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 conservatives like Elisabeth Hasselbeck and her friends? I mean, Fox & Friends did spend a whole morning segment on the topic, shaking their heads and whining, “Is this gonna confuse you? I know it’s going to confuse me!” and “Who are they helping? The non-people that are upset by this? If you go in and buy a gift for a boy who’s nine or six, or a girl who’s nine or six, you wanna be able to go to that section and pick out a toy they might want. Now you have to sit there and look at a blended area and wonder, is this for a boy, or is this for a girl?”
I’m going to assume the Fox & Friends crew weren’t aware of that magical little thing called the gift card — or hey, how about asking your little nephew or niece exactly what they want, and then finding it? Tip: Target 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 (although it went against my better judgment) I 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 during 1999’s “You’re All Diseased” 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 millennials who were college students at the time, whining about their need for safe spaces when confronted with course content that challenged their preset values and social mores.
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 older folks who appreciated Bernie Sanders’ message, democrats, and any ex-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? He was definitely using the older, more dated term “pussification” in regards to the evolution of society. He 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, 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 example.)
So basically, “pussification” is what we get labeled with having, 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 first imply that our entire country is being watered down, becoming weak, and second, 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 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 17-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 gender non-conforming child assigned male at birth, who has expressed “feminine” since age 2.5, and who recently started using “they/them” pronouns. For this child, I do have to fight for equal rights, the same rights given freely without question to their older siblings. So the cloaked form of misogyny that is stamped upon boys like my child 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 kid to be able to continue doing what they love and being who they are, and it sure would be nice if gender stereotypes could go away. This is my child, whose former obsession with wearing princess costumes has now been replaced with dressing in sparkly clothes from Justice (The ‘Just for Girls’ Tween Clothing Store). This is my Steven Universe-loving, My Little Pony-collecting, long-haired, witty and fabulous kid, who can’t stand being in the presence of cis male peers in middle school because they make such immature jokes using the word “gay,” and making sexual innuendos all day long.
I also hope to leave the world a better place where kids like my own can live authentically, 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 child. All because they don’t always conform to their sex assigned at birth. This is especially true for the all the little boys who are in any way “feminine” in their behavior, presentation, mannerisms, likes/dislikes, clothing/color choices, vocal patterns, or overall self-expression. America unleashes its misogyny on those boys in a notably unfair and 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 Donald Trump. 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 female bodies 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 superhero figure, or a cishet, male CEO of a big company.
With regards to Target’s attempt at desegregating gendered aisles, I applaud their short-lived efforts — at least in my city. Maybe they were more successful elsewhere. I know 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 the mother of three amazing children, the youngest of whom just happens to be my TGNC Rainbow kid. And I hope they will always be proud of who they are, and that all three of my children will always equate femininity with all things good, and mighty, and powerful — because we feminine people are nothing less than.
Originally published at gendercreativelife.com on March 25, 2017, updated, Sept. 24, 2017