Overheard at Safeway

Yesterday, I was walking past the Starbuck's that is inside my local ginormous multi-national-corporation-owned grocery store (Starbuck's is in there because, apparently, it has been scientifically proven that if you are ever more than three blocks from a Starbuck's you will die. Horribly.)

Anyway, as I was wending my way through this Matryoshka of corporate enfoldments, my ear was caught by the following conversation between a mother and her barely-verbal child (maybe 18 months old, if that):

Mommy: "No, that's the little girl bear. See her pink pajamas?"
Baby: "Bahy Bear."
Mommy: "No, that's the girl bear. See, she has a pink bow!"
Baby: "Bahy Bear!"
Mommy: "Honey, that's a girl bear. Look! Isn't she pretty?"
Baby: "Grr Bear."
Mommy: "That's right! Good!"

Poor kid. She was probably just trying to say "Bye Bear!" as she attempted to express her radical Indigo-Child rage at the appalling love-spawn of corporate-whoredom and conspicuous-consumerism that is "The Bearista".

Then, when mommy proceeded with a full-on gender indoctrination mind-control program, Progressive Baby[tm] finally responded with the appropriately savage: "Grrrrrr!!! Bear!" -- her tiny lip curling in disgust above perfect, pearly, milk-teeth.

Well, that's how it went down in my head, anyway.

I had just come from my office, where I had read Melissa's post about the critical importance of gender-appropriate microscopic color in scientific research conducted by children, so I was glad to see the incoming generation fighting the good fight by resisting these stereotypes.

Now, if only the caffeine in Mommy's triple-shot would wake her up.

It's well-documented that this type of programming begins from the very beginning of a child's life.

I raised two boys, and have had many discussions with other parents about whether there really is an inherent difference between male and female children-- but I believe that gender programming begins so early, and is stressed so strongly in our culture that I don't think we can ever know the real answer to that question.

I would even go so far as to say that gender expectations, roles, and programming begin long before the child arrives -- witness one of the most frequent questions a pregnant woman gets asked: "Do you know if it's a boy or a girl? What are you hoping for?" -- and the common response: "We're hoping for a boy/girl, but . . . ."

A friend of mine who desperately wanted to bear a child of her own said to me (after her third miscarriage) that this kind of talk really pissed her off -- she said: "I'm just hoping for a child. What difference does the gender make?"

Indeed -- what difference does the gender make?

In a culture that clings to the notion that men and women are innately different, which stubbornly insists that certain activities, color-schemes, careers, etc. are the "natural" province of one gender, and which actively steers children into "gender-appropriate" arenas or outright restricts their access to "gender-inappropriate" arenas, gender makes a lot of difference.

The very fact that we can say that we "hope for" a boy or a girl indicates to me that attachment to gender roles, and active programming to convince us that males "are" this way and females "are" that way, runs very, very deep -- and that most people are rarely even aware of it. I honestly don't think the Mommy at Starbucks had any consciousness at all of what she was doing -- I believe that she probably thought it was "natural".

However, the authentic resistance of Progressive Baby[tm] reminded me that gender roles in our society are not some innate, universal human reality that arise from "how men/women ARE" -- they have to be constantly enforced and reinforced -- and even an 18-month old can see the absolutely arbitrary nature of the color-code that is being shoved down her throat -- she can see quite easily that the bears are identical in every respect -- only their outfits genderize them.

You may say: "Well what's the danger in pink microscopes and sewing machines for little girls, and blue microscopes and footballs for little boys? Where's the harm?"

No harm, I guess -- to offer various toys to kids -- except that I believe that when these items are specifically separated as being "for girls" and "for boys" -- they are telling kids: "This is your role."

I find it interesting that the gender separation at the Discovery Channel toy-site goes like this: No genderization at all from Infant to Age 4, then, gender-based categories for ages 5-7 and 8-12, then just "Teens and Adults". (I suspect that this is because they figure by age 12, the programming is either complete, or will never take.)

Imagine for a moment if we saw a website that had separate shopping areas "White boys - Age 8 to 12" and "Hispanic boys - Age 8 to 12" which did not contain the same toys. Let's say the white section had things like ATM machines and electronic 20 questions games, while the hispanic section had things like the "landscaping design kit" and miniature lawn-mowers, with a few cross-over items like the "Cube World Set", which touted:
  • Set includes 2 cubes: Handy & Dusty or Mic & Hans
  • Each stick character has a job. Handy (purple) is a handyman, Dusty (green) is a cleaner, Mic (pink) is a singer, and Hans (blue) is a fitness freak
We would not hesitate for a moment to say: "Wait a minute. The hispanic kids' toys are grooming them for a servant role." The offensiveness of racist icons such as Aunt Jemima and the Lawn Jockey is precisely this -- their message: "This is your role."

You may have a butt-clenchy moment there, as I compare gender-entrainment to racism. However, I believe that the connection is apt.

Effective Master/Servant oppression requires entrainment of both the prospective master and the prospective servant. It also creates an amazing tension, as the Master class recognizes, at some deep level, that it needs the Servant class, and goes to great length to convince the Servant class that this "need" is reciprocal (which is why the notion of an independent woman is so threatening to those who remain invested in Patriarchy).

I'd posit that, because of this, there are subtle differences between Master/Servant oppression (eg. racism/misogyny/classism) and Eradication oppression (eg. homophobia/antisemitism). The primary message of Master/Servant structures is "Know your place", while the primary message of Eradication structures is "Don't be that."

In either these structures, if you don't obey the prime directive, the result is usually the same: 1) Intimidation/Suppression, and when that doesn't work, 2) Violence, and when that doesn't work, 3) Expulsion and/or Extermination (so, if you resist, you end up at Eradication anyway. Joy).

I digress -- those last two paragraphs are another post entirely.

Back to Starbucks in Safeway -- that "dweam wifin a dweam": As I considered Mommy's mounting insistence, and Baby's mounting resistance (and then seeming acquiescence) I wondered: "Why the fuck does it matter so much that this tiny child get the roles right?"

I think that it matters so much because, of all the oppression structures that exist, Patriarchal Misogyny is the one with a global near-equity in terms of population ratios of Master-to-Servant, and it is an oppression structure that resides in the heart of the most intimate and pivotal place of individual life -- the home. So if she isn't groomed for her role, or if she doesn't adopt that role, the Master would feel it -- keenly, at the center of his life -- and the Patriarchy would, indeed, crumble.


Keep on keeping on, Progressive Baby.

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