In Defence Of…Pink Boys

Posted: January 28, 2012 in androgyny, Identity, Masculinities, metrosexuality, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

In a recent (UK) Times article, Robert Crampton wheeled out some metro-phobia, transphobia and general sexism that needed commenting on.

Crampton’s cranky piece questioned the decision by a UK couple to raise their child in a ‘gender neutral’ way. He wrote:

‘I’m struggling to work out quite what Beck Laxton and her partner Kieran Cooper are trying to achieve by bringing their child Sasha up as gender neutral. This kid is now 5 and going to school, so his parents have come clean that he’s a boy. Up until now while they’ve told him and a few close relatives that he’s a he, they’ve kept it secret from everyone else, reffering to Sasha simply as ‘the infant’.

Miss Laxton was a little surprised when she discovered other members of her mother and baby group in Sawston, Cambridgeshire, referred to her as ‘that loony woman who doesn’t know whether her baby is a boy or a girl’.

‘I could never persuade anyone in the group to come round for coffee’ she reveals. ‘They just thought I was mental’. Funny that.

Miss Laxton says she is concerned about stereotyping and Sasha being able to fulfil his potential in his own way. Fair enough. But if ever there was a case of coming up with a potentially catastrophic cure for a problem that doesn’t really exist, this is it. Miss Laxton says she thinks it’s great Sasha likes flowers, for example. And it is. But then so do millions of men who weren’t brought up wearing tutus. Hasn’t miss Laxton noticed that nowadays the man who thinks flowers are cissy is the odd one out?

It’s one thing to take a relaxed attitude when your five year old son raids the dressing up box for a fairy dress and tiara. An Englishman’s home is his castle and so forth; we’re a tolerant nation in these matters. Such dressing up is a phase many parents will recognise, and none with any sense will order the boy back in his cowboy outfit.

But neither will any with any sense plaster the image all over their annual Christmas card and youtube. Or the national press, come to that. Talk about embarrassing parents; young Sasha is going to be absolutely slaughtered for that picture throughout his childhood.’

I find it kind of insulting how the journalist dresses up his prejudice in the language of ‘tolerance’, suggesting generously that it is ok to allow your sons to go through a ‘phase’ of liking fairy outfits but if they don’t grow out of it then you’re a bad parent.

This issue of boys being accepted and encouraged to be ‘gender non-conforming’ reminds me of the brilliant blog about a Pink Boy. Sarah Hoffman’s son loves all things pink, and whilst she is happy to indulge his tastes and forms of self-expression, she realised that many people are not. So she began to write about her experiences of parenting a ‘pink boy’.

Sarah is clear that her child is happy being a boy who happens to like ‘girly’ things. But she is open to anything that may happen in the future regarding his feelings about his gender identity. Maybe he is just going through a ‘phase’ but maybe he isn’t. Crampton’s judgemental article is actually transphobic in my view, because it does not allow for children who grow up to occupy a different gender identity from the one imposed on them as infants.

One of the problems with our culture, that Crampton’s snippy article illustrates, is the double standard that operates for boys and girls, men and women, when it comes to gender expression.

The Times journo writes:

‘Sasha sometimes goes to school in a ruche-sleeved, scallop-collared blouse from the girls’ uniform list. That isn’t the best way for him to fulfil his potential. Rather, it sounds like it’s more about advancing the parents’ not-very-thought-through political agenda than it is about the welfare of the child. He’ll probably be ok for a year or two, with luck. After that things might not go smoothly. What happens the first time he decides to wander into the girls’ loo?’

As a five year old girl I think I would have been horrified if I’d have been expected to wear ‘ruche-sleeved scallop-collared’ blouses! But girls are much more able than boys to be ‘gender non-conforming’ and I turned up at school in cords and sweatshirts without anyone commenting at all (until secondary school where I tried, and failed, to get girls to be allowed to wear trousers. But most schools allow it now).

In contrast, when a UK boy wore a skirt to school recently, in protest at not being allowed to wear shorts in the summer, he made national headlines!

The fact is, times are changing, and fast. The phenomenon of metrosexuality means that boys and men are more free to dress and behave in previously considered ‘feminine’ ways. Pioneering ‘gender non-conforming’ men such as Andrej Pejic and the XY Movement are making it more acceptable for all boys and men to do as they please.

There is bound to be a ‘retro’ backlash. And Robert Crampton’s article is part of that. But I am sure the Pink Boys will prevail.

  1. Nice call, QRG!
    This is telling – “I’m struggling to work out quite what Beck Laxton and her partner Kieran Cooper are trying to achieve by bringing their child Sasha up as gender neutral.”
    Well, go away and have a long hard critical think and come back when you’ve done your homework, dumbass. Stupid privileged idiots who think they can spout off about things they don’t even understand just because they have a platform! – but not as telling as this:
    “An Englishman’s home is his castle and so forth; we’re a tolerant nation in these matters.”
    That actually made me laugh out loud! His world must be be very limited indeed.

  2. iamoonagh says:

    If more parents brought their kids up like this it might put some pressure on schools to change their approach to gender. I’m working in a primary school at the moment – the kids are made to line up in boys’ and girls’ lines before they come into the classroom and have to put their book bags in separate boxes marked boys and girls. I mean, imagine if they were asked to line up in lines of black and white! It might also force them to rethink this whole ‘girls like emotions, boys like football’ thing they’ve got going at the moment, maybe I went to an unusual school but I feel like this kind of gender segregation is something that’s getting worse.

    • you may be right oonagh, I know that the whole ‘pink’ for girls marketing has taken off in recent years. It could be part of the ‘backlash’ against blurring gender identities and a more targeted approach to advertising selling stuff. ‘commodification’ often involves the use of stereotypes

  3. Jared says:

    I may just be imagining things, but has anybody else noticed it tending to be male-sex children being brought up genderless?

    • Paul says:

      Thats because Tomboys don’t make headlines.

      To be fair, I don’t know whether the press approached the parents or the parents intended this interview to happen, but thats what makes me uncomfortable about the whole situation. I don’t care if boys like pink or the so-called “girly things.” Hell, for that matter, I don’t really care if these people refuse to divulge the gender of their child. The thing I *do* have problems with is shoving the kid into the media spotlight.

      And like I said, I dont know which side was ultimately responsible, whether it was the media going “holy crap, look at the freakshow!” or the parents going “LOOK SEE HOW PROGRESSIVE WE ARE?!?!” Reagrdless, it’s irresponsible to shove that kind of attention onto an unsuspecting child.

  4. @Jared – yes Paul is right I think. ‘tomboy’ girls are not newsworthy.

    But maybe you do have a point as well, that the boys who get the media attention for being raised in a gender neutral way, are noticeable as the media is commenting on what they perceive to be an ’emasculation’ of their ‘masculinity’.

    But there are not many of these stories so I think it is over exaggerated tbh.

    • Yes, I agree; the potential emasculation of boys is much more worrying for the likes of Mr Telegraph than the “suppression” of femininity in girls.
      I don’t know any parents who are choosing to hide the gender of their child from the world* but I can see why people would: it would take something that extreme to negate the effects of societal pressure to gender-conform. The writer of the article doesn’t acknowledge that extreme problems call for extreme solutions because he can’t see the damage that gender conformity wreaks on boys and girls (to some extent ALL boys and girls but certainly a huge number of apparently “ordinary” children who grow up bullied, coerced, shamed because of their choices/appearance etc.).
      *But I do know plenty who are consciously trying to provide the safest environment they can for their children to explore their own individual choices about who and what they are.

      • yes I know a few who are trying to raise their kids in a way that doesn’t conform to gender roles so much.

        I was raised by feminists in that way, too. But I am not sure what happened to the boys. One of them grew up to seem to over-compensate and was quite ‘macho’ as a teenager!

  5. Jonathan says:

    Anyone interested in this subject should read Sandra Bem’s “An Unconventional Family” which is (partly) about how she and her husband went about gender-neutral parenting. It was far more rigorous than this 🙂

    • what’s with the snippy comments entering into your repetoire Jonathan? You are sounding a bit like an old Times journo.

      I like Sandra Bem but you’re not selling it or yourself very well there.

  6. Jonathan says:

    It wasn’t meant to be snippy. It was just meant to be information. Sorry 😳

    • Thanks I do intend to read the book. But I am also writing one and I promise it will be ‘rigorous’!

      • Jonathan says:

        Ah, I see: a misunderstanding. I meant that the Bems were far more rigorous in their gender-neutral parenting than Laxton and Cooper. Not that Sandra’s book was more rigorous than your blogpost 😉

        • ah I see! sorry I was being defensive.

          Yes I have read a bit around the Bem family arrangement and they had a very rigorous system.

          I wonder what happened to the kid?

          • Jonathan says:

            There are interviews with her two children (as 20-somethings) at the end of the book. They come across as two of the most intelligent, well-adjusted, well-rounded people you’re ever likely to meet — almost annoyingly so ;).

  7. yeah that sounds a bit annoying! I will read it though.

    • I tried to stay hands off as a father when it came to encouraging or discouraging something that seemed gendered. My daughter turned out about as girly as I could have imagined except for her distaste in skirts. (She doesn’t like having her knees exposed.) She does like superhero stuff, all of my kids do, but I think that could just be because everyone in the house likes superhero stuff. She’s otherwise rather obessed with her identity as a girl and pursues girl-stuff, and girl entertainment with girl characters, with rather fenzied energy. She’s also the only child interested in drawing lines in the sand around things as being ‘for girls,’ ‘for boys,’ and ‘for everyone’ and she’s the only one we’ve had to lecture about how everything is for anyone who might want to enjoy it.

      The boys have blurred the gendered media lines a little bit more, especially my younger son. He seems to prefer the big-eyed cartoonish animal toys in the girl aisle to the pointier, more dynamic ‘dudes-with-guns’ and cars that are in the boy aisle. He does like his Super Hero Squad toys better than the Bratz and Barbie options. Other than that and everyone liking Hello Kitty in my household the kids pretty much drifted into the standard Boy-Girl dynamic. Still, since I didn’t shut them in my house for five years and keep their sex as super-top secret, I’ll never know what’s natural and what’s societal.

      I don’t know what I think of treating a child’s sex so hush-hush. I do think we should stop constantly barraging kids with their supposed gender, and hiding his sex was part of the effort to shield him from that. However, this boy is male and it would be bad if trying to protect him from the societal gender did anything to hurt his physical, mental, or spiritual sex. Also, if he gets applauded every time he comes out in a tutu but is never even presented with a simple leotard (or maybe a nice greaser costume a la Grease or West Side Story) that’s not the same thing as raising him gender neutral.

      tl;dr When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way!

  8. […] Riot Girl rightly takes down Robert Crampton’s transphobic take in The Times (paywall) on Sasha’s upbringing, and […]

  9. […] objectification of women. But I know that in the 21st century, men are also objects of desire, and young men in particular are splashed across billboards and TV screens wearing next to nothing. But this […]

  10. […] 21st century, whilst girls can wear anything from doc martens to tutus, boys are treated as gender non-conforming and therefore suspect, if they go ‘too far’ from a so-called ‘masculine’ […]

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