picklesink

A mom, a dad, and two nutty kids.

Hair today, gone tomorrow.

on July 19, 2012

Let’s be honest – I don’t set a particularly conventional example for my kids when it comes to hair.

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©PicklesINK 2012

Which is how we’ve wound up with pictures like this:

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©PicklesINK 2012

And this:

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©PicklesINK 2012

So a little over a year ago when Ben said, “I wish I was a girl so I could have ponytails,” what else could I have said but, “Boy, have I got news for you!”

Around the same time as Ben and I were having this conversation, there was some media coverage of a family who were reported to be raising a genderless baby. The story ignited a “Storm” of controversy with a frankly shocking number of people suggesting that refusing to reveal the child’s biological sex to the world amounted to child abuse and that the children should be apprehended and the parents arrested(!). From the original article and the follow-up by the mother, we learn that the family consists of mom, dad, an older son who keeps his hair long and often wears dresses, a middle son about whom we don’t know very much, and gender-free baby Storm. A year ago I remember thinking, “Oh, look at those non-conformist, ultra-liberal parents encouraging their son to ignore the teasing of his peers and continue to push the gender envelope – what are they going to say when he finally has had too much and wants to cut his hair?”

Well, here I am now on the other side of that fence, and it’s not as easy as I thought! I’m finding myself amazed at what trumps what in this gender game, and Long Hair = Girl seems to top them all – which means that, dressed entirely in sports-type, blue attire (including hat and glasses), wearing dirty Thomas sneakers, and standing beside his pink-dress-bedecked sister with her hair in braids, Ben is now being taken for a girl more often than for a boy.

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Tea party in the pillow fort
©PicklesINK 2012

Fortunately, Ben navigates this world like an anthropologist studying a previously unknown civilization. When the lady at the farmer’s market says, “What a smart little girl you are!” Ben replies neutrally, “I’m not a girl; I’m a boy. Why did she say I was a girl, mommy?” (Field note: The natives frequently attribute the female gender to me. Further study will be required to determine why this is. Consultation with Dr. Mommy could be enlightening.) There was a great moment last year when a repairman (in the true, 1950s sense of the word) came to fix the dishwasher – Ben was playing with a pink toy mixer and the guy said, “What are you doing playing with that? That’s women’s tools! That’s for them to use to cook us dinner with!” Ben shot him a very confused look and said, “But I’m pretending it’s a vacuum.” (Field note: This guy’s a doofus.)

On the other hand, I am really struggling with it, and I can’t really figure out WHY. People aren’t making fun of him; they’re just assuming that he is something that he is not, and I can’t figure out why that bothers me. (Field note: Maybe I need to take a page out of Ben’s book and just chill about it.)  I have far more respect for baby Storm’s parents now, having had the smallest taste of what they go through every day with the non-gender-conforming oldest child. On a practical level, the hair is also a real pain in the neck (in this case, literally) because he screams bloody murder when I brush it, so there’s a part of me that really hopes he does get tired of being mistaken for a girl and decides to cut it soon.

Ben, whose opinion is really the one that counts here though, is enjoying his ponytail and will cut his hair when he gets tired of it. And informs me that if people laugh at it, he will just ignore them. And tomorrow would like to wear a hairband like Queenie McBear in The Berenstain Bears book The In-Crowd.

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©PicklesINK 2012

Addendum – July 21, 2012

…and then there are those days when you just can’t blame folks:

©PicklesINK 2012

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4 responses to “Hair today, gone tomorrow.

  1. Camilla says:

    Your puzzlement would make sense to me if your gender identity is very strong (that seems likely on balance, but mine isn’t). I’m given to understand that it’s normal for someone with a strong gender identity to feel very distressed if their gender is misidentified, quite aside from the social consequences. I would think it normal enough to project that distress onto one’s child, at least at an intuitive level.

    My gender identity is weak; it’s not inherently distressing to me to be called ‘sir’ by a stranger. Depending on the social consequences, I may feel fear or distress (it could be an insult, it could be a prelude to making them very uncomfortable) but it isn’t inherently about my gender. It also didn’t make me flinch when my son had long hair and was frequently mistaken for a girl.

    I posit that a transgendered person likely has a strong gender identity (strong enough to motivate them through a transition); I also know someone who has a strong “neither male nor female” gender identity. But I think people like me whose gender identity is weak may be quite common, because they’re really not going to stand out under most circumstances.

    • picklesink says:

      I think that you hypothesis is likely correct re: transgender persons – Your gender identity would have to be very strong to motivate you to navigate that very, very difficult road – and people like you also probably won’t stand out because in most cases, since they (you) don’t care one way or the other, they will be more likely to conform to established gender roles at least in the case of dress and hair because it’s simpler (ie. when choosing formal attire to wear to a wedding, you’re more likely to choose a dress than a suit because it’s going to be easier to find one that fits).

      With Ben being mistaken for a girl it’s not so much that I’m upset I don’t like people thinking he’s a girl but rather I’m upset because people seem to choose the most arbitrary attributes to establish gender, like long hair or carrying a doll marking him as a girl regardless of how “boyish” he is dressed, and it bothers me because it reinforces (for Ben) the idea that in this world he has to conform to established gender roles in order to not be mistaken for something he is not. And it also really bugs me that it seems to be unfairly skewed towards boys being mistaken for girls – I don’t think that Molly wearing pink and carrying a GI Joe would have the same issue. What I think I have to come to terms with is that since right now this doesn’t seem to bother Ben, I shouldn’t let it bother me either.

  2. Taylin says:

    “DARE TO BE DIFFERNT” is a statement I have often herd while growing up. My generation from a very young age has been taught that in order to “fit in” one must be the same as the majority. Having been lucky enough to know your son I have total confidence in saying he is more then intelligent enough to have already realized “different” is often viewed as bad, wrong, or left out! I love that although I am certain he understands this he is determined to dance to the beat of his own drum 🙂 It is very unfortunate that in a world where we have video chat that we have yet to evolve from pink means girl and blue means boy. The idea that a small child picking up a doll as apposed to a truck would possibly make him a girl is crazy! I celebrate the fact that a very young boy is proud to wear his pony tail and may choose to grab something pink simply because it is pretty 🙂 makes me think perhaps we should take more lessons from children and loose the statement ” oh no, that’s for girls (boys)” from our vocabulary 😀

  3. […] over a year. Ben started with a buzz cut, then decided (on hearing that boys could have ponytails) to grow his hair out indefinitely. He has tried out ponytails in various places on his head, french braids, hair bands and bows. Any […]

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