I have a complex relationship with the word, because I hate that it’s used to demean women and I like that there’s an entire movement about reclaiming the word, but sometimes it just slips out as a negative thing. Like this time. We were looking at Halloween costumes, and I remembered the topic in class about how the female comic book characters are always dressed in these frilly little dresses and tutus, when though the actual comic book versions of them DO NOT look like that. So as I was flipping through the Party City catalog, I commented kind of to myself, how annoying it is that the only available girl version of the ninja turtles if a “slutty dress.” Anthony asked me what that meant, and I just said that they put the girl in a short little dress that extra tight and really does nothing to stay true to the actual character. Like the girl costume for Donatello, the only ninja turtle available in girl costume because he wears a purple mask. Really? That’s the determining factor? So anyways, I gave him the explanation and then thought damn, I maybe should not have said that. That word is just much more complicated than that, but he’s only 11 and it was bad enough I added it to his vocabulary.
Sure enough, when my mom came home that night he gave her a speech about how ridiculous men are and that he refused to buy a costume at Party City because they think women can only be slutty super heroes and not real ones. He went on to say that he didn’t understand what their problem was but that they just needed to get over it because girls can be super heroes too. Since then, I’ve heard him give the speech to his dad, our other brother and God knows who else in school. I’m expecting a call from his teacher any day now on the topic.
My little brother made a comment the other day that really made me think about what children are learning and taking away from the media they consume. He was talking to my mom about some song by Nirvana, a band that he’s recently become obsessed with, and she told him that she didn’t really know their music because she was never a fan. To this he said “Of course not mom, girls don’t have good taste in music. Don’t worry its cause you just don’t know.” My mom laughed it off like a joke and walked away, but I was so shocked with the comment that I went off on a long lesson about gender roles and stereotypes.
I explained to him about the women’s rights movement and how very different life would be for my mom and I if things had not changed, how things were in the earlier decades of the 1900s and how hurtful it is when he makes comments like that. I told him that saying something like that is the same as someone saying he doesn’t have real feelings because he’s a boy, to which he got upset and said that was crazy especially since he’s such a sensitive kid and so attached to my mom. I also pointed out several revolutionary female musicians like Joan Jett had a rock band that was very successful, while often controversial. The odd thing was that I couldn’t figure out where he was getting these ideals from, since that’s not the example he sees at home. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the videos he watches on YouTube may not flat out SAY these things, but they certainly imply them. When they say things like “oh, what are you a girl?” to describe some less than ideal behavior or bad move in a game, they make that distinction that being a girl is a bad thing because it makes you less than a man.
Hopefully by continuing to be open with him, he’s only 11, about these things we can fix some of the damage. He gave my mom a long apology when she got back that night and promised to never assume she didn’t know something just because she was a girl.