A has moved on from his Tubby obsession since I wrote the first blog post about the book, but I still wanted to revisit it. Last post, I talked about Tubby and whiteness. Today, I want to use Tubby to talk about decentralizing & redefining boyhood/manhood.
Tubby never implies a gender of the baby protagonist in either the words or pictures. I find myself really intentionally using the gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’ in reference to the baby, though I admit one of the first times I read it (of thousands at this point), I realized I had been referring to the baby as a ‘he.’ It’s not uncommon in American society for gender-neutral characters/things/animals to be assigned ‘he’ as a pronoun. There’s an awesome (and free) zoo near where we live, and I often hear parents referring to almost every animal (without obvious genitalia, lol) as a ‘he.’ De-normalizing boy/man as the assumed gender is one thing I try to be conscious of in my day-to-day interactions with A.
I am human, of course. Sometimes, I’m sure I assume ‘he’ when I’m super busy or feeling really tired. We haven’t completely abandoned gender in raising A, particularly in how we dress him, though I do try to push back at hyper-normativity whenever I can. Trucks and dinosaurs are great, but so are dolls and art and play-cleaning (he’s currently obsessed with a vacuums and brooms and all things cleaning) and science and nature and all sorts of things. Blue and red are great colors, but so are pink and green and purple and orange.
My mentality is that the world is going to smother him with trucks/dinosaurs/blue/red so much already that I don’t need to encourage it anymore. He will get those messages from school, media, people on the street. I can use our home to encourage him to be interested in things (often stereotypically feminine) that the world won’t push on him.
Using ‘they’ as a gender-neutral pronoun when reading books or encouraging non-normative interests are small ways of decentralizing and redefining boyhood/manhood. It happens during storytime with books like Tubby. It happens when I’m buying him new kid silverware, and I pick the green & purple unicorn-themed fork. It happens in all sorts of mundane, tiny moments of parenting.
It’s not enough, but it’s a start.