Written by Emily
For days (almost a week, really) a phrase has been hanging on my brain like a soggy wool blanket, picking and itching and keeping me awake. It wraps around me in moments of silence, in moments of quiet observation when I should be feeling at peace watching my kids play and imagine. Instead I’m haunted by it–well, less the phrase and more the tone with which the phrase was spat like an unexpected hair tucked into a bit of cheesecake:
The Feminization of America.
I won’t share the source of the phrase, where I heard it, or the mouth that curled into a sneer after it hissed, “the Feminization of America,” because I don’t want this to be misconstrued as a political agenda. It isn’t. It’s a human agenda. Or rather an agenda for my humans. And honestly, while these people were audacious in their position and made no effort to conceal their aversion, it’s just as dangerous, maybe more so, when it catches us off guard in its subtly.
There on the page surrounded by white space and nothing it doesn’t look like the poisonous venom it was made to be. When I say it out loud, I like it. I’m throwing up high-fives. I’m starting the wave with my kids and celebrating because I don’t think feminization is 12-letter curse word. It doesn’t have to be.
Words don’t exist or live without emotion, intention, purpose. They die without an audience. Last week, millions of Americans tuned in while men and women discussed the “feminization of America” not with enthusiasm but with disgust dripping from their mouths until they needed a napkin to catch the extra derision and indignation pooling at the corners of their lips.
What do they see when they hear the word? What images pass behind their eyes? What ideas?
Does feminization still conjure images of Disney princesses: Aurora, passive and breathless until love’s kiss awakened her from her slumber; or Snow White, the delicate demure flower she was. Do all the archaic images and stereotypes from all the texts we’ve ever seen rest in supine positions for our gluttonous gaze?
That must be it. Because no one who scoffs at the idea of feminization sees the reality of what lives and breaths in front of them like I do. Every. Single. Day. The reality of feminization:
I fear for my girls.
And what’s the sacred opposite? Masculinization. A masculinization that has been reduced to nothing more than good ol’ boy bravado, bullying and arrogance. And we’re supposed to buy this, sop it up with some crusty bread and swallow it down. While it’s digesting, pass the Playboy, will ya?
I fear for my boy.
I’m wary of the princess culture. I’m discouraged by the sexualization of toys I used to play with like Strawberry Shortcake and Holly Hobby, but I’m impressed by my girls. They’re complex creatures with varied interests: circuit boards and make-up, glitter and glue, mechanics and dresses, letters and numbers. And by my son who is a cocktail of compassion and toughness.
More and more I see that kids don’t always suffer from a crisis of categories that demands people fit just so. I’m afraid grown-ups with our baggage do that to them. With our words and our actions, we model it.
On the surface, I’m a stereotype. It’s a truth that was unsettling to me for a long time.
I’m a stay-at-home mom, a care-giver, a nurturer: the woman in the advertisements.
It took time for me to realize there’s more to that image; there’s a depth that often goes unmentioned because it doesn’t necessarily sell dish detergent. Shame on me for taking so long to notice. In falling for hasty generalizations, I know I sold a few women short.
The Feminization of America
I know so many women, so many men, so many people who are sold short again and again by the idea that feminine means docile, domestic, passive, emotional, irrational and soft and that masculinity means tough, aggressive, active, arrogant, physical and unyielding.
Shame on us.
My husband and I are charged with the responsibility to reveal what’s under the surface. We’ll do that by fueling our children’s innate desire to wonder and question and explore the complexities of everything around them…even people, especially people. Sometimes stereotypes will stare at them in their reflections and sometimes not. Sometimes they’ll see them in their friends and sometimes not.
By the time my children enter the work world or become voting citizens, I truly hope they can think beyond the “always” mentality that makes “feminization” and “masculinization” dirty words.
I hope they feel there’s a place for them here no matter who they become.
And I think there will be. I do.
But what do I know? I’m just a mom, a woman, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a person.