CAN YOU NAME THIS AMERICAN ICON ??? TAKE A WILD GUESS…
CLOSE! But no, it’s not Eleanor Roosevelt. The silky locks and white dress you are observing are actually that of her husband, President FRANKLIN Roosevelt, at the age of 3. (Were it Eleanor, she’d probably have on pants) ;-D
Surely you were looking at a girl. Not a thought that passed between your eyes chanced at her being a president; she had to be an actress or a singer.
Upon being informed that this is a portrait of a little boy, you feel the need to request I provide a confirming source (google FDR and skirt, you’ll get a whole host of pages). Upon accepting that this indeed is the four term giant, you are questioning whether his parents were gay or just weird.. orrr you’ve got a fairly accurate grasp of history and recognize that a) the photo is way too dated for it to have anything to do with a psychedelic Volts Wagon van, and b) there have been past times and places in which it were commonplace for a male to wear a dress.
When I came across this video I couldn’t help but be impressed by the job her parents have done in empowering little Riley to think outside of the imaginary box we set our girls up to live their reality into. I couldn’t help but marvel at how much intelligence she exudes, not just in her critical reasoning, but in how it shows through her physical and emotional expression. She is sorting out stale impositions we internalize as ‘social norms’ under the order of a patriarchal society. I had some idea of gender roles as constructs (made up) at some point in my mid-teens (began taking the macho less serious, cross dressing in the crib for fun, etc.), but my understanding was vague and for the most part amateurish as compared to how it is articulated by this child.
I bring to reference such historical examples of androgyny as FDR’s baby pics, some of the traditional garb of African and Amerindian tribesmen, the Irish kilt, etc. not to offer the nostalgic as something to emulate, but something to examine in relation to our *fixed* notions of femininity/masculinity; so that we may gain clarity as to how it is WE who are fixed.. and not the concept of what is feminine and what is masculine. And when something is fixed in place, whether it be an idea, a feeling, a visual, an object; we are dis-empowered to have choice in relation to our engagement with it; it is what it is we assume, it will be what it will be. A lack of choice = a lack of freedom = a lack of power.
Raising our children to exercise choice does not look like you taking them to the pink isle then asking them what they want… It starts with exposing them to all of the colors in the crayon box before they can control the drool from coming out of their mouths, and being open to allowing them *options*. It constitutes us as parents being secure enough to teach our children to relate to their toys in the practical manner to which we began relating when we matured; boys could use the skills that come with receiving an EasyBake Oven or a Dollhouse.. just as we as grown men have come to relate to cooking and raising a family not as some ‘girl shit’ but as a practice in responsibility and survival, you teach your boy that cooking in the oven and managing the family in the house makes them responsible! Imagine your child being old enough to go shopping with you, and running off to something they can give you a totally mature reason for selecting…
If you are sitting there shaking your head on some ‘I want my child to be a child’ you are missing the point! The point is, it becomes a matter of buying what the commercial tells them to, when we’ve allowed it to become that.. it becomes a matter of getting what all the other boys are getting when we allow it to get there… It doesn’t have to be a discussion on what is the newest hottest, or what are boys buying vs what are girls buying. The choices your children make actually CAN and consider that they SHOULD manifest inside of an intelligent processing of what they know will consume them, that occurs with a full awareness as to HOW it will consume them!
Consumerism in a capitalist society is the meter which exhibits what our values prove to be. You want to know where the psychology of America is in 2011 look at what we’re buying! It is no wonder Riley is able to have such conviction behind the assertion that ‘they’ are trying to ‘trick’ her; look at the shelves which surround her in that isle.. how many options is she afforded? In terms of color it is clear she’s got one choice: pink. What else is the market reinforcing? More than because her father has taught her to, she is challenging the role society is pigeon holing her into because it is forced upon her, because she can see it, hear it, smell it, touch and feel it. For all daddy knows he could have hid the truth of such gender fallacies to ‘protect her from alienation’, only to have her grow into a teenager who recognizes her repressed reality for what it is ANYWAY, then turn around and resent him for it.
. . .
I’ve thought very deeply on such dynamics, as I myself am a father to a four year old girl. Because I am a non-custodial parent, living five states north and thus baring a great deal less influence on her rearing than her mother does, you could say I’ve lost sleep over it. Nadia is an intelligent, athletically inclined child with an abstract wit and tough streak a conventional parent might squirm discomfort with. But she is also, to my judgement, hyper-feminine and she’s been conditioned so with full intention by her mother. She is obsessed with weddings and fairy tales and she’d love nothing more than a make-up kit to occupy her time. It’s not just her mom neither. Heck, I as a man am without a doubt reinforcing her understanding of ‘her place’ in ways I haven’t even been conscious to, if in fact it weren’t the case that there’ve been instances that I WAS aware of, but simply overlooked for the sake of convenience (yes, I’ve got to check myself).
Riley has me reflecting on how I must move forward in restoring some balance to her sense of autonomy and control over her identity. Last summer she caught a crying fit when her cousins came over to visit, wearing dresses, on a day she happened to be dressed in jeans. She simply wouldn’t stop until we changed her into a dress. …I need her to be more independent than that, I want her to value her mind and to respect her body in whatever manner she should so have processed and CHOSEN to honor them.. simply, I want her to be capable of distinguishing that she can p r o c e s s these things, beyond conformity/ even if it means she still chooses to conform! I want her to never feel like she has to dumb down, look a certain way, restrict her conversations and actions, to be acceptable to a man, or even, to her peer sisters.
The __ world __ is HERS !