Friday, July 19, 2013

Dora Dora Dora the (Outdated Gender-Stereotype) Explorer!

Dora the Explorer has finally found her way Isaac's House (it's over the shallow river, past the tall church, then you get to Isaac's house! Say "Map! Say Map!"). I've never minded Dora, my niece had a big thing with her a few years back so I'm well acquainted with her program.  Obviously I love that she's a little girl who is always the hero of her own story.  Dora senses the needs of her friends, does all of the planning, the guiding, the saving and helping, all on her own (well, with Boots, of course, but as far as his role goes, he is defiantly a side-kick). There are very few children's programs on air now that even give equal screen time to male and female characters, let alone have a female protagonist that isn't rife with stereotypically feminine traits (conventionally attractive to the point of being "sexy", a nag, in pursuit of a husband/boyfriend/appointment to royal status, or a fairy. Or a princess. Or both). Dora (now, I'm talking just regular Dora, pre-fairyprincess Dora. Fairy Princess Rock Star Dora doesn't factor into Isaac's life. Because she's bullshit), Dora, in general, is fine by me as a television character for my kid to enjoy.

Well, apparently, because Dora is a girl, of course, she is a character for girls. There's like, no way that she can just be a character for kids, according to all the people. Seriously. It started when Isaac decided he wanted cupcakes. I figured we'd make cupcakes and take them to work for our friends. I gave him one of my aprons but it was too big. The next week at the local farmer's market I spied homemade kid-sized aprons. They had some robots and some flowers, but what really caught my eye was, of course, a Dora apron. It is bright pink and lacy but whatever. That's not something that would register for Isaac. He loves his Dora "shirt", as he calls it. He wore it all day that day, wore it to bed, we had to hide it on him in order to get it clean so he could wear it all day again the next day. He wore it to the bakery next door with my niece. Apparently the women behind the counter said things like "what are you wearing? Does your father know you're wearing that?!" I mean, this kid's dad wears an apron to work every day of his life. I guess I wish I were shocked. I wish that a boy child wearing pink didn't illicit some sort of visceral, nasty response in people. He's too young to have understood what they were implying, but Reilly sure wasn't! (Thanks for that, bakery ladies! Certainly a young girl burgeoning on adulthood needs to be reminded of her second-class status whenever she goes to get a bagel!). So we've decided, at my brilliant co-worker's suggestion, to commission a Matt sized Dora apron so the two of them can match next time they go grab a "fuffin" for the kid. If my anger has subsided by then.
Stylin hard with his pockets full of beverages!

So here's what I can't wrap my mind around: (and complete disclaimer here: I am neither an expert in child development nor gender or queer studies, these are just my opinions, gleaned from items I've read and experiences I've had). At two, gender is still very fluid. Isaac doesn't know "boy" or "girl" at all. Like, no concept whatsoever. He calls every child "kid" and I love it that he does. I'm certainly in no rush to make my child fit into any category at all (besides Two-Year-Olds Who Still Don't Sleep Through The Night Ever. Suggestions welcome). So, even if your average bakery worker isn't quite up to speed with child development and gender politics, it's still safe to say that "shaming" my kid (because that's what they were trying to do), isn't alright. He's a child. He's doing his thing, man! He's got a great new outfit to wear on his big adventure to the store down the street, he's happy as can be! It's got pockets big enough to hold cars and his juice! How are you going to come at him with some sort of bullshit like "boys with good fathers don't wear pink aprons"? Not OK.  And for what, exactly, should he be shamed? Because girls wear pink and girls aren't as good as boys? Because if a boy has on clothing that was intended to be worn by a girl, then he may somehow draw the pink ink into his veins and get gay? Because fuck all that. Girls are great! boys are great! trans* kids are great!...Colors are great, aprons are great, hand made items are great and Dora, at times, is great. And wearing a pink Dora apron doesn't infuse gay into your veins. I tried it and it didn't work. Why or how could I possibly care if my child or children were gay? How could that even register on things that would upset me in any way? The truth is, it goes way beyond how Isaac presents himself and identifies himself someday in the future. The really important part of the societal conversation we need to be having is that statistically, he's probably going to grow up a straight, white male, with all of the privileges that are afforded people like him. That is all the more reason he needs to understand that other worldviews and experiences have value. He can be one of two things, in my mind: an ally or a bigot. In our house, we're allies. Every day we have to fight the battle for our children so that one day they will be able to fight it on their own.

I was grumbling about the whole situation to Matt the other night and a real sadness came over me. As I was going on and on about "he's young, colors don't mean the same to him that they do to society at large", I kept adding "yet". Soon enough the world is going to harden around him. Soon enough he will start to get the vibe that girls and girl culture is less-than.  Less than important and less than meaningful. Less than exciting and less than adventurous. He might observe some homophobia along the way. Hatred of trans* individuals is still, unfortunately, a very real thing and likely will still be as Isaac grows up. (Ohmygod, read this blog: gendermom. Hope springs eternal). I won't teach him that kind of hatred and other-ness, his father certainly wouldn't either. It is information that he will absorb, however. He may become embarrassed and deny having worn his Dora shirt. He will blush and protest when I mention that he used to demand that I paint his toenails whenever he saw a bottle of nail polish and that he loved to jump around in my heels. That world is coming for him. It will seep in, through the cracks under the doors, through the advertisements and toy stores, through the off-hand and cruel comments by both his peers and those old enough to know better. That may happen. It may not. My job isn't to change the way the whole world thinks, or even to keep my kids away from it. My role is just to allow the two little people in my house to think better. To think better of each other, of people they don't know, to think better than to make asinine assumptions based in ignorance and hatred. Most of all I want them to be able to think better of themselves, so one day, when they are confronted with bigotry, even in it's tiniest, most micro-aggressive forms, they are able to stand firm on the side of inclusiveness and err on the side of progress.


  1. It's so hard sometimes - Amira says "hamburgers are for boys"!!? You know who eats hamburgers in our house-me-mommy-girl-woman. Where did she get such nonsense? Likely-her peers at school, the other little kids who are taught nonsense by their parents, and what can I do to stop that influence? We address the comments with reason-but a 4 year old is not always reasonable. She also loves blonde hair-she ran up to a neighbor with blonde hair in awe-I think she thinks blonde=princess. She ran up to a blonde lady at the museum two days ago-took her hand and tried to make her play with her. Stranger Danger talk had to happen then-but again it was, Mommy-but she has pretty hair-does she think blonde is prettier-better-then her own hair color? Where did this come from? I thought as a parent I would have a substantial influence over my child, and as parents we are primary teachers-but we are just one of many things shaping our children.

  2. Love it lady! Jack's favorite color is purple and he wants to paint his bedroom pink. I will totally let him pick out the pink he wants and do it for him. He loves colors and they make him happy, so what.

  3. This makes me so angry! I tried so hard to let Enzo decide what he enjoyed. Barbies riding in his racecars? Fine by me. You want to have a pedicure? Awesome! You want to put on mamma's bracelets and wear her boots? How fun! That was....until his saturated exposure to the West Indian culture took over. His father is from Trinidad, along with his babysitter, best friends mom, etc. They are VERY determined to keep gender roles specific. I have lost count how many times his father would tell me that I didn't know my place as a woman. Needless to say now Enzo refuses to watch anything where the female is the lead, argues with me that purple is for girls, and will only parade around in my flip flops. I've lost count of the conversations I have had with him, that there are few things that are boys only or girls only, and he is too young to even play with those anyway! But a couple weeks ago he did tell me, "mamma, you're the bestest mom I ever had. You let me love everything. Even stuff for girls." Am I getting somewhere? *crosses fingers* LOL!