‘What a handsome boy, you must have lots of girlfriends…’
‘Gosh, those eyelashes are wasted on him, aren’t they!…’
‘You’ll have to get yourself a shot-gun when she gets older…’
‘He is always flirting with the blondes…’
‘I can just see them walking down the aisle now…’
We’ve all heard comments like these before. Kids are cute for sure, but before we get all weird on their beauty, there is something us adults need to talk about.
It is something that many of us do at a much higher frequency than we’d like to admit. Something we must all become vigilant in identifying and expert in addressing.
It is the imposition of adult romantic and sexual thoughts and behaviours on babies and young children. At all times completely unnecessary, entirely inappropriate and plain old yuck town.
Unfortunately we are almost all a bit guilty of it. If we don’t do it ourselves, we may laugh along with it, or we quietly and awkwardly ignore odd comments. Or, worse still, we simply don’t notice them at all, so deeply rooted are our sexualised, sexist bias’. They are hardened, internalised and ingrained.
Our silence or lack of intervention is our complicity in the ongoing sexist and often misogynistic socialisation of children. This may seem fairly broad sweeping, and could be applied to any number of shitty things adults do that limit and curb the development and opportunities of children, however, to keep our self-flagellation manageable, I’m just going to focus on what I’ll call ‘Yucky Adult Comments’ for now. The acronym is YAC. Like ew yac! That is yac! Did you just hear that yac over there…. and so on.
There are some things we should never say about or to children. When analysed, even just a tiny bit yacs don’t look too good at all. By definition all yacs are unseemly, at a minimum they are sexist, and in the extreme – they can be soft pornish. This is not an exaggeration, you’ll read what I mean later.
And yet, yacs just seems to roll off our well oiled, hetero-socialised, hyper sexualised and gender oppressed tongues. All. The. Time.
Saying or tolerating yacs is to essentially participate in the narrowing of our children’s own expressions of self, of their burgeoning identities and the intensely personal, yet very public exploration of their own genders, orientations and sexualities.
Here are some examples I have collected from a diverse group of concerned parents. They demonstrate the absurdity and grossness in all the ‘oh no you didn’t just yac did you’ glory.
‘Oh my goodness, they are just SO cute. Can’t you just see them on their first date?’ – said of any old 3-year-old girl and boy playing blocks with each other, or drawing at a table.
‘What a little tease’ – a toddler who isn’t interested in giving another child or adult a kiss or a cuddle.
‘That is how he shows he likes her’ – excusing a small boy who just hurt a small girl.
‘His eyes are a stunning blue, such a ladies man’ – yet the mother from whom these eyes are inherited is not labeled a ladies man.
‘That’s right, roll over and go straight to sleep like a good man’ – said within earshot of 9-year-old boy, who was snuggling by the fire with his 6-year-old female cousin.
‘Oh look, she’s trying to hold your hand, always hold a pretty girl’s hand when she offers’ – 1-year-olds learning to hold hands.
‘My grandson would be the perfect match for this little bubba’ – a random white middle-aged male wants to marry a 6 week old baby off to his grandson.
‘Are you wearing perfume? Is that for your boyfriend? You should be wearing lipstick so you can leave kisses on him’ – said an uncle to his 6-year-old niece. Who then teases the niece about boyfriends for weeks on end.
‘He’ll be a ladykiller one day’ – an astute observation of a beautiful boy
‘He’s a boobie man’ and ‘He knows where the action is at’ – a breastfeeding baby boy
‘Lock up your daughters!!’ a father leaves a comment below a picture of preschool aged friends (boy and girl) on a childcare website.
‘wow she is waxing down there already’ – 1 month old girl during a nappy change.WTF
The overlaying of adult assumptions of gender, or what we might think of as cute throw away remarks, or some kind of compliment in the form of yacs – have massive impacts, because children copy adults. They hear and see it all. The good and the not so good.
Children listen to what we say. They believe us. We weld a power over children greater than we know. They are extremely impressionable and they desperately want to please us. For the most part, they will do what they think we want them to do, they may even strive to be who we see them to be. They desperately want to be approved of. More specifically, they want to fit in – so they actively seek clues of how they should behave. How a boy should act, what a girl should do. What a girl or boy is. So what are the boxes we are constructing for them to live in?
This is what children understand when we yac at them.
- Gender is fixed and society defines it for you.
- Boys are active agents, girls are passive eye candy.
- Boys pursue girls and they have to put up with the attention.
- Boys and men are predators
- Boys are a ‘good bloke’ or ‘great little man’
- Girls will always be girls, small, little, ineffectual
- Heteronormativity – the assumption that boys will eventually be attracted to girls and vice versa
- Normalisation of and the acceptance of the pressure to perform, or provide physical services for others, such as hugs and kisses.
- Gender power dynamics, whereby boys just can’t control themselves when it comes to girls and helping themselves to more than their share (boys will be boys) and are naturally stronger and bolder etc. And that girls have no power so have nothing to control.
- That girls ambitions in life should be limited to looking nice, pleasing others and getting married and having babies.
- That boys purpose in life is to provide and protect (while simultaneously perusing and attacking girls – an oxymoron I’ve never understood)
- and the list goes on…..
Ok, so now we can read between the lines a bit better. But what do to when we hear these remarks and aren’t sure what to say – when it is socially awkward, which it usually is.
– ‘Oh give them a break, they are only 5 years old, plenty of time for them to make their own decisions
-‘How do you know? She might want a handsome bride when she grows up’
– ‘They don’t even know what genders they are yet, they are infants!’
– ‘No, I really don’t want to imagine that, my kid is only 18 months old, I’m happy for them to be a toddler just now’
– ‘She may well want to achieve more in life than just marriage’
– ‘Long eyelashes are for everyone’
Or just call it as it is:
– ‘Ewww, they are 3, not 18’
– ‘Don’t ever combine soft porn images with a nappy change routine’
– ‘So you really want your son to be a women beating polygamist when he grows up do you?’
Instead of all this – make it clear to our children that they don’t have to put up with unwanted attention or discrimination in any form, or anything at all that makes them feel yuck. This includes crude yacs from adults.
Let us make sure that we show our children them we love them unreservedly. Ensure that they will be accepted as whoever they are. And that whomever they love will also be cherished.
Lastly, should you feel a yac coming on, bin it and simply acknowledge whatever it is that the kids are doing, and even throw in some praise and encouragement.
‘Nice one you two, you are walking so nicely inside together while holding hands’