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Tuesday, March 16, 2010


composition in gray #19

I've been paying attention to my own automatic reactions to gender. The two female cats, Tapo and Caterpillar, I treat one way, and the male, TarBaby, I treat quite another way. It's automatic in me. I catch myself talking to TarBaby the way I'd talk to a male, man or boy. I praise him for being a good hunter and a good jumper. I don't sweet talk with him. With Tapo and Caterpillar I tell them they're my babies, call them my darlins. But not TarBaby. I don't cuddle TarBaby like I do the girls. It's not because they require that I treat them these ways. I've done it since they were kittens.

It's the same with the way we automatically treat children. Little boys get talked to the way we talk to boys, praised for being good at chasing, hitting or catching a ball, taught at an early age how to handle and respect guns, called Little Man, given toy tractors and trucks. Little girls have baby dolls they play mother to. We tell little girls how cute they are, how pretty they are, how charming they are. It's what I tell my girl cats. It's not what I tell TarBaby. It's like from the day we're born and wrapped in either pastel blue or pink we're treated according to our gender and expected of according to gender, named according to gender.

In the big culture we all share, there are two distinctly different cultures living side by side, intermingled every way it can be be done. They are male culture and female culture. Male culture encourages warriors either on the battlefield or football field. In female culture girls learn to dumb themselves down if they want a man's attention. You say, that's perfectly natural. That's right. It is. I just bring this up because I like to entertain my self-delusion that I am sometimes conscious and even make somewhat conscious decisions. You might say the very first thing we learn is our gender. According to Freud, it's our number 1 concern.

In the same house, boys are raised one way, girls another. I've found in later years that my 2 sisters and I didn't know the same parents. Parents, both mother and dad, treated me like a boy, and treated them like girls. It's only come out between us in the last few years that we had very different parents. I think it's fascinating in the way William Faulkner would tell the same story told by maybe 3 different people and it turn out to be 3 different stories.

I can't get out of my mind the little girl I saw yesterday with the light gone out of her child eyes. The Stanley Brothers song comes to mind of the woman sitting at the bar who's more to be pitied than scolded. I don't know the divine plan for the girl's life. Don't know anything about her. But I saw pain, the depth of which can only come from one place. It's one of those many times it is necessary to have a word with self, a reminder that I can't take care of other people's stuff that is no business of mine any way you look at it. To persist would be the way of the control freak. And it could create complications out of control. Best to let it be. For all I know, she didn't sleep well the night before and was sleepy. What I felt was triggered by my own imagination.

Part of why my heart was so moved by what I took for pain in her demeanor and eyes was she's a girl. It's not right for girls to suffer. But they do. We, every one of us, have learned to live with our own inner pains that are with us all the time. My impulse was to save a little girl from feeling pain, a little girl who should be pretty and cute and charming, not hurting inside. I don't know how I'd have felt if this had been a little boy. Suck it up, kid, hold it inside, little man. I know I wouldn't say that, but I have an idea it would lean in that direction, though I really know better than to say one way or another. I wouldn't know what to do, but be kind to the kid and treat him with respect. That's all I could do for the girl too. I believe I would feel the same compassion for either girl or boy.

For one thing, it tears me up to see a woman cry. When I see a man cry, I tend to think, Get over it. That's definitely a gender response. Boys and men tend to be competitive with each other. Girls and women tend to be competitive with each other too, though not always. That's one thing we have in common. TarBaby just now jumped up here onto the desk. I said, "Hey, my friend." He's different since he returned from 3 weeks in the cage at the vet's. He learned meditation there. He has a position he hunkers down into and he sits perfectly still gazing straight ahead with eyes open. Sometimes he'll have his nose an inch or less from the wall. He goes around to shelves up high he can jump to where there is only enough room for him to hunker down and meditate. It helps him pass the time in the house when he'd rather be outside hunting, but the dogs keep him indoors. TarBaby has discovered inner stillness.

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