About two years ago, Target stores decided to make a radical, positive change in the way they marketed their toys, home, and entertainment departments. A news release announced they were “ditching” gender labels. They were going to accomplish this by doing away with gender suggestions on signs, as those seemed to be antiquated relics in a society that is ever growing upwards in its quest to understand, empathize with, and embrace the non-binary construct of gender.
I remember the Target movement well. I was totally on board with this; it resonated with me, a mom of 3, my youngest at the time being a 9-year-old gender creative son. I was excited when, later that fall, the Legos were all moved to one aisle, “boys Legos” and “girls Legos” all together in one place. Good, I thought. I’ll be revisiting this aisle in December when I do some Christmas shopping. But when I came back that December, the gender neutral Lego aisle was back to being segregated, just like before. Fairy and pastel colored Legos on one aisle, ninjas and primary colors on the other, clearly segregated girls and boys items.
“That didn’t last long,” I thought. What gives? Did they cave to the pressure of Fox News and conservatives like Elisabeth Hasselbeck who spent an entire morning broadcast asking their viewers, “What is up with this? If I want to buy a gift for my little nephew, how am I going to know where to look?” (Assuming they weren’t aware of that magical little thing called the gift card, or hey, how about asking your little nephew exactly what he wants and then finding it. Store employees can typically be called on to offer assistance locating an item, if needed.)
So it seemed we had come to that point in history again where good ole ‘Murica was at a precipice, divided into one of two camps for the gender neutral aisle concept: love it, or hate it. Either way, the reactions that followed this movement on social media and in the news were… um… robust, to put it lightly. During that time, I came upon one particular news headline which I read and, though it went against my better judgment, also read the comments section. Yikes.
I wondered, “were there really people in 2015 that believed making toy aisles gender neutral would cause catastrophic confusion?” The answer was a resounding “yes.” Yes indeed. There were. Plenty of them. Furthermore, one comment in particular jumped at out me, and though it included a term I had heard before, this time it seemed particularly offensive. It was posted by a male-identified person sporting camouflage and having an apparent affection for grandiose firearms. It boldly stated: “Gender neutral toy aisles because someone might get offended? Here we go! Welcome to the pussification of America!”
Did you hear that? The “pussification” of America. As far as I know, George Carlin coined the term when describing his horror of what had become of the American male, specifically, in the form of “Harley Davidson theme restaurants.” “Harley Davidson used to mean something. It stood for biker attitude. Grimy outlaws and their sweaty mamas, full of beer and crank, rollin’ around on Harley’s, lookin’ for a good time… destroying property, raping teenagers and killing policemen,” he says, in his tongue-in-cheek bawdy way.
“Pussification” was also a term that made several guest appearances on social media before liberals were baptized with the “special snowflake” label, a label that was originally meant for aggrieved millennial college students complaining about their need for safe spaces. A few years later, the term seemed to arrive full force, arm-in-arm with Trump to the political scene, and was then generalized to include not only younger, more liberal folks, but also any republican or otherwise conservative defector. “Special snowflake” became the name of anyone who disagreed with the oligarchy that is Trump nation. But this guy in this forum was using the older, more dated term “pussification” in regards to the evolution of society, and was obviously and intentionally alluding to female anatomy, and was meaning it to be taken in a disrespectful, degrading manner.
When we think of some of the names that gender non-conforming males have been given for decades and decades, words come to mind such as “sissy,” “fairy,” “pansy,” “queen,” “girly,” “soft,” “ballerina,” and many more. These are lovely words that are typically associated with or used to describe women. When putting a man into the same category with a woman though, those lovely words become insults. Because what is the worst possible thing we can call a man? That would be anything that reduces him to the status of a woman. (Think of the football coach calling his team a bunch of “little girls” when berating them after a bad play, for one easy example.)
So basically, “pussification” is what we get called and how we get punished for not conforming. It’s pushback. It’s the price we pay for admission into the cisgender, heterosexual man’s world. They may let us into the club, but boy are we gonna pay for it. And this is all a vestige of the equal rights movement for women, a movement that apparently many men (and even women) are still fighting firmly against. Why can’t we evolve out of this? How do we not catch ourselves and correct this language and its implications immediately?
It is really a shame to say that our entire country is being watered down, becoming weak, and that those things somehow add up to the resemblance of a woman – imagine, the very woman that gave birth to us all. Is she watered down or weak?
Do you know this woman? I do. The woman I am familiar with is not at all watered down or weak. On the contrary, she is the very definition of strength. She is confident, able, active, solid, enduring, brave, well-made, tenacious, sturdy, and gutsy. And yet, she can balance all of that out with being equally tender, loving, beautiful, dainty, poignant, forgiving, patient, and empathetic. So why, in this current day and age, are we using a phrase like “the pussification of America” to dismiss societal changes that we are too scared to embrace? Why are we still treating our women as second class citizens, often without even realizing we are perpetuating this divisive and damaging tendency?
I’m sure an equal argument could be made for all the “tomboys” out there; the girls who refused frills and bows, preferred skateboarding and football, and/or shattered glass ceilings. But I don’t have a tomboy right now. I do have a 16-year-old cishet (cisgender/heterosexual) son, and a 15-year-old cishet daughter. But I haven’t had to fight battles just to let them live as their authentic selves. This is because they were born with the privilege of aligning stars and being society’s cishet “gold standard.” My son and daughter see themselves represented literally everywhere they look. But I also have an 11 year old non-binary, genderqueer son for whom I do have to fight for equal rights, the same rights given freely without question to his older siblings. So the cloaked form of misogyny that is stamped upon boys like my son is what I’m most familiar with in terms of advocacy. And I will absolutely “whine and cry,” be a “special snowflake,” and call for the evolution of social mores until the cows come home because I love all of my children, and I want them to grow up in a better world.
I want my son to be able to continue doing what he loves and being who he is – dressing in clothes from Justice (The ‘Just for Girls’ Tween Clothing Store), playing princess dress-up, comforting baby dolls, and designing new outfits and hairstyles for his growing long hair – without fear of judgment from obtuse adults, who also happen to pass on their insensitivities to their children, who then come back full-cycle and harass other gender non-conforming people like my son. All because they don’t always conform to their gender assigned at birth. This is especially true for the all the little boys who are in any way effeminate in their behavior, presentation, mannerisms, likes/dislikes, clothing/color choices, vocal patterns, or overall self-expression. I think America unleashes its misogyny on those boys in a notably cruel way.
I know this isn’t news to many people but whether we realize it or not, America is still a misogynistic country. Sure, it’s uncomfortable to admit that. But no one gets a free pass, or the ability to claim otherwise simply because they “like,” “love,” or “respect,” all women. Especially if they say things like that in the manner of Donald Trump (i.e., “Nobody likes women more than this person. Nobody has more respect for women than me.”) Having appreciation of women, being in love with them, enjoying their company, being attracted to them, or being overcome with lust for the female body does not automatically guarantee that one also respects women or looks up to them the same way one might look up to a cishet heroic male figure or big company cishet male CEO.
With regards to Target’s attempt at desegregating gendered aisles, I applaud their short-lived efforts. I was fully behind them when they attempted to break down those gender barriers. It was a baby step, but a baby step in the right direction. Unfortunately, people weren’t ready for it yet. I do hope they will try again, and others will follow. Despite America still being fully misogynistic, I take pride in the fact that I, a strong woman who won’t be held back by what society deems gender-appropriate, was chosen to be my son’s mother. And I hope he will always be proud of who he is, and that he will always equate femininity with all things good, and mighty, and powerful – because we feminine people are nothing less than.