After residing for 2 years in the liberal haven of Ithaca, NY, it is a sobering experience arriving home and spending time with my family. Their behaviors, unchanged since I left for New York for the first time, serve as a lovely reminder of how the collegiate experience has radicalized my views. A recent trip to Deckers, CO with my extended family was a sobering reminder of how un-Ithaca Colorado really is. Our posse consisted of my brother and his two friends, my mother, two aunts, two uncles, five cousins, and a cousin’s friend. Our family tries to go camping at least once a summer for the last several years, and tubing or rafting on the river in Deckers is often the highlight of that trip.
It seems that political discussions follow me wherever I go, and the camp site by the river was no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions held with those on the trip. At one point I had an in depth discussion with my cousin Scotty on Cuba. He had apparently watched a history channel episode on the independence of Cuba, and had remarkably retained many details about the country. This was preceded by an equally interesting discussion with my aunt regarding immigration in our family’s hometown of Pueblo and her experiences in her job working with low-income families. While these conversations get frustrating at times because I am used to the college student mentality of question everything, and, yes, being in the liberal majority, my frustration are the discussions that aren’t had. The discussions regarding areas of American culture that my family haven’t even began to question, such as gender roles in our society. In this case it was not just the subject matter that prevented the conversation, but also that this conversation would have been with a 3 year old, and I’m unsure of my place, as older cousin, to have this conversation. If his parents choose to raise him with different expectations for males and females, who am I to wreck that foundation.
It was simple and pleasant. We were walking on a trail. I had my three year old cousin in one hand and my 6 year old cousin in the other. We were skipping, jumping over holes in the trail, and admiring the flowers. At one point the 6 year old picked one of the flowers and I suggested that she wear it in her hair. After helping her fasten the flower behind her ponytail, she picked a flower for me to wear in my hair. I then turned to the youngest of our line and asked if he would like a flower for his hair.
His response “Flowers are for girls.”
That didn’t answer the question, did it? But to him, it did. He was satisfied with explaining to me that his gender did not wear flowers and saw no need in answering on the premise of his actual desires. I posed a question in response “Why can only girls wear flowers?” but he had already run ahead and jumped in a pile of dirt.
He is 3 years old. I don’t know when he was told that he, as a male, should not wear a flower. Perhaps he had already been in a similar situation before. Maybe he heard it on a cartoon or from one of his siblings. Regardless, at three years old society’s expectation of him had already limited his behaviors. We were each wearing a flower, but he could not. Well, you may say, “Sara it is just a flower.” But how many “flower” moments will he have in his life? How many times will he be limited by the expectations for him regarding masculinity? And most importantly, how often are we all limited by social expectations for our gender? Clearly these questions are a bit much for a three year old. But when should it start? Is it only after a child has been thoroughly indoctrinated into their place in society’s gender dichotomy that we can begin to slowly break down those expectations?