I have two cousins roughly the same age who both got dodgy around their twelfth birthdays. Neither was interested in becoming a teenager and twelve was their last chance to be whatever they wanted before the TEEN GIRL police hauled them in for lack of nail polish or hair dos or whatever other stupid junk girls are supposed to be. They started wearing baggy t-shirts and watching sports and bragging about how horror movies didn’t scare them. They became the polar opposite of what they were told they had to be.
Now if sports and horror and baggy clothes are your thang, that’s not a problem. But that’s not all there was to these girls. They liked sports but they also liked dolls. They liked cars but they also liked purses. But in our culture, even in a post-High School Musical world, you can’t be two things at once. You’re a TEEN GIRL or you are not. And if you’re not a TEEN GIRL, then you’re a tomboy and you mock TEEN GIRLS because they are weak and frivolous and dumb. You want to be smart and strong and tough, like a boy is supposed to be, so you’re gonna have to dress and act like a boy. These are your options, so choose.
I did the same thing as a tween. A lot of us do. A lot of us are still playing out the “I’m not this so I have to be that” dichotomy.
Por exemplo: A friend of mine is not interested in having children. She is married and financially stable and of relatively good health. But she does not want children and that is that. I have no problem with that and I told her that BEFORE I had my son and then again AFTER I had my son at which point I added, “Homegirl, having now been pregnant, given birth, and nursed until my nips bled, I can tell you with absolute resolute confidence and honesty that I Do Not Think anyone who doesn’t want a child should have a child because it is HARD and it HURTS and it often SUCKS. The only thing that makes it not the most horrible thing ever is being very much in love with your very much wanted baby. If you don’t feel that, you don’t want this.”
Despite my support of her decision, she has mostly avoided me since my son was born. We ran into her at a public event a while back and she flat out ignored my son (who was an infant at the time and didn’t notice). It hurt a little bit. I know she doesn’t want children but does she have to pretend mine doesn’t exist? Ouch. She’s not a kid-hater either. She’s just going through an “I’m not this so I have to be that” phase. She is not and does not want to be a parent so she has to pretend all children are awful or invisible.
But what does this have to do with toxic masculinity? Well, I’ll tell ya! Where do you think this dichotomy comes from? It’s the notion that to be manly, you have to be NOT lady-like. Being a man, more than anything else in our culture means NOT being a woman, or worse, a girl. Because girls are weak and frivolous and dumb and who wants to be those things? Not me, a woman. Not my cousins, two preteen girls. Not my friend, a childless adult. And if we’re not girls, we must be men. We must burp and scratch and enjoy violence and sport and hide our bodies and pretend not to love the things we secretly, shamefully love.
It’s stupid and harmful and limits us all as people.
And I don’t have a solution. I can tell the girls that they are free to be whoever they want, but they’re not. I can tell my friend that no one will accuse her of secretly wanting babies if she says hi to mine, but they will. I can continue to be soft and vulnerable at home with my son but thick-skinned and professional at work, but feel pulled apart in the process. It’s a losing game for all of us.