A lot of people I know have an internalized and really pervasive fear of becoming “That Crazy Cat Lady”.  I sometimes feel that fear myself.  Examining why, I decided it’s because–outside of a fear of loneliness–women are socialized to find a man like Mr Darcy, settle down, and have kids.  Spinsters and spinsterhood are deemed scary because they are outside the norm.  Once, spinsters were considered a familial burden, as they did not continue the family line and consumed economic resources.  Sociologically, it makes a certain amount of sense–but society has changed so much since primogenitor came standard that belittling those who fall outside the norm sounds downright barbaric.  Well, maybe barbaric is an exaggeration.  Spinsters can provide for themselves and live fulfilling lives without having a partner or children.

Seriously, if you like cats, that’s cool.  If you don’t want to get married, great.  If you don’t want to have kids, awesome.  It takes all kinds.  Some people want to have kids, but if everyone had them, the world would be even more overpopulated than it already is.  Yet the so-called plight of the crazy spinster cat lady has been popular lately, with programmes like 30 Rock and Miranda showcasing interesting, engaging, unmarried women who aren’t immediately obsessed with marriage and babies.  In television it’s permitted because it’s titillating, but in real life, apparently a woman living alone (even if she enjoys it!) is somehow indefensible.

Thinking about this social stereotype made me start thinking of other stereotypes that get a weird reputation.  The touted opposite of the crazy cat lady, househusbands, also get disparaged.  Just as women can have cats, I’ve found that men can spend the majority of the day with their kids.  Men are good caretakers too, duh, and some of them enjoy spending time with their children.  There’s nothing emasculating about caring about kids and helping them grow.  If anything, it’s the biological ideal to ensure that one’s offspring are healthy and well-adjusted.  Yet I’ve often stumbled across the idea that men have no idea how to nurture children.  I’ve even heard youngsters claim that, if their fathers are tending to them instead of their mothers, then their father is “baby-sitting.”  Baby-sitting one’s own children is ludicrous.  Parents raise their children, they do not nanny them.  Fathers are parents, too.

In that sort of vein, both “Momma’s Boys” and “Daddy’s Girls “suffer from an impenetrable stigma.  Boys who spend excessive time with their mothers are apparently emasculated, while girls who spend time with their fathers are apparently spoiled – no doubt you’ve encountered this notion, perhaps to your own detriment.  But the true disparagement comes from the gender interplay here, which our culture seems strangely obsessed with.  The message is that hanging out with one’s mum will fundamentally stunt a boy, while a girl will get rewards she doesn’t earn by being daddy’s little princess.  But really, by engaging with adults of the opposite gender, such kids are constantly learning that people are people, and that perhaps men and women aren’t as different as everyone purports.  Obviously, a male can be in touch with his emotions just as much as a female can be powerful and independent.  Yet Momma’s Boys are called girly, as if being a female is an insult, and Daddy’s Girls are considered lazy and insipid as if they are unable to act of their own accord.  I posit that letting kids spend time with their parents will hopefully allow children’s worldviews to open up so that, in the future, they won’t be stuck with such inflexible stereotypes.

Up until now, this article sounds like a common sense lesson on gender roles and their unnecessary rigidity, but other social stereotypes are complete bullshit, too.  For instance, punk fans and goth kids are thought of as angry / anarchists / satanists / weirdos, likely to punch others in the face as soon as look at them.  But one of my favourite photos (see link below) shows, and I quote, “a punk stop[ped] during a gay pride parade to allow a mesmerized child to touch his jacket spikes.”  To be quite honest, it’s the most adorable thing I’ve seen in a long time.  Punks are perfectly capable of getting along with people, and their fashion choices do not dictate their attitudes or their actions.  The assumption remains that fans of punk rock are angry – but, to some extent, isn’t that anger justified?  The world is fairly fucked.  Genuinely so.  I know that’s an oversimplification, but then, so are stereotypes.  They’re occasionally useful, but mostly?  Not so much.

Sarah Pinkerton

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ana_cotta/2306902124/