Teach ‘em while they’re young….
Teach, your children well
Their father's hell
Did slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick's
The one you'll know by.
Don't you ever ask them why
If they told you, you would die
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Teach Your Children (1969)
The little boy was probably about a year old. He sat in the high chair at Jason’s Deli and threw whatever food he could get into his hands at whatever targets he could hit, as one year old children tend to do. His parents ooohed and aaaahed over him and his older sister, herself a ripe old age of perhaps 5, hovered around his most bald head, kissing it and trying to get her little brother to say something intelligible.
What caught my attention was his shirt. It was a red t-shirt with the inscription “LADIES MAN” (sic). The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me.
It’s bad enough that children are being taught to misspell words. I’m assuming the t-shirt creator meant “Ladies’ man,” possessive case. And, no doubt, this little boy will have ample opportunity when he is older to avoid that mistake (though if my undergrads are any indication, he probably won’t). But the more subtle (perhaps to parents, unconscious) message is the socially constructed gender role the shirt purveys. It suggests this little boy not only likely will but should grow up to become the promiscuous young adult male our patriarchal culture with its double standard regarding sexuality expects. And my immediate reaction was simply, “Why would that be a good idea?”
Note, the parents clearly anticipate their baby boy will grow up to identify himself as heterosexually oriented. Frankly, I just can’t imagine any parent, knowing their child would end up identifying as gay or lesbian, decking them out in clothing suggesting that they should not only be sexually active but perhaps even hyperactive. Given the obsession of most heterosexists and homophobes with what queers do in bed, that's higly unlikely. Of course, the chances are only 3 percent to 11 percent at most, depending upon the study one accepts as definitive, that the little boy will end up identifying as gay. And, given his parent’s clearly expressed expectations, he probably wouldn’t be terribly swift to inform them that their expectations won’t be met.
On the other hand, given his 89% chances at the least of being heterosexual, why would a pre-cast gender role as what is essentially a sexual predator be appropriate? Remember, his multiple matings will be require the daughters of someone, perhaps a daughter much like their own. I wonder if they would find it acceptable for their daughter to simply be seen as the raw material needed for a “LADIES MAN” to prove his sexuality to himself and to his family and culture, over and over again.
No doubt, the inverse of this situation would immediately be seen for what it is. Let’s say that rather than the one year old boy being dressed in clothing suggesting he must grow into a teenage horn dog on the prowl, why not dress his five year old sister in a tee-shirt that read “Gentlemen’s Lady.” Perhaps she could go to “gentlemen’s clubs” and appear in “gentlemen’s magazines.” What’s good for the gander is good for the goose, right?
It is highly unlikely that a little boy who grows up to live into expectations of family and society of being a “LADIES MAN” will ever be called nasty names like slut, whore, prostitute and some other even more dehumanizing names I can’t bring myself to write here, even if their behavior merits such. But the chances are nearly 100% that should his older sister ever attempt to live into the same role, different gender, she will find herself called all those names and worse. Indeed, the chances that she will be physically assaulted, even murdered, will skyrocket if she tries it. Anytime human beings complete the sentence that begins “Just a _________,” the destructive possibilities facing the now dehumanized object are limitless.
I doubt these children’s parents ever thought about any of this. But I think every parent of any child should.
The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.