November 25, 2003

Striking an Artistic Balance Between the Genders

Filed under: Art and About Kids — admin @ 1:54 pm

I was walking the Lafayette Reservoir with a friend when an acquaintance of hers stopped to say hi. In introducing me to the gentleman, my friend mentioned that I was an arts columnist. The man said, “Oh, I don’t usually read the arts page. I leave the arts to my wife.”

Yikes! What a frightening attitude! But it’s not surprising or unusual.
While having coffee with another female friend, my son wanted me to tickle him. As the tickling escalated, he said, “Mommy, tackle me.” I told him that he’d have to wait for Daddy if he wanted to be tackled. My friend chimed in, “That’s right. Daddies do the tackling and mommies teach piano and read books.” At the moment, it seemed like a perfectly innocent comment, but then I remembered the words of Selma H. Fraiberg in “The Magic Years: Understanding and Handling the Problems of Early Childhood.”

Fraiberg warns about the pervasive misperception in America that the arts are a feminine pursuit. Fraiberg says that in our culture, lessons on literature, music and art are usually taught by the mother. Little boys, in particular, come to associate the arts as feminine and have trouble integrating those interests into a masculine personality. Instead of pursuing, or god forbid, excelling in the arts, they either hide their interest, artistically underachieve, or push those sissy arts out of their lives completely.

Well, no wonder the scale is seriously unbalanced when it comes to enrollment in ballet classes or choir auditions. I was horrified when I read these assertions from Fraiberg. I realized that even in my ultra-arts conscious household where my husband advocates the pursuit of artistic endeavors as much as I do, I, the mommy, have taken the lead in actually teaching the arts. Double yikes!

When I mentioned it to the hubby, he had to admit that this was indeed true. Is even our son learning to associate the arts with the feminine? Only days later, Tyrian gave us some scary insight into how his keen mind is assimilating the world as we have presented it to him.

Tyrian is almost three, and one morning his dad and I we were tussling with him about eating the quiche he had requested for breakfast but was subsequently refusing to eat. To change the subject, Tyrian went to the piano and said, “Come, Mommy. Let’s play music.” Boy, does he know his mom or what? Here I was trying to do some effective parenting about food consumption and committing to a decision, and he shot an arrow straight into my Achilles heel. Hmmm….physical sustenance or musical soul food? I joined him at the piano, of course. I don’t even mind that I sent the message that it’s easy to manipulate mommy when she’s invited to an impromptu jam session.

Since I’m home with the kids all day, I naturally have an advantage over my husband when it comes to exploring the arts with them. We know that my husband’s already active appreciation and participation in the arts provides excellent role-modeling for Tyrian as to what is acceptable masculine behavior. We also have had to make a conscious decision in our house that the gift of the arts will be bestowed by both patriarchal and matriarchal lines from now on.

I believe everyone is born with an inherent desire to sing, dance, paint, write and express themselves in an artistic manner. Please save your little boys from the turmoil of squelching their natural impulses. If there’s an imbalance in your home, fix it now.

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