On Tuesday, USA Today published an opinion piece from an early childhood educator entitled “Amid #MeToo scandals, ‘Mr. Macho’ toddler T-shirt is not our best parenting idea.”
I read it. It immediately annoyed me. Twenty hours later, I am still irritated.
An article like this is not only ridiculous in its logic, it pulls attention away from the critical issues that are the cornerstones of the #metoo movement. (More on that later.)
The piece, authored by Barbara Strung, argues that a Carter’s T-shirt, bearing the words “Mr. Macho,” is not an appropriate gift for a toddler.
A gift like this “(turns) a young child into a walking billboard for the boorish behavior … that has led to many a predatory encounter between the sexes,” Sprung notes.
Are you freaking kidding me?
Sprung goes further, following a faceless ‘Mr. Macho’-wearing diapered child through his youth, his adolescence, into high school, college and ultimately the workplace.
Of young ‘Mr. Macho,’ Sprung asks: “Do his favorite video games denigrate girls and women? Does he bond with the males in his family by watching extreme contact sports such as hockey, boxing and football? Is crying frowned upon as a “girlie” thing?”
Of high school ‘Mr. Macho,’ she supposes: “He’s a jock and feels powerful. Girls gravitate toward him — he is an alpha male. He can choose among the prettiest and feels free to disparage those who don’t meet his standards.”
Sprung then muses what ‘Mr. Macho will be like if he goes to college: “Mr. Macho” may join a fraternity. As a freshman pledge, he may undergo vicious hazing, learn to equate drunkenness with having fun and continue to view young women as sexual objects to be conquered.”
Let’s back up. There are at least three critical problems with Sprung’s line of thinking and her opinion column as a whole.
First, a T-shirt on a child who is not old enough to read does not lead to boorish behavior and the objectification and sexual harassment or abuse of women.
That’s just ridiculous. It’s a freaking article of clothing that sells for $9.99 or less if you use coupons (which most parents do.)
When my kids were toddlers, I lived at Carter’s and Target and Old Navy and Walmart because the clothes were cheap and my kids outgrew them every six months.
This is my son in his Easter shirt at age 2. It says “Chicks Dig Me.”
Get it? That’s funny right?
Sprung will tell you no, that by dressing my kid in such an offensive shirt I am basically teaching him to be an obnoxious, mysognistic alpha male, to address women as “chicks” and to feel and act in a superior manner to girls.
But look closely at the picture. On his right is his cousin. She is 8 months older than my son. She has him pushing a stroller because I was pregnant with our daughter and she was “teaching” him how to take his soon-to-be-baby-sister for a walk.
My point is this: The behavior that Sprung cites in her article is born out of words and deeds. Not putting an inexpensive shirt with a funny saying on your child.
My son wears Star Wars and NASA shirts now. That makes him neither a Jedi nor an astronaut. Nor does it guarantee he will be one when he grows up.
Second, how we dress our kids is not nearly as important as the lessons we, as parents, impart every day.
About the only thing I agree with in Sprung’s article is this, the last paragraph:
“Mr. Macho” is certainly not all boys, but he is one type of boy. His journey to becoming a male predator did not suddenly begin in adulthood or even adolescence; it started in his early childhood years. It’s up to all of us to lead our sons on a better path.”
Yes. That is true. Bravo to that.
But I wonder why Sprung only focuses on “sons.” What about our daughters?
I am raising a girl and a boy.
I am teaching BOTH to stand up for themselves, to be courageous in the face of opposition, to treat themselves and others with kindness and respect. To understand that there are differences between boys and girls and how they react to situations, relate to others and perceive the world around them.
The teachable moments come every day: We don’t hit. We don’t push. We don’t yell. We use our words and not our hands. We include all of our friends in our games. We share. And yes, we tell our son that if his sister says “stop” because he’s rough-housing too much, he stops.
And this brings me to #3, and what I believe is the most troubling part of Sprung’s piece.
It cheapens and draws attention away from #metoo and #timesup and the very real need for a behavior change among men in power.
#MeToo is long-overdue. Women are finally coming forward and speaking openly on a wide range of critical issues ranging from sexual assault and predatory behavior to equality in the workplace and in wages. They are demanding — and they deserve to see — the unbalanced power structure in this country be tilted toward a level playing field.
Unfortunately, articles like the one Sprung authored take the focus off those issues.
It causes men (and even some women) to roll their eyes in annoyance. It gives credence to the growing number of people who accuse the brave women who break their silence of being on a witch-hunt. It adds to the #metoo backlash.
It bolsters those men who will tell you that #metoo is less about empowering women and more about “neutering males.”
Don’t believe me? Here’s a sample of the comments on Sprung’s article:
- “How about a “Mister Girly Boy” t-shirt for that special toddler?”
- “Yes we must let women continue to neuter the American male. pffffft.”
- “Emasculate much?”
- “Holy crap…how is this even an issue? Must everything be turned into some kind of sexual exploitation? It is a toddler shirt that most people ignore. The shirt will not turn the child into a sexual predator. This needs to stop.”
Indeed it does. There are real issues that need fixing. Don’t push the movement back by focusing on something as ridiculous as a $10 T-shirt.