SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2007        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Carly McVay

Hello and Hide Kitty

      On Saturday, August 25, 2007, I attended my son’s friend, Jason’s first birthday party. The incident occurred after the usual chocolate havoc that a twelve month old wreaks on this special day.  After the baby, table, chairs, and floor were scrubbed to high heaven, it was time for all of the kids to play with the new toys that Jason received (he was preoccupied with the boxes and the packaging of his toys). Kirk, Jason’s nine year old brother, brought out his pink Hello Kitty doll to play with. Steve, the parent of another party-goer, asked Kirk why he had the doll and he proudly explained that it was a reward for cleaning his room.  Kirk’s mother, Brenda,  noticed that he was playing with the doll and she asked him to take his “animal” to his room.  Kirk ignored his mother’s stern request and began to play house with the fancy feline. 

    It was an elephant-in-the room moment. The parents’ blank stares suggested that my brain   was not the only one racing a marathon. Steve looked just as shocked as I was because he was shaking  his head disapprovingly at Brenda . Steve later mentioned how he felt about the incident:

“Why is Kirk’s mom, Brenda, allowing him to play with that Hello Kitty doll? That toy is specifically  for girls.  Jason, Kirk’s younger brother,  received cars and trucks for his     birthday so there are numerous boy-appropriate toys for Jake to play with.  Brenda is crazy.  Doesn’t she realize that she is turning her son into a homosexual?  Brenda is only making his life and her own more difficult by going along with Jake’s preference for girly toys.  I am sure that Jake would grow accustomed  to playing sports and rough-housing if Brenda prohibited him from playing with that doll.  In fact, I think he would enjoy it.  We must protect our kids from being different so they fit in with the rest of society.  Normal boys don’t play with dolls, bottom line.  Why did Brenda call the Hello Kitty an “animal”? It’s a doll, a  pink, frilly and sparkly doll! She must be ashamed of it also, otherwise, she would have called it what it really is.  I think I am going to talk to Brian, Kirk’s dad, and tell him to push Kirk into playing with more gender-appropriate toys since Brenda is only adding to the problem.”

After Steve’s examination of Brenda’s parenting skills, I too had to question what she was doing to Jake by allowing him to play with the doll. Although I did not agree with Steve’s solution for Kirk, I understand where he is coming from.  There are very limited representations of homosexuality in our society such as Rosie O’Donnell and Ellen Degeneres, who are both lesbians and highly successful talk show hosts,  but their sexuality was and is still downplayed on their talk shows in order to make them more appealing to the more conservative audiences.  Gay pride parades are held in almost every major city in the U.S. but they get less media coverage than a hot dog eating contest.  For Kirk, a young boy who enjoys playing with dolls and pretty things, there is nearly no one for him to relate to in the media.  This is where the problem lies.  I would not be able to relate with my own son if he behaved like Kirk. Would   I deny my child’s happiness by requiring gender appropriate toys? Blue+ violence=BOY, pink+maternal= GIRL?.  Toys are separated by gender in almost every store I go into. Is Kirk’s  mother breaking societal norms and turning her son into a sissy or a homosexual by allowing him to play with Hello Kitty? I literally lost sleep pondering over this question!

    I saw many of the children at the party staring at Kirk when he was playing with the doll.  Yet,  that was it, no questions and no teasing.  Maybe the kids were used to Kirk, maybe the kids, like me, were too confused by Kirk to ask questions?  I am not quite sure about the reason but the other children’s lack of reaction to Kirk and his doll signals to me that I was possibly overreacting to the incident. But, I feel unprepared to discuss issues of sexuality with my son.  I know that the inevitable question: “mom where do babies come from?” is in my near future, but I don’t think that it will hit me for about another four years or so.  I wonder if I should  take away my eight-month-old son’s pink spoons or frilly blankets  because of the impact the feminine color could have on his sexuality ?

     I initially thought that Brenda told Kirk to put away his “animal” because she was embarrassed that  her son was playing with a girl’s toy.  At the time, I thought I was the socially aware parent because in my mind I was thinking about my son and what I would do if he was to play with a doll.  I would feel ashamed and snatch the doll out of his hands and pray that no one would notice because I know the social implications of going against the gender norm.   After thinking about the incident, I feel that Brenda is the socially aware parent.  She has acknowledged that Kirk may possibly be teased and singled-out for his love of dolls so why should she be a part of that teasing by making a scene?  By accepting her son, she is adding to his confidence in asserting what he likes.  I think that Brenda and society in general are moving towards an acceptance of difference in regards to gender and sexuality.  Representations in entertainment (such as the movies : Transamerica, Boys Don’t Cry, Brokeback Mountain, and the television shows: Queer As Folk and  The L Word) have brought gay, lesbian, transgender and transsexuality into the limelight. 

    While representations of difference within sexuality has recently made headway into the media, we are not far from the fact that thirty years ago homosexuality was considered a disease or that the transgendered teen, Brandon Teena, was murdered in 1993 on the basis of his gender.   I will admit that I would be terrified to have a son that was gay and I still don’t think we are as accepting of non-traditional gender roles and homosexuality as we should be. Flaws in our world today, especially sexuality and gender flaws, are criticized on a higher level than any other and that is terrifying to me as a parent.  I will hope that other parents and people in general become more accepting of differences within sexuality as Brenda was with Kirk. 

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