There is a lot of talk about gender norms and identity lately. I love seeing women scientists fighting demons on the big screen and running for POTUS in real life. I am thrilled that we are openly talking about rights for transgendered individuals. And maybe someday we’ll fix the pay gap so that men and women will be compensated equally in the workplace. As a society, we are slowly but surely working on tearing down the gender divides that have become so deeply ingrained in who we are.
Unfortunately, it seems to be a lot easier to see women doing “guy stuff” than to see men doing “girl stuff.” Part of the problem is that to be female is often equated with being weak or soft. So we still have some work to do and that starts at the individual level.
Keeping judgment to a minimum.
Getting to know people before making assumptions.
Not telling kids that they can’t wear something because they’re a girl or a boy.
You know, just seeing everyone as an individual instead of a type.
Reserving judgment is a fundamental part of being a doula. Women and families hire us to support them through birth and postpartum no matter how they want those periods to go. It doesn’t matter how I personally feel about epidurals, circumcision, or breastfeeding. I greet the family as they are and help them achieve whatever goals they personally have.
My almost three year old son, W, is doing a fantastic job of testing my neutrality and challenging my notions of gender. Like many toddlers, he loves books, trucks, and blocks. His mind is an amazing machine that remembers details from over a year ago and makes new connections every day. He repeats my words back to me often, sometimes surprising me in his accuracy.
He also loves my pink toenails. The day I treated myself to a pedicure and came home with a beautiful coral polish on my toes, W insisted that he have his painted pink as well.
I panicked. What would people think if they see my toddler’s toes are pink? He’s a BOY! Will people tease him? What would I do? Would they wonder if I’m too lax in my parenting – giving in to every little whim and fancy? Would the pink toes be too stark a contrast to his polo shirts and cargo pants?
Then I took a deep breath. It wasn’t about me at all, but about him. He saw my pretty toes and wanted his like them. And that was all there was to it.
One of W’s favorite songs to hear at bedtime right now is Dar Williams' “When I Was a Boy.” The song is about a woman grappling with femininity when she spent her childhood doing all the things boys typically like. At the end, she has a conversation with a man who felt the same struggle with gender but from the other side.
And I tell the man I'm with about the other life I lived
And I say now you're top gun, I have lost and you have won.
And he says, "Oh no, no, can't you see?
When I was a girl, my mom and I we always talked
And I picked flowers everywhere that I walked.
And I could always cry, now even when I'm alone I seldom do.
And I have lost some kindness.
But I was a girl too.
And you were just like me, and I was just like you.
I couldn’t tell W that he can’t have pink toenails because that wouldn’t just be telling him that boys don’t wear pink or that boys shouldn’t have their toes painted. It would be ME, his biggest supporter and champion, telling him that there are things that he can’t be just because of his reproductive anatomy. I would be the one telling him to lose his kindness and be something else. There will be plenty of other people who will do that for him. But it won’t be me.
It is my job to let my clients make their own choices. And that objectivity starts at home.
New Day Doula
Rainbow and Mary share thoughts on pregnancy, birth, and the parenting journey.