Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Gender Police. . . Literally

This is a real live story of gender police that cornered and interrogated a friend of mine and her son.

I've told you about these friends of mine on this blog before, but I took the entry down because it was a low-moment of processing out loud on my behalf, so I'll introduce them again.

We (us four and their four) met at a GLBT ECFE class a bit over a year ago. Our girls were 3 and 6 respectively, and our boys were about 18 months and 13 months respectively . Over the course of the past year and a half or so we've spent some time together and gotten to know each other, our kids get along well, as do the adults and I've been following one of the adult's experience while being "on the market" in academia--a long and arduous process that takes a toll on the best of us.

Anyway, their son, I'll call him "The Prescient One" or "TPO" for short, has always seemed, at least to me, well beyond his age in awareness. So much so that when we met I literally could not even comprehend that a child could be that aware at that age. Even now, I am often astounded at his composure (particularly relative to Big) in certain situations. They are able to do things and take him to places (at two-and-a-half) that I wouldn't dream of taking Big.

So, while I would not describe TPO as being particularly feminine in how we usually understand the term, he's got two things going for him that make the casual observer interpret him as being a girl: 1. he enjoys wearing dresses and pink clothing, usually associated with girls of his age and 2. his parents are observing the Jewish tradition of "Upsherin." Meaning "cutting off", it is a haircutting ceremony (Kabbalistic in origin), held when a Jewish boy is three years old*. So, his hair is getting quite long and, again, such a length is usually associated with little girls of his age, despite the fact that longish hair is now "in" for boys.

Now, on to the story, retold by me. So the other day, somehow, the kids broke the the Stay-At-Home-Mom's (SAHM) glasses. Because they are so requisite to her daily living, she added the chore of going out to the MOA to some hour-eyes joint to replace her glasses quickly.

I couldn't dream of taking Big within a half-block of a glasses store, that is, unless I wanted to go into debt from having him break most of the merchandise in the store. Big is the etymology of the saying "bull in a china shop".

So, they went to the store, TPO in tow as she had an eye exam and chose a pair of glasses. Being two, he got bored at some point, and she (being the very present mom that she is) paused her agenda to play with him and refocus his attention to another matter while she finished up her business.

While waiting for the glasses to be created in the promised one-hour, she had planned on passing time riding the rides with TPO and maybe getting a snack or something. They headed out of the shop and asked the three mall police approaching them where the nearest elevator was.

Curiously, one of the three police then started asking her questions.

Why did you come out to the Mall today, Ma'am?

She explained, though it must have been obvious, with her beducktaped glasses, and their proximity to the glasses store, that they were there to buy glasses, ride some rides, spend some greenbacks and be on their way.

They pursued their questioning.

We noticed that you keep referring to your daughter as a 'boy'. . . .

She insisted on his sex, and at some point even offered, to their dismay, to prove it to them.

At that point they backed down.

I'm not sure exactly what followed or how they all moved on with their business, but they eventually did.

I wondered what TPO felt about this interrogation, but my fellow SAHM assured me that he was focused on the rides. The damage was felt, certainly, by her, at least. This just goes to show you how deep our expectations about gender go. We're not exactly sure of their motives, but those police were seemingly checking her out regarding her sanity and, possibly even for some child abuse or neglect. I mean how awful a parent she must be, referring to her girl as though she were boy! Thank God it wasn't the other way around! They'd have had to call Child Protective Services and cart her off to the nearest detention facility!

Horrifying. When are we going to let our boxes go? Does TPO have to wait until he gets into Barnard College to be free to be himself anywhere outside of his own home?

*The irony here is that this tradition has historically been one of inculcating gender into the child's ideology. According to Yoram Bilu (a professor of anthropology and psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem), "As in the rite of circumcision, and even more so, the ideal of gender differentiation prevails in the ritual haircut. At age three, after the biological, mother-supervised functions of weaning and sphincter control have been achieved, the child is appropriated from the female world and placed in the center of male territory. ... the first haircut at age three is a powerful social statement that the permissive nongendered, undersocialized period of early childhood, under the protective cover of the mother, is over. The first haircut is viewed as the beginning of the child's education, the first step in the all-encompassing, primarily male world of the commandments and Torah" (italics, mine).


stork&mondrian said...

This post made me cry my eyes out. Those policemen were way out of line. I hope the child was too distracted to notice.

giddings said...

Me too. According to his mom, he was, but as we all know, shit does filter to little ears if you know what I mean.