Tag Archives: gender

Toy Week: Brick House

Toy Week: Brick House

We were riding down the elevator at Barnes and Noble with an employee of the bookstore yesterday, and my girls spied a stack of animal-themed Lego boxes on a dolly she was leaning on.

“What are those?” my 6-year-old asked.

“These?” the worker said. “These are Chima. It’s a boy thing.”

Maybe she was trying to have some moment of solidarity with my daughters, like “Boys and their weird hobbies, am I right?”

But I bristled.

“Oh,” I replied. “My girls are into Ninjago right now.”

I hoped that retort would be enough to indicate to her that girls can like Lego stuff, too, but I don’t think she noticed. She probably didn’t even know what Ninjago was—because to her, it’s for boys.

Plus, from a strictly sales standpoint, I don’t know why someone would turn off an interested party to a potential sale, no matter their gender.

Despite being a boy myself, I didn’t know what Ninjago was until last year, and even then it was a hazy concept my daughter brought home from kindergarten. She recently discovered an animated series on Netflix, and I’ve watched some of it, so I’ve recently learned quite a bit about the Lego characters who fight by spinning themselves into living elemental tornadoes.

I grew up with Lego sets, but they were the basic kind, with no plans or directions. Then came the Pirate and Castle systems, but even with the themed kits, there was a lot of possibility, and mixing everything together yielded amazing combinations, like Robin Hood-style tree forts with billowing sails and mounted cannons.

In college, I met my brother (as an only child, I decided to pick a sibling when the right one came along) when a guy I sang with in choir invited me back to his dorm room to play Lego. We were eventually best men in each others’ respective weddings.

So Lego sets are awesome.

The best thing about them, though, is that no matter which ones you get, they’re all about creation and working with what you have to do what you want. Feel like following the directions down to the last brick? Go for it! Want to scrap the blueprints and piece together something out of your own imagination? Anything goes!

It’s a great life lesson.

Having a floor-focused 1-year-old running around means Lego pieces are hazards in our house for the moment, but I’m still planning to get some Ninjago stuff for the girls for Christmas. Don’t tell them.

I’ll have to supervise, or course, to make sure no little plastic pieces get lost and/or eaten, but I don’t mind. I get really excited about these kinds of things.

But these presents will totally be for my girls. What would I want with spinning Lego ninjas?

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Identity Week: It’s in the Cards

Identity Week: It's in the Cards

Just a couple of days ago, a Facebook friend put out a general question: What was the first CD you bought?

I answered honestly: “Soundtrack to The Little Mermaid.”

His response: “Your Man Card has been deducted by 2 points.”

He was joking, of course, and even leavened his words with the admission that he bought the Aladdin soundtrack when it came out.

Of course I didn’t feel like my masculinity was genuinely being insulted. In fact, I responded once more: “Meh,” I wrote. “Man Cards aren’t worth the frilly pink paper they’re printed on.”

And I meant it.

A Man Card, if you don’t know (or do know and just want to hear my own brilliantly concise definition), is a theoretical document that jokingly certifies your manhood and can be revoked if other men feel you’re not being manly enough. In their opinion. I’m not sure when it started, but it’s been around for several years, at least.

There’s even a website, officialmancard.com, where people can submit reasons to revoke their friends’ man cards, with offenses ranging from one dude crying when Beth gets her piano in Little Women to a guy being unwilling to sleep with a prostitute who had already been paid. Seriously.

For my 34th  32nd birthday a couple of years back, I took my then-foursome of a family to Disneyland on Super Bowl Sunday, because I’d heard that was one of the least-attended days of the year. After seeing the lines for myself, I don’t think that’s true.

My parents, my wife’s parents, and my wife’s siblings and their significant others came along, too, and at one point I went with my in-laws to find a fast ride while my wife took the kids to something more child friendly. (She was pregnant, so she couldn’t ride anything that would jostle her around. Otherwise I totally would have reversed the roles. Plus I later sent our daughters away with their grandparents and surprised my wife with a visit to the Blue Bayou for lunch, so stop judging me.)

Anyway, when we settled on an attraction, I texted my wife to let her know—except I entered the wrong number and ended up messaging some random stranger who had no idea why I wanted him to know I was about to go on Space Mountain. He suggested that I give up my Man Card for choosing the Happiest Place on Earth over watching a football game. (Apparently, Disney-related activities and purchases aren’t manly.)

The idea of a Man Card is ridiculous. It’s meant to be jokingly and good-naturedly insulting in that way guy humor can tend to be. And I get that. I don’t care if someone takes a dig at me, because I can take it. Casual insults happen, and in fact I often feel more accepted if a friend can hurl them at me, because that means he’s comfortable enough to not worry about being mistaken for someone who genuinely has something critical to say.

The Man Card concept specifically, however, is insulting to men and women in what it’s saying about our respective roles. Men are supposed be this way, not that way. Do these things, not those things. You’re not a man if you don’t fit society’s (or some section thereof’s) definition of one, and, unfortunately, people who joke this way are denigrating empathy, sympathy, respect for women, honesty, sensitivity, and responsibility. They’re saying real men prize getting their way over cooperating or compromising. Real men don’t care what their girlfriends or wives think. Real men do what they want.

This is dangerous. I’m not saying that joking about the Man Card is the downfall of modern masculinity, but it’s certainly not helping in a culture that blames the victims of sex crimes for leading their attackers along. It reinforces the already warped attitudes of men who believe they’re entitled to a woman’s body because, hey, men are men and everybody should know there’s only one reason a guy is interested in a woman. It’s right there on the card. Or it’s implied, anyway. And you wouldn’t want your buddies to think you weren’t a real man.

Wow. That got dark quickly. Sorry.

Bottom line: I don’t want my daughters growing up in a world that tells the men in their lives to treat them like objects. I don’t want my son feeling pressured to conform to a stereotype of brutish idiocy masquerading as a coveted brotherhood.

This is why I make no secret to my children, or the world, that:

I cried at the end of Cars. (Seriously, Disney again?!)

I cried at the end of A Walk in the Clouds.

I have acted as a living dressmaker’s dummy for a bustle my wife was creating on a gown.

I enjoy playing Halo.

I know what ruching is.

I am obsessed with gadgets.

I know what ruching is from watching Project Runway.

I grow and maintain a thick beard.

I know what ruching is from watching Project Runway and enjoying it.

I drive a mini-van.

I hate stopping the mini-van for any reason after I’ve started driving on a road trip.

I can name all the Disney—yes, them again—fairies.

I drink scotch.

I know more ballet positions than my 6- and 4-year-old daughters.

I list pink as my second-favorite color (it just can’t beat grey), and I wear it regularly.

I don’t think the things listed above are manly or unmanly. They just are.

So, do you think I’m overreacting?

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This is my baby

This is my baby

When my wife and I announced that we were having a third child, people would look at our two daughters and then ask me, “Are you hoping for your boy?”

The question annoyed me. It presumed so much: That I was dissatisfied with the girls. That a boy would somehow be more mine than my daughters are. That there’s a proprietary angle to our children. That dads need sons.

We chose to wait until we actually saw the baby to find out whether we were having a boy or girl, and I subsequently worried my way through the pregnancy.

Over the last several years, I’d developed a sense of myself as a good dad for daughters. I attended tea parties and gladly visited imaginary hair and beauty salons, all while championing my girls’ simultaneous desires to get muddy and rowdy, their dreams of being entomologists, and their rights to pursue whatever paths they chose, regardless of sex or gender. I proudly told people that they were the sorts of girls who liked putting on princess dresses before they climbed up on rocks and jumped off. I wrestle with them. I love camping with them. I enjoy the makeovers they give me.

I also not-so-secretly worried that I wouldn’t know what to do with a boy, protesting that I’m not an athlete, not a typical “guy”—to which my wife pointed out that I was being just a tad sexist. My firstborn, after all, shows all the signs of being competitive, physical, coordinated, and eager to take up sports, and I have no worries about my future interactions with her. I was also raised under a model of unconditional support; my rec-major dad and super-active mom—both of whom have participated in team and individual sports my whole life—never failed to attend one of my ballet recitals or musical theater performances. Of course I will make every effort to try to understand whatever activities any of my children choose to pick up.

And then he arrived. I was convinced we were having another girl. But here was this additional XY in the house, and I found myself quickly admitting that, yes, I’m glad I now have a son. Part of me feels guilty in such an admission—but my wife, correct as usual, points out that I can be happy with daughters and a son. For different reasons. And I am.

So I’m working on not being ashamed to say that I’m thrilled to have this little guy in my life, one who already likes to watch me shave. I’ll teach him how to do the same, someday—and he’ll need to do it often. I’ll teach him how to tie a tie, if that’s his style. I’ll teach him about healthy relationships, and respecting women, and masculinity that has a positive impact on society. I hope. I’ll try.

I call him Mr. Dude or Mr. Boy, and I have only recently admitted that I am glad that there’s another person in this family who will—I think, anyway—someday see the world from a similar perspective to mine.

I don’t know any of that for sure, but I do know that he is my boy—as much as my daughters are my girls. And that’s OK.

What do you think?

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