Recently, my daughter and I revived a tradition of mine from when I was little - reading the Sunday comics together. As a child, I would crawl into my Dad's lap - or into my parents' bed if they were sleeping in - and ask to be read the latest adventures of Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the "funnies."
The Sunday comics were not as edgy or political as they are now, so I find it is a little more challenging. Since Rosemary is not yet three we skip Doonsbury, but she likes the ones with the animals. This past Sunday, though, I was appalled by Sherman's Lagoon, which promoted blatant gender stereotypes and was another example we run into all the time and which I am much more keenly aware of now that I am a parent.
See the cartoon for yourself. (Click to enlarge.)
All I could think about was Jim Toomey, the artist, making a blatantly offensive statement about boys who may want to play with dolls and having it be seen by millions of parents and children who may be in a similar position and the negative message they are getting. Did he even get that he was advocating violence as a "manly" trait.
As the mothers of a child who is clearly a dyed in the wool girly girl, we are very mindful of what she is seeing, hearing and consuming in the media. The inherent sexism in so much of what little girls see and hear from birth is something I was aware of, but now I am watching like a hawk. Feminine = weak = bad is not the equation I want her growing up with - we need a new math for all the girls and boys.
As a little girl - and a big tomboy - I was lucky. My parents were not only tolerant of my tomboy tendencies (which ran well into my teenage years and frankly, I still dress like a 15 year old boy when I can), they supported my decisions and choices. They put up with buying a GI Joe, skateboard and trucks, even when I could have had my sister's Barbie dolls foisted on me. I insisted on playing sports and wearing pants suits (it was the 70's after all). So no hand me down clothes from my sister either, not to mention the more frequent haircuts. I was blessed, I know far too many other people without such understanding parents and families, and the impact can be devastating. It was interesting to learn that my parents fears for me when I came out were much more about gender presentation than my sexual orientation.
Which brings me to something that could be helpful for anyone interested in these issues. We had the honor of working on a groundbreaking and amazing book recently, called The Transgender Child. One of the co- authors, Stephanie Brill, founded and heads up Gender Spectrum, one of the best resources in existence for parents and families with gender non-conforming and transgender children. It is, remarkably, the only book of it kind.
Given the recent attention to transgender youth and the increased discussion in the LGBT community, I could not recommend it more highly to anyone interested in the topic of gender stereotypes and how forcing kids into the "boy" box or the "girl" box is not only overly simplistic for most kids, but damaging.
So it can be something as "innocent" as reading the funny pages or the litany of sexist and stereotypical media representations of men and women, but we must think about the current - and next - generation of youth and how they are impacted by this. Study are study shows young people are less interested in labels, Jim Toomey and other adults would do well to take a lesson from them.