Filed under: Gender politics | Tags: babies, caitlin moran, Feminist, gender norms, Ladies Man, Lady Sex Pirate, Swashfuckler, t-shirt
I saw an adorable baby toddling through a cafe wearing a t-shirt that said, “Ladies Man.” The baby was cute and his t-shirt was amusing because he’s just a baby. But then I got uncomfortable. With a little consideration, this kid’s t-shirt felt like such a bald reinforcement of patriarchal ideals.
There is something complimentary about being a ladies’ man. It implies a man who seduces a lot of women, which is why it’s funny on a baby. But there is no reverse of this idea. You can’t be a man’s woman – or a gentleman’s lady – you label yourself like that, you start to look like a prostitute. A man who seduces a lot of women is admired – a woman who seduces a lot of men is just a slut. The closest equivalent for a girl that I could think of that MIGHT have a positive sheen if you looked at it in the right light would be Temptress. And can you imagine how horrible a baby t-shirt with “Temptress” on it would be?
It makes me think about something Caitlin Moran talked about in an interview with herself at the Free Library of Philadelphia. One of her motivations for writing her book How to Build a Girl was to find a way to celebrate female sexual exploration and she found that she couldn’t find a way to make “slut” or “slag” sound positive – so she invented two new ideas, “Lady Sex Pirate” and “Swashfuckler.”
But I would not want these on a baby’s t-shirt either.
I guess in the absence of equal opportunities for joke baby t-shirts – it might be best not to reinforce gender norms at all at that age.
I mean, I know that kid can’t read his own t-shirt and to him, it doesn’t matter at all – but I know I looked at him and tried to see behaviors that might explain his t-shirt. Was he a particularly flirtatious baby, for example? Did he toddle more toward women than men?
And there’s a way that, even as a joke, the people around a kid in a ladies’ man t-shirt begin to give that kid an idea of himself with just that conception.
One of the ways we learn and decide who we are is by the way people interact with us. Put a kid in a ladies’ man t-shirt, you may end up with a ladies’ man, for better or worse.
Does the training to see men as sexual conquerors and women as objects NEED to start with babies? I guess it does, actually. That’s how we GET gender norms. But, it does make my skin crawl a little bit to watch a cute kid toddle around in a joke that teaches him and teaches the people around him to see him as Don Juan. That’s the kind of joke that can stick.
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