Friday, May 22, 2009

Who Are You? I'm _____ and _____'s papa.

I have a facebook profile, like many people do. And like many other people (I imagine) I use it very sporadically. I don't like to really use it for much more than reconnecting with people I spent several years with, ambling from classroom to classroom. I like to occasionally post something there that identifies the adult me, but for the most part my profile just gets neglected.

I also do something I've noticed a lot of the people I spent those many formative years do. I don't have a profile picture that readily identifies what I look like today. Not because I'm particularly unattractive (though I am definitely not the pretty boy I was in school), but because there are two aspects of my adult identity that are not only much cuter than I, they are also far more important to me, than showing off my own mug.

I really love it when my old comrades in education tell me how damned cute my boys are and how amazed they are that I actually reproduced. Or at least that I reproduced outside the context of a broken condom type accident. Some would be blown away that I managed monogamy - not for months, but for years. I really love the fact that there are several others who ambled those halls with me, who were given similar probabilities for reproducing, who also proudly feature their children in their profile picture.

While my children haven't subsumed my entire identity, they have certainly added to it. And what they have added to who I am, is the most important part of who adult DuWayne is. And should my boys make the choices that lead that way, someday I expect that the addition of grandpapa will share a similarly important addition to the identity of DuWayne.

It's not infrequent, that I am identified as "Eldest's papa." Much rarer, because he's still very small, I am also identified as "Youngest's papa." And you know something? I am no less DuWayne for being identified otherwise. In fact, I would go as far as saying that I'm much more DuWayne for being identified as my children's papa. I am proud to wear the mantle of papa, proud to be my children's dad.

I am proud to have my children prominently featured in my facebook profile picture. Sure I'm there - those of my readers who have become my facebook friend can attest. But they can also attest that you can't really see my face, because I'm crawling after youngest, while eldest is riding on my back.

Yesterday I was directed by Drugmonkey, to a post on this topic, written by Sheril Kershenbaum. A certain Katie Roiphe (I am not linking to her article, because I suspect that CPP's comment is dead on) seems to think that posting pictures of one's children as one's profile picture is horribly antithetical to feminism. At least it is if you happen to have carried said child inside your uterus for nine months - she really doesn't mention us papas and dads who do the same thing. Presumably if we do it, it really doesn't hurt feminism. Katie seems to think that women posting pictures of their kids instead of themselves, implies that their identity is thus subsumed by archetypal female social gender constructs. She doesn't actually use those terms, but that is certainly the implication.

Drugmonkey maintains that more men should do this, to normalize this kind of behavior and make it more reasonable for everyone to do it without gender bias entering the equation. The concern he raises about this approach is valid - i.e. that it will just be a way for us men types to look more progressive, but I think it falls short of the depth of the problem...

While I am the last person to say that men shouldn't be a strong part of tearing down gender disparity, I believe that the approach described by DM is problematic, because it presupposes that only if more men do this, is it going to be reasonable for women to do it as well. The implication is rather antithetical to feminism.

There should be absolutely nothing wrong with us men types saying loud and clear - with our actions and if asked about it, with our words; it's ok for men to do things that fall under the purview of traditional femininity. Women shouldn't stop doing things that would seemingly promote gender bias - choosing not to do something because one is afraid of looking too feminine, is far more antithetical to feminism, than making the choices you make because you want to. Rather, men should take action and do things that we want to do - even if they're "feminine" things to do.

Deconstructing gender means not making choices based on gender. This is just as true when it means women focusing on careers, men staying home with the kids, as it is when it means women wearing make-up and men going hunting. Deciding not to do something because it would seemingly reinforce archetypal gender constructs, is no different than choosing to do something you would rather not do, simply to maintain archetypal gender constructs.

Basing any decision on gender constructs, is absolutely antithetical to deconstructing gender and ending gender disparity.


Becca said...

The trouble is, anyone with a modicum of self-awareness can analyze their motivations and notice when they are influenced by a values system common in society that they do not want to embrace.
One goal of deconstructing gender is to be able to make decisions that are not dependent on gender. But to get there from here, you may have to consider how your 'gut resposnes' are influenced by socialization about gender.

Some level of meta-cognition on this is critical, I think. Although at some point it's just oh so much navel gazing and you should just pick the shoes you want to wear. It's a balance.

D. C. said...

Some level of meta-cognition on this is critical, I think. Although at some point it's just oh so much navel gazing and you should just pick the shoes you want to wear. It's a balance.Schroedinger's puppetmaster? If you don't look inside the box, you don't know if you're being manipulated -- and if you do look inside the box, sometimes you can't tell either because you are the box.The Observer Effect applies to us most of all, it seems, and sometimes a popsicle is just a popsicle -- you feel like it or not.

DuWayne Brayton said...

I don't think it's easy to make decisions without regard for gender socialization. But I also don't think it has to be perfect - it's a process and one where a significant part of the battle is awareness. Paying attention to what you're doing and why, may well mean that what you do today, may change with time and consciousness.

It's also important to realize that this is fraught with huge gray areas - such as doing things to please one's partner. Sometimes we all do things that we'd rather not, because we know that our partner likes it - whether it's wearing certain clothes, engaging in fetish play, or any of a myriad things. Then it becomes an issue of compromise and setting sometimes complicated boundaries - and accepting that those boundaries are subject to change.

Other gray areas might include issues of behavior in certain company. Accepting for example, that one might behave a bit differently when they're out with the guys, than they would when they're out in the general public or having an intimate dinner with they're partner.

I think that a very good exercise is to take the time and discomfort once in a while, and step out of one's gender construct. This is a lot easier for guys, because even today our social gender rules are much more narrowly defined than those of women. But I also think it's far more important for men to do it than women. Step out for a minute and step out big.