The War at Home

26 06 2008

There is a battle of the sexes regularly erupting in the Blisterdome. Or maybe it’s a battle over the sexes. What ever it is, it’s Neener versus Roo, and it typically manifests in a conversation that goes a little something like this:

Roo: I like princesses and pink is my favourite colour and I have long hair and I wear dresses and I am a girl.

Neener: I like dinosaurs and soccer. My favourite colour is red. I wear my red dino soccer shorts when I play dino soccer. I’m a girl too.

Roo: No! You’re a boy! I’m a girl and you’re a boy!

Neener: No, I’m a girl!

Roo: No! Boy!

Neener: Girl!

Roo: Boy! Boy! Boooooooooooy!

Neener: No! I’m a girrrrrrrrrl!

Roo: BOY! BOY! BOY! YOU ARE A BOY! BOOOOOOOOOOY!

Neener: WAAAAAHHHHH! SHE CALLED ME A BOY AND I AM NOT I AM A GIRL!

Roo: THE GIRL IN THE DRESS IS GONNA HIT THE BOY WITH THE RED DINO SOCCER SHORTS!

Neener: WAAAAAHHHH! SHE HIT ME.

Clearly, there are a few issues here. An obvious one being that Neener does not even own a pair of red dino soccer shorts. Nor has she ever played enough dino soccer to know that she loves it. Then there is the fact that Roo sees red dino soccer shorts where there are none. On her sister, the boy.

No doubt some of this ‘I’m a girl, you’re a boy’ stuff is part of their twinship. Neener and Roo have always used opposites to define and differentiate themselves. Roo says black, Neener says white. Neener says up, Roo says down. Neener says I love you, Roo responds with I hate you. So by that logic, if one is a girl, then the other must be a boy. And for a while they went along with each other on that. Until Neener realized that she was actually not a boy. Even though it was a fact I had reiterated many many times, it was only when the boys at school told her so that it really sunk in. Initially, she was relieved. She no longer had to pretend she liked Spiderman or Transformers, or try to pee standing up on the boys’ ‘ Pee Tree’ at the park. But then confusion set in. Did this mean that she couldn’t like dinosaurs anymore? Would she have to wear dresses and bows in her never-to-be-cut-again hair? Was pink to be the new red, and would dreams of a ballerina princess wedding replace her soccer playing paleontologist aspirations? At the same time that Neener discovered she was not a boy, Roo had latched on to the strict definition of girl provided by her classmates: girls like pink, sparkles, and frills, and only play with dolls and other girls. All of these ideas have been weaponized in the war at home.

I, ever the family peacenik, tried to set the record straight:

“You are both girls. And it’s ok for girls to like dinosaurs and sports and have short hair and wear pants, and do or be anything that boys can. And boys can play with dolls, or have long hair or even wear dresses. Everybody is different, and what they like has nothing to do with being a boy or girl.”

There. ‘Nuf said. Except, not quite. I had to keep shooting off my stupid peacenik Free To Be You and Me mouth.

“In fact, the only thing that makes a girl a girl is having a vagina, and the only thing that makes a boy a boy is a penis.”

Which is technically true. What I did not consider was that this explanation would lead them to go around asking people about their penis/vagina status. Or that I’d given Roo new ammo to hurl at Neener: YOU ARE A BOY! YOU HAVE A PENIS! Yeah, I’ve clearly carved a switch for my own arse with this one.

I’m not the only parent who has struggled with this (Check out this from one of my other writer crushes, Girl’s Gone Child.) Yeah…how the hell do you explain to a kid how to tell who’s a boy and who’s a girl? I don’t want to give Neener and Roo the usual sexist sounding stereotypes either. They get enough of that from the rest of the world, and they’ve also experienced enough diversity in their lives to see that those stereotypes can be false. My kids know guys with long hair, guys who like pink sparkling things, guys who wear dresses and eyeliner, and guys who are married to other guys. And they know women with short hair, women who play sports, women who would not be caught dead in a dress, women who ride motorcycles, and women with wives. But their less worldly peers have given them these narrow definitions of male and female, which makes them even more confused. Then I go and tell them the whole penis/vagina thing, but also tell them not to ask people about the whole penis/vagina thing. When all they really want to know is how to tell the boys from the girls so they can use the right pronouns! No wonder they are screwed up, and fighting about it.

Again, stupid idealistic hippy peacenik liar me tries to tell them that it doesn’t matter. That people are people, and that whether someone is a boy or a girl is not important. That penises and vaginae have nothing to do with what you can do with your life, and what you can be in this world. But I think they already know that’s not true. Which is probably why they are so concerned with identifying themselves and everyone else as either boy or girl, and with defining boys and girls as polar opposites. So, for lack of a better explanation, I figured I’d better just stick to the penis/vagina monologue . They understand it, and I’ll just have to practice my sheepish grin for the times when they ask other people about the contents of their underpants in order to figure out if they’re a he or a she. Hey, it’s not perfect, but Neener and Roo get this pretty much foolproof definition of male and female. Or so I think. Until one day Roo chirps, “What kind of penis do I have? A boy penis or a girl penis?”

To which I respond the best way I know how: ” Go ask Daddy.”

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4 responses

28 06 2008
trish

oMG, you rock girl, this may answer all the questions I have about heteronormative structures in parenting, or to rephrase, good convo withthe anklebiters…..

29 06 2008
domesticblister

i am always available for neurodiverse heteronormative consultations, or to rephrase, if nothing else, at least i can explain how and why i’m messing my kids’ minds up!

30 06 2008
lisa

Hi there.

Thank you so much for your continued comments on my blog (BTW, the comment box is correct — names are situated underneath comments — but I know it looks a bit wonky). Please do keep in touch with me! We will figure something out. I think you’re a great writer and your blog reminds of a Canadian, slightly-more-maternal, but still happily cynical, Dooce!

Happy Canada Day.
Lisa

30 06 2008
domesticblister

Thanks Lisa!!! That’s a huge compliment. And thanks for clearing up my confusion on the wonkiness of the comment box on your blog. I’ll certainly be in touch.

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