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To Do It or Not To Do It… That is the Question

In society, there tends to still be a common belief of what is acceptable for a male and what is acceptable for a female.

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A friend of mine observed one of these instances just a few days ago. In her Facebook post, she wrote “Recently, I was in a store picking up diapers for the kids. As I was in the aisle, utilizing the calculator on my cell phone to figure out exactly which brand of diaper was the better deal, another mom came into the aisle. I believe they were looking at Pull Ups. The mom had a coupon (I myself love coupons) for a certain brand. The little boy suddenly got excited because they had pink ones. He wanted the pink ones. His mom very quickly squashed that idea and told him pink was for girls. He persisted and said “but I like pink”. Again, his mom told him “no” because pink was for girls and he wasn’t a girl. I’m not here to knock this mom because I dont know what her day was like and I’m very open about the fact that I’m not a perfect mother and I will very likely mess my kids up somehow along the way, but this witnessed interaction bothers me. Why is it wrong for a boy to like pink or another “girly” color? Why do so many parents/people have this need to separate girl things and boy things? By being told no to the pink diapers, so many messages were, likely inadvertantly, sent to this little boy who is just learning to make sense of his world. He was told that his feeling of liking pink was wrong. Did this cause him to question other things he likes? And if it’s wrong for a boy to like pink, then maybe there’s some feeling that girls are less because they like pink. I disagree with this very clear separation between what boys and girls like and wear. I fall into it, as I dress both kids, for the most part, in gender specific clothing mainly because I want people to know what sex my children are, but I’m trying hard to promote learning in all ways for both my children. I want Samuel to have the opportunity to play with dolls and learn the care of others and I want Sophia to have the opportunity to build things (with blocks that are the core colors…red, blue, green, yellow. Not gender specific girl color blocks of various shades of pink that are hard to describe when a child asks the color), drive trucks around and play in the dirt. I don’t want them to feel stuck by what is expected of them based on whether or not they have a penis. It is clear that children are exposed to these biases from a very young age. So, I’m making a pledge that if Samuel wants to wear pink diapers and a pink shirt, I’m going to support that. I have boundaries for my children, but I’m going to work hard on those boundaries not being what color my child likes. If he wants to wear bows in his hair I’m going to have to do some soul searching, But for right now, I feel strongly about stomping out these biases and separations from the beginning. Let’s embrace a child’s individuality rather than grouping them into what they’re “supposed to be”.

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The decision of what a certain gender should do or not do is socially constructed. Society helps to shape the expectations associated with gender. And article published by the Anthropology in Practice titled “Nail Polish and the Policing of Gender Norms”. The article explains that the idea of feminine beauty went from non-make up’ed woman in the nineteenth-century to woman not needing to be “homely” anymore in the twentieth-century.

In order to test out how accepting Michigan Tech students are, my group decided to go out and attempt to break a gender norm. The gender norm that we chose was men painting their nails. Since makeup is typically marketed towards females, we felt that this was a very overt act that would easily get reactions. Our group of five (two males and three females) went to the library on campus.  The two males went off by themselves in the center of the study area and proceeded to paint his nails while the other male talked with him.

We sat for about 10 minutes and observed the reactions of people. It was interesting to note that hardly anyone noticed what the male was doing. Was it because the location that was chosen made it hard for people to see the activity? Was it because it was a slow day in the library? Was it that people were focused and intent on studying and doing homework so they didn’t pay attention to their surroundings? Or, are Michigan Tech students just not phased by people breaking stereotypical gender norms?

So, we decided to move our test to the Memorial Union commons area since it was in the middle of lunch time. The same male sat at a center table and began painting his nails again with a different color. We once again sat for about 10 minutes and observed the reactions of people. Again, people were around and didn’t seem to really care what was going on. It was really an unexpected response.

Since this normal directly affected the two males in the group, we asked them how they felt about this.  The male who painted his nails was fine with it. He eagerly volunteered and even helped to choose the colors. The male who completed the act make reference to the fact that he was glad that the time for a meeting had changed so that he would be able to remove the polish. Also when it was mentioned that there was no polish remover available, he said he was just going to go back to his place and use his roommates polish remover. The other male in the group shyly refused to be the one that painted his nails.  When we were trying to change up the test to be that the one male would paint the other male’s nails, he refused and even offered to pay a friend five dollars if he would volunteer to to do it. The friend refused!

Why does it matter if an activity is considered primarily attributed to one gender or another? In Gustavo Acosta blog post titled “Men Can Wear Nail Polish”, Acosta explains why he wears nail polish, “…I am the one looking at my nails most of the time, I see my hands when driving, writing checks, typing on my computer, preparing meals, taking a shower, etc. So I mostly do it for me, and not to show off or pretend to be something or someone I am not. That is why I like to wear rings and bracelets too, because I am looking at them, I do it for me.”

Acosta goes on to explain why many men do not wear nail polish openly or even try to wear it at all. It’s all because of fear. This is the reason why I feel it is very important to stop the inequality caused by gender specific thinking.

Acosta, Gustavo. “What is the identity of a man who wears nail polish?” Blog. Men can wear nail polish. 4 July 2013. Web. 4 Nov 2015.

D’Crosta, Krystal. “Nail Polish and the Policing of Gender Norms.” Blog. Anthropology in Practice. 26 Apr 2011. Web. 4 Nov 2015.