Free Choice?

“William Wants a Doll. Can He Have One?” resonated with a particular family experience of mine. The “Stalled Revolution” of child rearing that Martin describes is definitely apparent in families today (Martin 458). Martin’s argument is that this stalling of gender-neutral child rearing is due to a preoccupation with the thought of the child becoming homosexual (Martin 458). Because gender nonconformity is still viewed as such a horrific thing in society, parents are urged to ensure that boys do “boy things” and girls do “girl things” as young children. When I was about five years old, my mom let me paint my nails. However, my younger brother was extremely jealous of my bright pink nails and cried when my mom initially told him he could not have pink nails as well. After he continued to cry, my mom finally gave in, but only allowed him to paint his nails with the clear topcoat. This situation brings to light the difficulty parents face in society. They do ultimately have free choice, but the imprinting of general societal expectations sways this choice. Should my mother have just allowed my brother to use the pink nail polish? I am sure his preschool teacher or other mothers would have questioned this behavior, even though it does not seem like a big deal to a lot of us. I guess it is easy to judge when looking at these instances from an outside point of view. The problem parents face when making such decisions to go against societal expectations might have other effects when people see their actions as those that make them “bad” mothers and fathers. In order to make changes, there must be more parents choosing to disregard these societal norms. This is a difficult cycle to break free from if you are the only couple doing so in the area.

Martin, Karin. “William Wants a Doll. Can He Have One? Feminists, Child Care Advisors, and Gender-Neutral Child Rearing.” Gender and Society, Vol. 19, No. 4. 2005.

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1 Response to Free Choice?

  1. You bring up an interesting point about gender nonconformity which I always knew was there but never really thought about. I grew up with my mother my whole life and never really understood that there were specific “gender roles” to parent’s jobs around the house or at least that that’s the way other families ran things around the home. My mother had to make sure everything got done, so in that aspect I was very blinded by the idea that there’s a stigma of certain jobs that belong to different genders. However, when I was 3 my mother put me in Ballet class where they had Karate next door. As I grew up, I never even considered taking Karate because it was not something that my mom had even commented on or would’ve allowed me to do. I did notice that all the girls would be dropped off at ballet class and the brothers of the girls would be taken to Karate class. Whenever I passed the Karate class, there was always at most 2 girls, and I would hear young girls taking ballet that those girls were “tomboys”.

    Of course, I had free choice to go take a Karate class if it was something that interested just like your mother allowing your brother to wear pink nail polish but it was the fear of judgement that limits the amount of choice a person has. I often think about to what extent can you do as you wish and not get harassed or judged for it. The fear of getting called a “tomboy” as a child subconsciously did not allow me from even thinking of taking Karate, therefore limiting my choice to do so. I agree with your statement that to make changes, parents must choose to disregard societal norms, and I think that once this is done, more people will be comfortable with the idea that they are getting as close to free choice as possible.

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