Dr. Phil is confused, thinks genders are “unconfusing”

My friend, SS, sent me a link to this post at Crazy Days and Nights, which sent me over to this treasure of an advice post at Dr. Phil’s website.  And you know what I am going to do?  I’m going to quote the whole damn thing because I can’t just pick my favorite part:

Robby’s 5-year-old son loves to play with Barbies and prefers wearing girl’s clothes. She asks Dr. Phil how to deal with this behavior, which she doesn’t think is normal.

“There are developmental stages in kids and it is not unusual, particularly for young boys, to experiment and get stuck on certain stimulus items,” says Dr. Phil. Particularly because the little boy has two older sisters, he says, it’s not unusual.

“This is not a precursor to your son being gay,” explains Dr. Phil. He’ll know that in time, but this is not an indication of his sexual orientation.

Dr. Phil tells Robby that she has a job to do: “Direct your son in an unconfusing way. Don’t buy him Barbie dolls or girl’s clothes. You don’t want to do things that seem to support the confusion at this stage of the game … Take the girl things away, and buy him boy toys.”

Most importantly, he tells Robby, “Support him in what he’s doing, but not in the girl things.”

“And if your son is gay,” Dr. Phil continues, “he’ll learn that when he passes puberty and gets into a lifestyle and determines what his orientation is, and his lifestyle will flow from that. It won’t be a choice; it will be something that he’s pre-wired to do, and he’ll know that in plenty of time if he’s an adult. But you shouldn’t take this as an indication of that at this point.”

AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!  [Head meets desk]

Be supportive of your son…unless he likes girl things.  If he likes girl things, totally and completely stop supporting him.  Belittle him, shame him, make him fearful of stepping outside of whatever it is that you have decided is the gender that equates to “boy.”  I mean, barf.

Literally.  This makes me want to barf.

I love how he says “boy toys” and “girl things” like that is obvious and easy anyhow.  What, no links to actual products?  No charts or descriptions?  Is this a color thing?  Will pink shit make him a “girl”?  Or really, the fear is that he will magically be pink-ified into a gay boy.  And you know how bad that would be.

Problems:

  1. He says being gay is “pre-wired” but then makes it clear that if this mother (who obviously fears turning her boy gay – wtf is that about anyway?) does the wrong thing, she could affect her child’s sexual preferences.  Which is it?  Also, it’s not “unusual” for this boy to play with his sisters’ toys and clothes but that mom, if she is at all a good parent, will stop that usual behavior immediately.  Huh?  This write up isn’t that long.  How can you fit so many contradictions in such a small space?
  2. What does he mean that you can teach gender in an “unconfusing way”?  Gender, by definition, is confusing.  That’s why people work so incredibly hard at drawing boundaries between genders.  Because they recognize that in most cases, that boundary is blurry at best, non-existent more often.  Otherwise, people wouldn’t worry so much about it.
  3. I don’t think that boy is confused.  I think that is a main issue here.  Phil tells the mom to not “support the confusion.”  But actually, the only people who are confused are the mom and Phil.  They seem to think that playing with things they have decided are “girl things” matter.  They are wrong.  They are confused.
  4. This advice would NEVER go the other way.  Because boy = gender neutral.  If a mother was fearful that her daughter wanted to wear pants, I don’t think it would make an advice column (unless the little girl “unnaturally” refused skirts or dresses or tights or cute little shirts with pink flowers all over them).  Or if she was worried that her daughter played with – well, fuck, what counts as a “boy toy” that isn’t simply gender neutral? – that it would be an advice column.  If it was, it would basically amount to, “She is going to be stronger for it!”  We all know that it is good for girls to be more like boys whereas, clearly, it is LIFE OR DEATH for a boy to be remotely girlish.

You know what?  This makes me want to run out and by my 2yo son lots of barbies.  And dresses.  And mix them in with everything else he owns.  I hope he happily embraces them all and when he looks back on his life, he is happy that his parents let him explore and didn’t shame him from a young age.

If you follow Phil’s advice, you will not only shame your child, you will actually thoroughly confuse them.  They will be confused by these arbitrary definitions that you are forcing on them when all the want to do is play.  As my son would say, “I just want to play a little bit.”  I can’t believe that people see harm in that.  That makes me just see harm in them and their desperate desire to force confusing gender boundaries.

Wow.  Now my brain – and, for that little boy, my heart – hurts.

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10 thoughts on “Dr. Phil is confused, thinks genders are “unconfusing”

  1. That is so many kinds of wrong.

    One of the local TV stations has been running promos for a thing on Laurencia Bembenek. She escaped from prison without a problem but lost a leg escaping from the Dr. Phil show. Probably worth it.

  2. Well, I for one think I might take advantage of Dr. Phil’s advice. I’m going to spray-paint all my tools at the boatyard hot pink – that way all the manly men will stop “borrowing” them! Oughta work, right?

  3. I have thoughts:

    Shiloh is not “normal” in this case.

    1) She is the daughter of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
    2) The “problem” is not that she wants to play with boy toys and play dress up with boy clothes. It’s that she wants to be a boy, she wants to be called by a boy’s name, she wants to cut her hair short.
    3) I think the biggest problem, though, is that her beautiful parents don’t care. And beyond not caring, they encourage it.

    So, while the Dr. Phil post is about policing that little boy, I felt like the Shiloh stuff was about policing Brangelina.

  4. And what is the parent supposed to say when they come home with toy cars and action figures and Robbie wants to know here his Barbies are?

    It doesn’t sound like Robbie is terribly confused, it sounds like Robbie likes Barbies. I liked Barbies too, I geuess that’s not confusing since I was a girl. Sheesh. Poor kid.

  5. Arrrghh. I feel bad for this kid. I don’t envy the parents either, though. If I was giving the advice, this is what I’d say:

    You have a tough job to do right now. Your son likes to dress up in girl’s clothing and play with Barbies. This could be either because a) they’re fun things to do, b) he wants to emulate his sisters, or c) he thinks of himself deep down as a girl. If it’s a) and/or b), he’s a regular fun-loving boy, if it’s c) he’s a trans girl in the making. The former is more likely.

    Here’s the kicker: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with your son playing with Barbies and dressing up in dresses. But those acts could hurt him because they could expose him to bullying from his peers–kids can be cruel and stupid. So you have to let him know this stuff is cool with you but may have to encourage him to hide it from other kids–either that or accept that he could get socially ostracized by them for being “girly”. It depends on what the other kids your son hangs out with are like too, what kind of gender messages they’re getting at home. You can’t control that, of course, but you can let your son know that he is loved no matter what he wears or what toys he plays with. Leave the whole “normal” question out of it–he’s your kid, you love him, you’re happy to see him happy.

  6. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    I, too, think this is tricky. But I am with you on that last sentence. I think letting a kid be who they want to be when they are with you is one of the nicest things we can do for our kids. Because like you say, our society and the people around us will do their best to gender us, even when they don’t mean to.

    But it is damn tricky and something I think about constantly as I work against gendered norms while finding myself actively participating in them. It is a constant battle in many ways.

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