I watched a movie on NetFlix the other night, called The Mask You Live In. I thought it was really great, it's a film about how boys are told, from basically the time they're born, to "act like a man." It made me think for a minute, Shit. Do I treat Dahlia too much like a boy?
Liz told me of the companion piece, which came out before Mask You Live In, called Miss Representation. I knew what film she was talking about, I had it on the queue for a while, I just never actually watched it. So I did, and yeesh... both of these films really make one realize shit that we may do, whether we mean to or not, not just to all other people, but especially to my kid.
I can't say that I agree with everything in either film, usually statements from psychologists and statistics. I have to take those numbers at face value even if there are some I don't think are totally accurate, or ones I know are outright wrong (1 in 4 women are not raped. That'd be over 890 million women, over 40 million women just in the US... and even globally, over a lifetime, however they mean, it just doesn't seem plausible).
I can say, though, that both films treat the problem at hand equally, and that's the problems we as a society put on our kids, whether it's from the media or as adults just passing down shit from when we were kids.
The films really portray American media as the Bad Guy, with ads and music videos and TV and movies and video games being all the problems. I scoffed at the idea (like I always have) that video games make people violent.
They had that bullshit argument back when I was a kid, I said. I played games all day long sometimes and Mortal Kombat never made me any more aggressive to anyone
"Just because it didn't happen to you," Liz replied, "doesn't mean it can't or won't happen to anyone else."
Aww, shit. That was kind of an eye opener.
Since the boy's movie talked a lot about masculinity and how we perceive it, there was also a lot of talk about gender as a social construct... which, enh, I dunno. All behavior is a part of a larger social construct, right? So when people say that, it just makes me think they're missing out on a larger view. But there was definitely a focus on how we tell boys to "suck it up," and "be a man." Sometimes you'll hear someone say "Well a REAL man would do..." blahblahblah whatever a "real" man would do. I hate the adjective "real" in conjunction with "man." What the fuck is a "Real Man"? I exist, therefore I am real. I am male and I act how I act. There's no such thing as a "real man" because all men are real men. I've caught myself saying it before and I just feel dumb.
As a counter, what is a "real" woman?
The girl movie talks about exploitation and how girls see women, on TV, movies, ads, whatever... how they're shown unrealistic body images and then those same women are shown to be submissive to men.
In both films it talks a large deal about bullying, and... please, don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating bullying, but it's not going anywhere. Ever. I was bullied, I bullied others. That's how kid hierarchy works, you get the attention off yourself. I'll add that I was never physically bullied, except by one kid around 4th and 5th grade. When I asked Dad how to deal with him, he said to punch the guy in the stomach as hard as I could. I was a dumb little shy boy, I couldn't have punched my way out of a paper bag back then. But I tried, the guy laughed in my face, and then hit me back in the stomach so hard I doubled over on the floor. After that, he never bothered me again, instead insisting that I help him find other kids to beat up.
The films both talk about media and society and yeah, that all has a huge impact on us as kids, but the overlying problem is parenting.
I'm not the best parent. I'm not the best person. I was going to post links to some of my older LJ entries to show examples about how men and women both can be exploitative of each other or choose to live how they want, but looking back, holy fuck. I was kind of misogynistic (which is easy to see in the Divorce Year) and moreso than that just a huge asshole. If I had met that guy ten years ago I wouldn't have hung out with him, I'm surprised anyone does now.
Still, this shit is going to appear on our TVs and in our movies and everywhere else. There are women who choose to dress sexy and it may be kind of confusing for guys to know what they want, but the easy answer is if she doesn't respond in kind, then don't force it.
There are guys who choose to be hypermasculine and they're not all giant misogynistic d-bags. It's easy to choose who you are and how you want to present yourself without forcing it on other people.
The easiest thing is to teach kindness. Seems like a simple idea, yeah? If it's instilled early, it won't do anything but good. I don't remember my Dad or anyone else ever saying shit like "suck it up," or "be a real man," although I'm sure it happened a time or two, it just wasn't prevalent enough to make any kind of lasting impression.
Even after watching both films, I'm not sure what things I do or don't do or that we as parents do that might affect Dahlia's sense of self. We just try to teach her to be a good person, and yeah, we have had to remove some stuff from her view that we don't want her exposed to yet... shows talking about falling in love or girlfriends and boyfriends or weird stuff like beauty standards.
In the end, all I can say is most of what the movies say; that girls can act like boys if they choose and boys can act like girls if they choose and whatever in between is fine. If a boy wants to do ballet, then fine, he can dance if he wants to. If his friends don't dance then they're no friends of mine. If a girl wants to play football or wrestle, it's perfectly okay.
Gender may be a social construct, but constructs are subjective and they have barriers. If you tell a child they can break those walls down, they will.