Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Baby's First Adjective 

After years teaching kids and adults to be aware of gender issues in media and technology application, I consider myself a media-sensitive feminist.

My wife and I have made a conscious decision to try to raise our children without the traditional trappings of dick-and-jane societal gender preconcepts. For years we have spoken of heterosexual marriage, for example, as but one of many possible options for our daughters -- both in our own conversations and in talking to them about their own eventual choice-making.

All the more ironic, then, that after hi, dadi, kitty, doggy, tree, light, and a holy host of proper nouns, the 8 month old suddenly smiles today and begins naming parts of the universe pretty.

Maybe she learned it from the three-year-old. Sigh. And they both treasure dolls more than anything. Guess there's some serious nature involved in gender identification after all.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:09 PM |

Oh, I agree. Before I had kids I was firmly in the nurture camp as to gender roles but by the time my oldest child, a girl, was three I had come much closer to the nature side. I still straddle, but it's amazing how much we are what we are despite how we're led or influenced.

Seeking Clarity
For very lucid writing on the nature-nurture debate, check out The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker.
I have a quite different worldview, I suspect, than you do, because I find it interesting that you would express surprise that your child has an innate sense of the aesthetic. You will find, if you care to, that your child also has an innate sense of right and wrong, and that she will instinctively know - whatever you try to teach her or not teach her - that the concept of there really being a "right" and a "wrong" is so obvious as to not require discussion. Likewise "pretty" and "ugly", which are indeed value judgments, in the truest sense of the word. They reflect a sense of the valuable, which strikes me as being something to be encouraged.

Where many parents have trouble is in teaching their children that value is not all in vision, that there are beautiful things that cannot be seen, and beautiful ideas in the heads of less visually attractive people, and especially that there is some value, somewhere, in even the ugliest of people, though it likely takes a God to find it.

But to attempt to teach a child that pretty doesn't exist is like trying to tell her that the sun does not shine when she's standing in it. She simply won't know what you're talking about.

And don't you think that culture grows out of natural instincts? Why, if women are biologically created to bear children, would we find it surprising - even embarrassing, it seems - that they would want to be mothers, by and large? That which makes your daughter herself, did you think you put it there?
I think CJ misses the point -- and misatributes some pretty odd intent to me which I cannot find in my own writing.

Teach my child that pretty does not exist? Never in a million years would I deny her -- indeed, miss a chance to celebrate her ability to sense so early -- the beauty that is this world.

But PRETTY? The world is not pretty. It is raw, and chaotic, and full of beauty. It is warm and ancient, cold and constantly new. It is not surface-deep, and I worry that having one's first adjective be pretty -- which is generally considered a societal norm, not an awareness of beauty -- is an interesting indication of...I dunno. Something.

'Course, she's come to language surrounded by the warm lit trees of the holiday. So perhaps shiny and light is not so surprising. Still, in our house, we speak of beauty much more than pretty -- the underlying question is where the word came from, not the conception it carries.

Hmm. I think CJ corrected me for agreeing with him. Ah, the internet -- a place of straw men and too-easily-attributed motives unsaid and unmeant. I make that mistake all the time, myself.

The Pinker book was great, yes. Had lunch with him once, but we ended up chatting about mundania and the ends of museum education, never hit gender conception. Thanks for reminding me, Brian.
Oh, and before I forget, to CJs last 'graph:

At three, my daughter has been led to see that she can be a mother...or not; have a paired mother...or male spouse...or not. In some species, indeed, the father parents, while the mother deserts. Must biology somehow anticipate dress-up? I believe not.
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