Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Gender deconstructionism

It will surprise exactly none of you to know that the phrase "crying like a little girl" irritates me. For many, many reasons, which we can get into in the comments if anyone is interested. Which nobody is.
That said, I want to parse whether the phrase even makes any sense as anything other than sexism.
So, parents of (or folks with experience of) young children of either sex:
  • Is it your experience that little girls are more likely to cry than little boys? Less likely? The same likely?
  • Is it your experience that little girls are more likely to scream than little boys? Less likely? The same likely?
  • If "more," is it your opinion that this is true before the heavy-duty socializing efforts occur? Like, before the child has friends who are capable of peer pressure, or adult role models who are enforcing gendered behavior?
  • Is it your experience that when little girls do cry or scream, it is in a less-tough way than little boys?
  • If so, before the child has friends who are capable of peer pressure, or adult role models who are enforcing gendered behavior?
Honestly interested in answers here; I'm not trying to be argumentative. Yet.


bzh said...

Oh, goody. A little light conversation before dinner...

My little girl, Urchin, cries far more often than her best friend, a little boy three weeks older than she. She is more inclined to cry when she's hurt, angry, sad, frustrated and/or tired. In fact, often her first reaction is to cry. He mostly cries when he's frustrated and/or tired. The other day, he cried out of sadness and it was unusual enough for his mother to note it in conversation with me.

In my experience, little boys AND little girls scream far too much. Between the two I know best, I can discern no difference in volume or, er, volume.

I don't know what you mean by heavy-duty socializing efforts. Sounds a little like dating, which our daughter can't do until she's married. We've always made sure our kid spends a significant amount of her time with other kids. We are pleased that while she seems to develop strong friendships, she is less inclined to be influenced by what her peers think than, say, we are. For instance, her best friend at school isn't shy about telling Urchin when she doesn't like Urchin's clothing choices. Urchin always replies, "Well, I LIKE my shoes." It makes me smile every time. I'm not sure if that answered your question, but I sure do like telling that story.

My little girl cries tough. Her best friend cries tough. Both of them mean business when they cry. She just does it more often.

I don't know what all of this means. I do, however, find your premise fascinating. Because I'm not as deep a thinker as you are, I would simply ascribe such stupid talk to the ignorance of the person from whose mouth it sprang.

Rick said...

First, I want to follow up bzh's comment and say that my little, who just turned four, doesn't cry half as much as the boys at her school. But she does cry, but usually they are crocodile tears. But I think this is completely her personality and has nothing to do with gender lines. Her best friend is only a week and a half older than her and she cries all the time -- when she doesn't get her way, when an ambulance drives by, when the wind blows. My daughter looks at her like she's nuts. And interestingly enough, her friends' parents, our best couple friends, have virtually the same ideas about child rearing except for one thing. They decided to co-sleep with their daughter while we stuck our daughter i the crib from day two. I think this caused us to get a much more independent kid while their child is clingy, needy and cries a LOT. And I think because my daughter is independent she doesn't cry nearly as much as the other kids, boys and girls alike.

As for the expression, "cries like a little girl," it's never bothered me personally. I've always found it to be a humorous expression, even when said with the worst of intentions and really, how bad can those intentions really be? Little girls cry. So do little boys, but if you want to insult someone or make a joke, you choose the opposite gender. It's funnier and it stings more. Either way I don't think it's an insult to little girls around the world, it's an insult to the person the expression is thrown at. It's saying "you're not really that manly" and little girls are far from manly. That's a fact so I don't really see the harm in the expression because I also don't see how it can further grow the stereotype that little girls cry because nothing a grown man says to another grown man is going to affect what that little girls does. That's my two cents and they are open to debate or my money back. :)

Rick said...

Where's all the debate we were promised?

Cousin Mouse said...

Parent of one of each sex here, and careful observer of them and their peers. In my experience little girls are not more likely to cry than boys. I believe that in decades past, certainly when I was growing up, boys were denigrated for crying. I don't see that any more, not in "enlightened" places, anyway.

In my experience girls do seem to scream more - usually screaming of the gleeful variety.

This could be from socialization or from biology, or a combination.

As a male parent, I freely admit that one of life's joys is to get a gaggle of little girls to squeal when (good-naturedly) teased. Repeatedly. Is that socializing them or taking advantage of a natural trait? Or a combination?

I dunnoh!

The "crying like a little girl" phrase cuts down both sexes. It uses a sexist view of girls to humiliate a boy.

Cousin Mouse said...

Afterthought - the crying/screaming like a little girl phrases - which were widely understood to be sexist in the early 70s - are typical of what seems to me to be a "rehabilitation via irony" phenomenon that I've observed over the last 20 years.

Somebody, usually a comic, uses an old sexist, racist, homophobic catch phrase like that, and suddenly it's an ok phrase. Some people use it ironically, but others - well, it's not always clear how much if any irony they are using.

A case in point may be the new movie "Bruno".

bzzzzgrrrl said...

bzh, I am so glad that Rick was willing to join this conversation. He's my really-truly, very smart, hilarious friend, who is (like you and I are) a writer and parent of two kids. But the stuff he writes gets seen by lots more people than the stuff I write, and than the stuff you write, because he writes for TV and movies.

bzzzzgrrrl said...

Hey, Rick, sorry not to have jumped into the fray yet. Cousin Mouse has said much of what I would have said, in two pithy sentences: "The "crying like a little girl" phrase cuts down both sexes. It uses a sexist view of girls to humiliate a boy."

Naturally, that will not prevent me from going on at some length, using multiple links.

I just read this this morning, and it adds some perspective.

I think what you're missing, Rick, is that it is not true that it is funnier to insult people by using the opposite sex. It is only funnier to insult men by calling them girls. When women scream or cried and are embarrassed by it later, they might say they "cried like a baby," "cried like a child," or even "cried like a little girl." They do not, ever, say they "cried like a little boy." That's not a thing. It is more insulting to anyone to imply that they are feminine (somehow weaker) than to imply that they are masculine.

As for what grown men saying not having any impact on what little girls do, um. What exactly would the point of parenting be, then, as opposed to just hanging out with kids because they're fun? As a powerful and very scientific example (and maybe punishment), see "Watching You" by Rodney Atkins.

Adults (of any sex) who use that expression around children (of any sex) or around anyone else are demonstrating that to them, being double weak is about as bad as it gets, and that being both young and female means being double weak.

bzzzzgrrrl said...

Cousin Mouse, right on.

And I do not know whether little girls squeal because they are socialized that way or because they're just inclined to. I do know that when you get thousands of them together at a soccer game, and then send Mia Hamm out on the field (or to sign autographs), they are painfully shrill. We used to call them the squealigans.

I do know that there is one little girl who attends the day care center in the building I also work in who sometimes just screams at the top of her lungs. I used to worry she was being hurt, and then assumed it was playful, funtime screaming. It is neither. I have seen this child just screeeeeeeeeam while standing in place, with no one harming her and while not doing anything fun. Naturally, if she chooses to do it in line while waiting to go back into the building from the playground, she sets off other children, of both sexes, at which point I have to shut my window, even though the playground is on the other side of the building from my office.

bzzzzgrrrl said...

OK, one more link.

bzh said...

I know this is supposed to be a debate about gender issues, but I think one interesting part of this whole thing is the suggestion that it's somehow weak to cry.

I'm a 20-year veteran of newsrooms. Kick-ass reporter, strong editor, strategic thinker, senior executive, national award winner, breadwinner for my family, yada, yada.

I cry at the drop of a hat.

When I'm hurt, angry, sad, lonely, tired, happy, content, it really doesn't much matter. One of my first responses is to cry. In fact, yesterday I cried in front of the most powerful man I know.

I used to hate it and fight it. Now, I let it be what it is: my authentic reaction, and a mechanism that helps me think straight in times of stress. I can't help if it bothers whoever's around. And I don't need to be comforted. I just need to cry.

So in my case, "cries like a little girl" means "cries like a strong, successful woman."

How does that fit into this?

bzzzzgrrrl said...

Hey, all. I'm closing comments to this post and only this post, because for some reason, it is attracting a crazy amount of Asian spam. I cannot read said spam, because I can read no Asian languages, but I am afraid of what it says and how it got here.
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