Thursday, 5 April 2018

Namby pamby

One thing I thank my parents for is that they never expected me to conform to a gender role but just let me be what came naturally. They never expected me to like or do certain things because I was a boy rather than a girl.

They never expected me to like sport, or stamp collecting, or climbing trees, or films with tough male heroes. I did have a model railway and a Bayko building set (sort of like Lego), but that was my preference and nothing to do with them. I used to play keeping house with my sister and I used to play with her dolls and her cuddly toys.

Likewise my parents didn't expect me to be muscle-bound or physically tough. They didn't expect me to be impassive or unemotional. And they didn't expect me to hide my vulnerability or insecurity. They were very non-coercive in that respect.

Boarding school however was a different matter. There was a strongly masculine atmosphere. You shouldn't be emotional, you shouldn't show your vulnerability, you had to be competitive and forceful and loud, you had to be a sports-lover, and if you were bullied or pushed around, you just had to suck it up. Any hint of anything feminine or "namby-pamby" was firmly squashed.

Fortunately not much of this macho outlook rubbed off, partly because it just wasn't me, partly because of the more easy-going attitude at home, partly because it struck me as immature and repressive. How I endured it for so long (five years) without rebelling or running away, I don't know. I must have been a very stoical child.

Some people say boarding schools have changed and they're much more enlightened nowadays. Somehow I doubt it. In a boys-only community without any girls to challenge them, a masculine ethos must inevitably take over and permeate everything.

They sure as hell won't be admiring each other's new frocks.

Pic: Schoolboys who weren't allowed to wear shorts came to school in skirts.

26 comments:

Joanne Noragon said...

My brothers and I were raised much the same way. When one of the two complained about my shirt ironing abilities, both of them were delegated their own shirts and trousers to iron. And we still rubbed comfortably along.

Wisewebwoman said...

As you know Nick my belief is that gender is a social construct reinforcing stereotypical beliefs.

My mother was way ahead of her time and insisted I be treated like my 4 brothers, not forced to do housework (my father's rage was unbelievable and abusive) so I got to do everything fun, like build racing rockets out of my large doll's pram, form gangs with boys, learn to catapult and football, etc.

I raised my daughters non-gender.

But I see the reversion to old stereotypes everywhere ("Daddy's little princess, Mom's little soldier, etc.").

We all need to be free of this.

XO
WWW

Bijoux said...

You provide an interesting take on single sex schooling. Here, many believe that separating sexes will enable females to succeed in math and science (because teachers supposedly have a bias towards calling on boys) and also, that girls won't be worried about looking too smart in front of the boys or be too focused on attracting boys.

I can see how putting boys together fosters bullying as well as 'mean girl' syndrome can occur in all girls schools. I'm glad I never had to deal with any of that.

nick said...

Joanne: Quite right that your brothers were told to iron their own shirts and trousers. No woman has ever done my ironing apart from my mother when I was a kid. I can just imagine the colourful language if I had ever asked Jenny to do my ironing!

nick said...

www: I totally agree gender is a social construct - and one designed to keep women in their place. Good to know your mother allowed you such freedom gender-wise. And yes, the stereotypes seem to be on the rise rather than fading away. It's disconcerting to see so many ultra-feminine, ultra-heterosexual "trans women" reinforcing gender roles rather than resisting them.

nick said...

Bijoux: I once read a suggestion that girls and boys should be separated for lessons, so girls aren't distracted and put off by the boys, but should mix at other times (like lunch hours and in the playground). That sounds very sensible to me, but I've never heard of it being instituted anywhere.

tammy j said...

in this part of the country there is often seen your stereotypical redneck mentality. the kind that says things like "if you was a man little lady I'd punch yer lights out!"
good grief. spare me.
there is nothing scarier than too much rampant testosterone combined with too little education.
in the really early days they were the gunslingers walking into the saloon to pick a fight. i hope their days are numbered everywhere.
hopefully the world is changing now and quickly.

CheerfulMonk said...

We certainly didn't push stereotypes on Kaitlin. http://cheerfulmonk.com/2018/03/11/if-you-had-led-the-life-i-lead-2/

nick said...

Tammy: Nowadays you don't have gunslingers striding into a saloon, you just have predatory males walking into a saloon and regarding every woman as a potential sexual conquest. I'd like to think their days were numbered but it's a very entrenched scenario.

nick said...

Jean: Yes, I remember that post. Kaitlyn was obviously encouraged to develop a whole range of skills and not just the traditional girly ones. Helping (?) to build a tractor is quite something.

Rummuser said...

I did not go to a boarding school and we did not have time to even think about gender matters in school as we were busy studying, being boy scouts and / or in the National Cadet Corps, playing sports and games and being busy with inter school competitions. Genders were strictly segregated as part of our then cultural milieu. Our home was three elder brothers and the youngest a sister and she was the apple of the eyes of the entire household and was pampered and she grew up more like a tomboy. None of us have grown to be sub or abnormal.

I remember reading the story about the boys wearing skirts when they were stopped from wearing shorts and thouht that it was a great way of registering a protest.

nick said...

Ramana: So did your parents encourage you to take part in those "masculine" pursuits or did you just naturally enjoy them? It's good that your sister was so pampered and venerated by her siblings. I think in some households she would have been looked down on as "not being like the boys".

helen devries said...

I remember a boy in the junior school whose life was made a misery by the tough boys calling him a sissy...he was just shy and quiet.
I also remember him bursting into tears when the eleven plus results were read out in class and he had not passed...condemned to the secondary modern with the toughs...

nick said...

Helen: That boy could have been me. I can't remember exactly what the tough boys called me at school but certainly I was quiet and shy and that upset their idea of male behaviour.

I also failed the 11 plus and was heading for the secondary modern, but my parents sent me to boarding school instead. However the toughs were there as well!

Secret Agent Woman said...

Stamp collecting is considered a masculine endeavor in Britain? Here it would be sort of a nerdy thing to do.

I see your point about the downside of separating genders and also understand the view that allowing girls to be educated separately helps them excel in traditionally male subjects like math. All the research shows that teachers tend to favor boys in math and science classes. I only ever was in mixed schools, though, and lived in coed dorms in university.

nick said...

Agent: I only meant it was "masculine" as opposed to, say, playing with dolls or helping mummy with the cooking. I guess picking fights or drinking a yard of ale would be better examples.

Your co-ed schooling seems to have turned you into a very well-adjusted adult.

kylie said...

I am ashamed to think about how deeply gender divided my house is and how I have allowed it. It crept up on me, I'm afraid.

having said all of that, I did my best

nick said...

Kylie: With the best will in the world, I think it's very hard to free people from gender roles. It's not just parents who encourage them but friends, relatives, workmates, teachers, the media, you name it. It would be miraculous if anyone was genuinely gender-free and not striving in some way to be more "feminine" or more "masculine". It's so deeply entrenched.

kylie said...

I don't strive to be more feminine but some more traditionally masculine skills may be nice. I mostly don't want my boys to feel that some aspects of life are womens work or that they should be waited on.
I like to "look after" my family: cook for them, make packed lunches, iron clothes (well ok, not so much on the ironing) but I notice the boys accept my efforts and the girls have a bid for independence. Where is the line between accepting help and actually expecting it......

I could muse on this for hours

nick said...

Kylie: I think that's the important thing - for children to realise that the idea of "masculinity" and "femininity" is entirely arbitrary and that both boys and girls can do anything they want to if they set their mind to it. And boys shouldn't be able to opt out of things because they're deemed "feminine".

If you enjoy looking after your family, that's fine. There's only a problem if you don't enjoy it but you're expected to do it because you're female.

There are many situations in which people should expect help, which is why we have public services. And we expect help from our friends and partners (and parents), as they expect help from us. Expecting help seems natural enough to me. Or have I missed the point there?

Jenny Woolf said...

I think boarding schools must tend to reinforce stereotypes, because to some extent boys and girls do act in very different ways, for whatever reason and when you're stuck 24 hours a day with them it's hard not to be influenced. But my boarding school didn't change my sense of who I was. Mind you I only went for 2 years. That was long enough!

nick said...

Jenny: True, if you're with other boys or other girls 24 hours a day you're going to be influenced by them. Hopefully if you have a strong personality of your own the influence is small. I think I was influenced more in a negative way. I decided I didn't want to be anything like these arrogant loudmouths!

Haddock said...

I think all children should be in co ed schools.

nick said...

Haddock: I think there should be co-ed schools, but the lessons should be single-sex to maximise serious study and avoid all the distracting boy-girl shenanigans.

Polly said...

Life was a lot simpler when I was growing up. (I think my father was disappointed that I wasn’t a boy) I played with girl’s toys but one of my cousins had a fantastic train set that he had built in his bedroom. He wouldn’t let anyone operate it though, we were only allowed to look at it. I wanted to build my own but my father said no, he did build a dolls house for me though.

nick said...

Polly: That's a shame your father didn't approve of train sets for girls. Perhaps he didn't want you getting the idea you could be a train driver? But I see the number of female train drivers is gradually increasing - now up to 5.4 per cent!