Thursday, June 01, 2006
Boys vs. Girls
Posted by Jeremy Adam Smith
The following is based on a comment I made at Half Changed World, in response to a question posed by Jennifer of the blog Under the Ponderosas: "What makes you say society is hard on boys who aren't conventionally masculine?" It got me to thinking and remembering, and led me to a thought about raising my son that I don't think I like very much.
When I was a kid in Saginaw, MI, I played the flute in my junior high school band, the only boy to do so. There were twelve chairs, and for the first half of the first year, I was dead last. The drum section - all macho schmucks - teased and bullied me relentlessly.
At some point - driven by an impulse that I did not consciously acknowledge - I started to practice furiously. In a single session, I zoomed past all the girls from last chair to first, and I held that first chair for the rest of my time in band.
At roughly the same time, I challenged one of the drummers to a fight. I lost, of course - of the dozen fights I was in that year, the best I could ever manage was a draw.
But a strange - or maybe just predictable - thing happened: the teasing and bullying gradually evaporated.
With hindsight, I see clearly that the end of the harassment had everything to do with dominating the girls in the flute section. It helped that I was willing to fight with my fists, even if I lost. The important thing is that I fought at all.
I just put Liko down to sleep. While I was watching him sleep, I remembered all this. I asked myself: if he faced the same level of teasing and bullying, would I want him to fight other boys and dominate girls if that meant an end to his persecution?
I'm afraid that for all my dude-feminist posturing, the answer is almost certainly yes.
Times have changed and also, Liko won't grow up in a place like Saginaw. Hopefully, he'll grow up in a more forgiving, egalitarian social atmosphere, where gender is not quite so polarized and people are more secure in difference, than the one I experienced in the Midwest in the mid-Eighties.
But it would obviously be better if my ideals weren't put to any kind of test.
Postscript: I still play the flute, but only for Liko. When I take it out and start putting it together, he scampers off to find his plastic yellow recorder. While I play little baby tunes, he tries to imitate me, his eyes watching my every move.