

Turtledad brought home a pile of new books for Wren the other day – very exciting for us, as we rarely buy anything new.  One of these books was ‘Where’s Stripey?’ by Wendy Binks. I had high hopes. Not only was it a winner in the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards, but it is a story about emus.

A little background for those who don’t know much about emus: Emu chicks are raised by their fathers. The mother lays the eggs, the father sits on them and raises the chicks. Great! What a fantastic opportunity to portray a father as primary carer. (Okay, so I’m told that emu fathers actually ‘collect’ chicks by taking them from other families, which might be a little inappropriate if transferred to the human world, but that’s a detail which can easily be left out of a kids’ book). What I was hoping for was a positive, involved, nurturing father figure.

But no. Crikey, the emu dad, is “forgetful” and can’t count to 30 (that’s how many emu chicks there are). He loses one (Stripey) and his first thought is how “cross” Sheila (the emu mum) will be. So, not exactly a positive portrayal of the mother emu either. She is not looking after her chicks, but is a harsh judge of his parenting.

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh. Crikey is caring and involved, just not terribly competent. And 30 is a lot of chicks for anyone of any gender or species. The story ends with Crikey and Sheila deciding to look after the chicks together. I’m all for shared parenting.

A little mind game I play with myself to check to gender portrayals, is to mentally swap the mother and father figures in the story. And I just can’t imagine a book being published with them the other way around. It just wouldn’t happen.

Add to that, it’s not really a terribly good story anyway. It’s repetitive and formulaic, nothing too creative, no quirky twists. The only ‘jokes’ are the place names (such as ‘Windy Bottom Gorge’ and ‘Snottygobble Spa’) and one about the questionable paternity of the emu chick, who doesn’t look like his dad, but neither do the tadpoles. Yeah ha ha ha.

I really like the picture of all the Australian animals.

On the whole, however, it gets the thumbs down from me. It’s really a wasted opportunity to provide kids with an image of a positive father figure in the animal world.

At Wren’s recent 2 year health and development check-up, we were asked many questions. One was: can he catch a large ball? Yes, he can.
Discussing the check up with a friend, the mother of a 2 year old girl, she said that she couldn’t answer the question because she had never tried throwing a ball for her daughter to catch. My goodness, I thought. People have been throwing balls for Wren to catch since moments after he emerged into the world*. He owns about 82 balls*, of all varieties, and rarely a visit to the park goes by without someone taking it upon themselves to coach him in popular ball-related sports*. Anything to do with gender? What effect does this have on long term sporting ability and/or interest?
It’s certainly not a lack of interest on the above-mentioned girl’s part. She fights Wren for a ball at almost every meeting.
Just some observations.

* moderate levels of exaggeration