Friday, June 15, 2012

Girly Men and Manly Girls

I have a three year old little girl who absolutely loves the color pink. I am sure we influenced that in some way because we buy her a lot of pink clothes. We don’t do it on purpose, I think it has more to do with what’s available than with what we would prefer for her to wear. I don’t think we have a preference for what color she wears.

I also have a five year old little boy who up until a few weeks ago refused to use the pink plates, cups, and bowls because “Pink is a girl color.”

Now, I don’t think those words have ever come out of my mouth, and I definitely do not feel that way. I am pretty sure he came to that conclusion on his own. He is very aware that there is a significant and inherent difference between girls and boys, and he knows that his little sister is very much a girl (a fact she, at three years old, is also acutely aware of). I think he just put two and two together – J wears pink, J is a girl, therefore pink must be a girl color.

Every time he says “Pink is a girl color.” We say, “Pink is a great color. Boys can use pink things. Boys can even wear pink clothes!” or something of the sort.

I think it has started paying off. A few weeks ago my son picked a pink cup out of the drawer for his drink and proudly proclaimed, “I’m going to pick the pink cup!” It was as if he had realized how silly he was being for refusing to use pink dishes and was pleased with himself for being man enough to pick the pink cup. He also has a best (boy) friend whose favorite colors are pink and purple, and I think the exposure to his friend has helped, too.

On Sunday night my husband and I were having a great conversation about various topics, including gender roles and homosexuality. We were talking about the stereotype that men who like “girl things” must be gay. There is a term I have been hearing a lot lately -

ef·fem·i·nate    /iˈfemənit/

Adjective:   derogatory. (of a man) Having or showing characteristics regarded as typical of a woman; unmanly.

I am glad that this definition points out that it is a derogatory term. But I have seen people use it who were simply using it to describe how they are (in a non derogatory way). In fact, most recently was in a post by Josh Weed, a gay Mormon who is married to a woman and came out on his blog a few days ago. He said (emphasis is mine)

*Why did a girl ask me that question in junior high? Because a bully actively spread a rumor around the entire school that I was a “woman trapped in a man’s body.” This was unbelievably horrific and traumatizing, and I was harassed every single day about it, often by perfect strangers. I was more effeminate, played the violin, didn’t play sports, was never interested in girls and didn’t hang out with guys, and so people glommed onto that rumor and ruthlessly harassed me for the entire year, culminating in a yearbook filled with breathtakingly insensitive taunts. Being the gay kid is really, really hard in junior high. If you know a gay kid in junior high, give them a hug and tell them you love them. I assure you they could use it.

I was startled when I read that he described himself as effeminate, because he was LDS, and the gospel doesn’t really support the stereotypical gender roles of the world. The gospel, in fact, encourages all men to be “effeminate” – submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, etc. (Please note that I am fully aware of the fact that there is a difference between the gospel and the Church, and there is an even bigger difference between the gospel of Jesus Christ and Church culture).

The Wikipedia article for “Effeminacy” states

Effeminacy describes traits in a human male, that are more often associated with traditional feminine nature, behavior, mannerisms, style or gender roles rather than masculine nature, behavior, mannerisms, style or roles.

It is a term frequently applied to womanly behavior, demeanor, style and appearance displayed by a male, typically used implying criticism or ridicule of this behavior (as opposed to, for example, merely describing a male as feminine, which is non-judgmental). The term effeminate is most often used by people who subscribe to the conventional view that males should conform to traditional masculine traits and behaviors.

I acknowledge that this term can be used non-derogatorily and that it gets the point across when you are describing a man who, by the world’s standards, does “girly” things or is “girly”. But, notice that the article also mentions that “merely describing a male as feminine … is non-judgmental”. I think that both descriptions of men are judgmental and offensive.

I think that the world’s (and members of the Church’s) gender stereotypes are hogwash. Malarkey.

In a previous post about gender I mentioned that the Church’s Parent’s Guide is a great resource to help us understand that our divine gender identity is not founded on the world’s stereotypes of what men and women should act like.

There are many patterns of behavior that are appropriate for all people. Everyone, male and female, is invited to examine the character of Jesus Christ and emulate him … Among the traits Christ revealed as proper for men and women alike are faith, hope, charity, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, kindness, godliness, humility, diligence, and love. These virtues transcend gender. They are Christlike attributes to which both sexes should aspire … Spiritual gifts, as described in Doctrine and Covenants 46, are not restricted to one gender either. Included are gifts of knowledge, belief, administration, organization, healing, and discernment.

You should provide opportunities for your children to develop talents in various directions unhindered by improper stereotypes … Teach your daughters and your sons to seek opportunities to learn and to exploit every such opportunity fully … Boys must learn basic domestic skills, and girls must be able to earn a living if necessary. (emphasis mine)

We should be and should raise our children to be unhindered by improper stereotypes. I believe these improper stereotypes are a way that Satan confuses us about our divine gender identity. Either he tells us that “gender doesn’t matter” and we can “choose” our gender identity, or, using the stereotypes, Satan would have us believe that if a man “acts like a girl” or a girl “acts like a man” they must be homosexual, or they must not really be a man or a woman – as if how a person acts somehow changes who they actually are. Even someone who lives contrary to the commandments of God can never change the fact that they are, indeed, a child of God.

As parents I think that we have a very significant role in shaping our children’s perspective of what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman. I am still figuring out exactly what it means to be a woman, but I can tell you that I know what being a man/being a woman doesn’t mean.

Being a man does not mean being able to change a tire, having huge muscles, being able to bench your weight (or more than it). It does not mean being able to “take someone” in a fight. It definitely does not mean “controlling your woman” or being “in charge” at your house and in your family in an unrighteous-dominion kind of way. It absolutely does not mean loving football (or any sport for that matter), or not ever crying, or being able to “take it” (physical OR emotional pain). It in no way means that you have to ignore your children, that you can never sing a lullaby, or kiss a boo-boo. It does not mean that you cannot be in a play, do ballet, play the flute, or paint.

Being a woman does not mean that you are tender hearted and sweet. It does not mean that you adore children and babies. It doesn’t mean that you like the color pink or purple or some variation of the two. It definitely doesn’t mean that you like scrapbooking, or that you like to cook, or clean, or blog. It absolutely does not mean that you “submit” to every thing your husband ever wants you to do. It in no way means that you can’t like monster truck rallies, the rodeo, or fixing cars. It does not mean that you keep out of the wood shop and stay in the kitchen. It in no way means that you can’t play the tuba or the double bass or sing tenor. It doesn’t mean you have to wear makeup or a dress or never have a job or not get an education. There is nothing about being a woman that says you can’t clean 200 lbs or bench more than your own weight. Being a woman does not mean that you cry over every sad movie or love story. It doesn’t even mean you like love stories.

Manhood and womanhood are not defined in these ways. Right now I can’t tell you exactly what defines manhood and womanhood, but I am absolutely certain that it isn’t those things.

All of the things I mentioned are characteristics, personality traits, and hobbies that are not gender specific, no matter how badly the world wants to claim they are. There is nothing innately feminine about being meek and submissive or crying. There is nothing innately manly about being strong and charismatic or fighting. Nor do those things make you a man or a woman. In fact, except in very rare and extreme circumstances, the only thing that really does make you a man or woman is the second chromosome in your body.

There are Christ-like characteristics and there are non-Christ-like characteristics. We should all, men and women, be seeking to develop Christ-like qualities. We should not make men feel like “less of a man” because they are developing those qualities, or make women feel less womanly because they don’t innately have Christ-like qualities.

What improper gender stereotypes do you see around you? Were improper stereotypes embraced in your family? In your ward? By your friends? What problems do you see developing from gender stereotyping?


  1. Awesome, a sharp post Becca. I am glad that you have differentiated between gender characteristic vs gender stereotypes. I looked up the origin of the word "effeminate" and the orginal and more ancient definitions point to a specfic behavior concerning men:ie cross dressing;mimicing female behavior,etc that may or may not lead to homosexual behavior. So fast forward through time, and the word effeminate has been effectively changed or "dumbed down". Now if a man is perceived as soft spoken, or sensitive, crys during commercials with kittens or puppies, eats quiche,love pink, he is now "effeminate", which it seems in the world this word is a "cover" or deception to use in a degrogatory sense. One of the adversary's more insidious devices
    I have male friends who are girly, and girlfriends who are "manly" LOL:),but at the end of the day,we know who we are.

  2. I love this post Becca! I am so glad that you are sharing Josh's blog. It took so much courage for him and Lolly to share that with the world and I admire them for it. I admire them for so many reasons not just that, but that did take a lot of strength. I also admire you for what your saying about your own kids. When my oldest son was little he wanted a Barbie for Christmas. We were confused, probably shouldn't have worried about it but at the time we were. He liked playing dolls with his sister. In reality that is probably a good thing in a way, I mean he'll be a Father some day. The stereotypes are so pervasive and moving beyond them is very liberating. I think your right in that it is a way for the adversary to weasle his way into our lives, our families. I have been sharing Josh Weed's blog with everyone all over the place. I'm glad that you are to. Their story is so special and beautiful really, they moved beyond that one issue through love and understanding. Anyway, thanks for sharing this!


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