Yesterday I took Raf to have his haircut. Raf has brilliant hair; it's thick and blonde and, we think, plain gorgeous. I took him to our usual place but another woman cut his hair, unplanned - and it was terrible. She didn't listen to a word I said and kept talking about making him a 'little man'. Grr. I was chasing around after Charlie so wasn't able to concentrate on what was going on until it was much too late; much too late.His lovely blonde locks were lopped off, and close to tears I dragged Raf out of there before she could whip out the clippers.
I'm really sad about it, and honestly, given that hair grows back, my reaction is really disproportionate. I've been thinking about why it is that I'm so upset. For one, it makes Raf look much older. I don't feel very prepared for Raf to be getting so big. He is a young 4 years old, which is fine with me, but the truth is he's maturing so quickly as he simultaneously grows out of his clothes and words like, 'rubbish' (to describe something) enters his vocabulary. Yet he is still our sweet little boy, loving and generous with his affection...
The part of the haircut that really perturbed me, though, was the stylists insistence that Raf needed to look more like a 'little man'. More and more I'm becoming aware of the social forces of gender exerting their pressure on our little wonder boy. It's always been there, of course, but more and more I can see how he's learning to devalue all things feminine: girls, princesses, pink, and more. I ask him about it when, say, he doesn't want to wear his pink teeshirt, and he truthfully answers, "I have no idea"! He really doesn't, only that pink is not something he should be connected with but for reasons he really doesn't comprehend. The comments I've received about his haircut have shown some of this up. Someone mentioned to me yesterday that he really did have a lot of hair, and the strong implication was that we needed to get it cut to be more appropriately boyish.
I am terrified that the beautiful qualities he possesses will slowly and surely be whittled down to qualities that are specific to his gender. It happens in to varying degrees to us all, and generally we think that this is an inevitable process, but as I think about it happening to my boys - all of their potential paired down to be in line with proscribed social norms - I feel overwhelmingly sad.
A couple of weeks ago as we were walking up our road - with Raf on his bike - we saw some hunters with guns. Raf asked what they were doing and I responded that they were going to shoot and kill deers with their guns. In response, Raf asked me what a gun was. Honestly, I was taken aback because I had assumed that he knew what a gun was, but he really didn't. He was really sad about the idea and rode off on his bike ringing his bell, shouting, 'don't kill deer with guns'.
I can only imagine how vulnerable he is to the kind of everyday social sanctions that we all receive encouraging us to 'fit in'. And as I think about it I feel absolute heartbreak that the many things that he is now will slowly be chipped away by the cynicism and hardness of the wider culture around us.
Growing up is truly hard.