Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Pink Phone: The Rest of the Story...

So is anyone curious for an update on the pink phone story?

Here's a quick recap:

My (then) four-year-old son Léo wanted a toy cell phone, and the most fabulous one at the store was bright, sparkly pink!!! Naturally that was the most attractive one, so he asked for it. My initial instinct was to balk, but then I said "Ah, what the hell," and bought it for him. Then he took it to school.

What happened next reminds me of something I read the other day in Dan Savage's The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family

Then one day we packed D.J. off to preschool [...] where he got a crash course in sex roles. It wasn't the teachers who poured this poison into his ears; we sent him to a progressive Montessori school on our left-leaning island, not some Southern Baptist preschool in a church basement. His teachers would sooner feed children tacks than force boys to do boy things and girls to do girl things. No, it was the other children who indoctrinated D.J. to think of boys and girls as two warring camps. From day one is was the boys vs. the girls, and there wasn't much the adults could do about it. When the children weren't engaged in Talmudic discussions about which toys or activities were male or female, the boys were chasing the girls around the yard during recess. When the boys got bored and went off to play with their boy toys, the girls would tease them until the chase started up again. Add fifteen years, some pubic hair, and a keg of beer, and it would be difficult to tell the difference between recess at Starbreak Montessori and friday night at a frat house.

lol. Well, it wasn't exactly like that as far as I know, but you get the idea. Léo swiftly and profoundly absorbed the lesson pink things are for girls. He even took it one step further: to this day he won't accept any object that is pink or purple.

Since Léo's older brother Nico apparently never picked up this lesson quite so intensely (he'll accept pink objects at home), I almost wonder if I did the wrong thing by allowing Léo to take that pink phone to school. Since, really, I knew what was going to happen.

On the other hand -- as much as I'm not fond of fixed gender roles -- I don't think it's necessarily bad for him to learn some social lessons the old-fashioned way. (I hope I don't get flamed by homeschoolers for saying this, but) I think it's valuable for children in modern society to be exposed to an alternate social structure (different authority figures, different expectations) than what they have at home. Even if I disagree with some of the values they're learning, they should be exposed to society -- to understand what's out there, to get an idea of the ways we're the same, the ways we're different...



AnnM said...

[Big sigh, thinking of the discussion of "You're so gay" insults on the camp bus.]

I don't imagine you're afraid to explain to him that you don't agree that colors have genders, that dad wears pink or purple, or that your favorite color is blue. Or that baby blue used to signify a baby girl, back around the turn of the previous century.

I agree, they live in this world. And while you don't want teach them complete disrespect for authority, it's important that they know cultural norms, and also know that some of them are bunk.

Anonymous said...

I've largely consigned myself to the idea that I can have a little input, but that a very large part of my kids' ideas will get formed by their interactions with their peers. Clearly the best strategy is to have complete and rigid control over who they associate with. (joke)

Though I joke, I think that you almost have to go to that level--isolating them from influences, both media and in real life--to avoid having your kids infected by society's most prevalent prejudices, and at this point I seriously doubt it's worth the cost. Maybe that's just a sign that I'm a lazy parent, seeking to justify myself.

The Exterminator said...

Well, I, for one, am glad that Leo discovered the truth about purple.

Maybe you should have him mark his crayons with B for Boy and G for Gay.

Seriously, there's nothing you can do. You're 100% correct about him learning some social lessons the old-fashioned way. You and your husband will, no doubt, also teach him how to think past peer pressure. But you can certainly find a better battleground for that concept than debates about pink.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sam-I-Am!!!

Well, maybe not complete disrespect for authority, but I want them to have a strong dose of questioning. And I certainly want them to know about cultural norms so they can function in society, while they maintain their own opinions about those norms.

Hey QZed!!!

I agree that kids are often more strongly influenced by the opinions of their peers than of their parents. Yet I don't feel like I want to isolate them. I'd rather be sure they're exposed to positive influences and I want to be right there encouraging them to question the influences I consider negative. But I don't want to protect them from ideas or prevent them from having to make their own judgments.

It's very important to me to teach my kids to think for themselves. Isolating them and protecting them from wrong ideas seems like a way to teach them the wrong message: that we should fear ideas we disagree with. I think truth can stand up to error. Of course people are predisposed to believe and promote lots of wrong ideas when it's in their self-interest to do so. Yet, I think that lots of open communication (holding up conflicting ideas side-by-side) generally favors ideas that are good and right.

Hey Exterminator!!!

Yeah, this is just a warm up. We'll see how my laissez-faire parenting strategy holds up as the ideas he brings home evolve...

Aerin said...

The world is not a kind place.

That doesn't mean we can't do many things to protect our kids - I agree that there are many social "lessons" that have to be learned - and (potentially) better to learn them as a child than as an adult.

With that said, there are lots of things parents can do to create a safe, supportive environment at home and even with friends that is outside of the playground.

The people I remember being the most adjusted usually had parents who were thinking about this type of stuff and really trying to be in their child's corner (but also backing off sometimes as well).

It's a moderation thing - being too hands off is not necessarily good, and being too involved and protective can also not be good.

Chino Blanco said...

For what it's worth, I bought my boy a Cédric cartable in Paris, which - dork that I am - I thought was totally cute. Nah ... he schleps an Eastpak to school and thinks he's cool and so I'm the one left cutting a dashing profile in Taipei on my scooter with my MacBook Pro safely stored in my Cédric backpack. Fortunately, this is Asia, and the only folks who dare laugh in my face are my wife and kids.

Sorry, that was just a prelude to thanking you for giving a shit about Prop 8.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Aerin!!!

That's a good point.

When I was little, I had a lot of trouble fitting in, and had few friends and got teased mercilessly. And on some strange level I got the idea that getting bullied is one of those constants of nature that you have to learn to deal with. But it's not clear that's the best attitude to have. My husband, who had about the same nerdly social disadvantages, is more active about trying to help Nico learn to fit in at least superficially, and I'm sure he's right.

Hey Chino!!!

Wow, no offense, but you guys are way cooler than my family. ;^)

Anonymous said...

My husband has the whole "get pink away from me, it will turn me gay" issue, which I refuse to tolerate. It's working; I'm slowly breaking him of it, hopefully in time for it not to rub off on our 2-year-old son.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey TheNerd!!!

Good for you -- he'll come around! :D

Anonymous said...

"I almost wonder if I did the wrong thing by allowing Léo to take that pink phone to school."

I don't think so. If for no other reason than this:

He will learn that his peers have rigid ideas about gender roles... but that his parents do not agree with these ideas.

And while I agree that kids' peers have a huge effect on their attitudes, I also think that the values kids are brought up with by their parents have a big impact in the long run. As a kid (even as a weird misfit outsider kid), I was very much influenced by the opinions of other kids... but as an adult, I see the influence of my parents and my family more and more each day.

As parents, you have to acknowledge the reality of your kids' peers and their influence... but you don't have to cave into it.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Greta!!!

I hope you're right! :D

BTW, I thought of you as I was reading The Commitment (quoted above). Savage extensively discusses the dynamics of non-monogamy within a committed relationship, unlike your experience with Sex and the City.

Anonymous said...

I came of age in the blissful innocence of Rome in the mid-sixties. Gender was a complete non-issue; ditto for pink, twirling a baton, staging elaborate costumed productions and having sex with the neighborhood boys. I don't think much of that mentality has held up over the years as American movies and TV shows have polluted just about every corner of the planet.

I don't think homeschooling does kids any favors. I think a good point is made that kids need to learn about the world and experience socialization outside of home comfort zones. Eventually we all choose what we want anyway. Trying to protect kids from the world seems like just a lot of futile silliness.

BTW, I only like pink in flowers - but that's just me. If my grandsons wanted to wear pink t-shirts I'd sure as hell let 'em. In the meantime I buy them drab green t-shirts with Che Guevara's face on them. I likes me some little revolutionaries running around. :-)

dee said...

I love pink unashamedly. Mr C is not so into it. Aside from that, we're pretty fluid with gender roles in this house.

I am scared of Teh Homeschoolers coming to kill me for saying, but I think it's one of the less positive trends in society, to be honest. I agree with you that kids need to get out and be exposed and learn and grow, sometimes the hard way (not the REALLY hard way, but a little bit).

Then again, I have no kids so I have no skin in this game. ;-)

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Tom!!!

Your childhood Rome is such a beautiful image!!! I wish I could have that for my boys, but we'll make due with what we get... ;^)

Hey Wry!!!

Totally. That's exactly how I feel about it.

AnnM said...

A link to go with my comment on blue and pink. Scroll down to the image of magazine clipping at the bottom:


C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sam-I-Am!!!

That's fascinating! Is that true that this girl=pink, boy=blue scheme dates from the fifties? That recent?