Concerning war and women

Dear Hannah,

When I was a boy, there were really two things that occupied my mind for the majority of the day.  The first was war, and the second was women.  Depending on the day, their priority might have been reversed.

My dad told me he never gave me a toy gun, but that before I was able to understand the concept of war I picked up a stick and pretended to shoot somebody.  There isn't anything you can do to stop a boy from playing war; at least, nothing you can do to stop a normal boy.  It's probably in him already.  The fact that war was in me from the beginning doesn't make me a brute or even a warrior, but it does mean that I have, as a man, a particular set of inclinations that you might as a woman find strange.  I spent hours dreaming up new kinds of weaponry, imagining battles and categorizing all of America's armory; and when America's Abrams tanks and F-15's and howitzers weren't enough for me, I would fantasize and categorize the weaponry of science fiction and fantasy.  I owned an encyclopedia of Star Wars weaponry, and I read it thoroughly -- repeatedly -- seriously.  If you could ride a gryphon or a dire wolf into battle, I knew their names, and then I pretended to ride them myself.  But I can't tell you the difference between a pixie and a fairy and a sprite -- or if there's even a difference at all.  If I cared anything about princesses, it was because I was always (and always will be) first and foremost attracted to princesses: never because I wanted to be one.  Nobody told me what was interesting.  I was naturally interested.  And I wasn't even particularly masculine.

There are some people who say that men and women can go either way, and that social constructs force us into certain patterns -- something about which I disagree strongly.  I've met women who openly dreamed about women, despite the fact that there's still a social stigma attached to lesbianism (at least, in most parts of the country).  I've never even heard of a little girl who dreamed about warfare all day, despite the fact that nobody has ever spoken a sermon against women reading about rifles.  I never met a girl who wanted to play at swords or gave a shit about the difference between an Apache or Comanche helicopter; but I've always been surrounded by boys who did, and this indescribable inclination was oftentimes the very basis of our friendships.

I suspect that as a girl you may have friendships based on different things than mine were based upon, and I encourage you in all things to pursue what you're interested in, so long as you're not doing anything wrong in the process.  But if anyone tells you that loving whatever womanly things is an insult to your womanhood, then I would strongly suggest you tell them to piss off.  Nobody is going to tell me to have a tea party, and nobody should tell you that you can't.  The whole reason we have this feminist movement is because some women -- who may feel differently than the majority of healthy women -- want to be different than what's expected of them: and that's okay.  They can feel differently.  If they have a good personality and good manners, unlike the majority of feminists, then I'm certain lots of people will let them do whatever they want without any complaints.  But the moment they begin telling you that because they were "restricted" from pursuing something, that whatever you find interesting is a sign of your slavery, they've become just as obnoxious as the people they're always clamoring about.  I will assume, from the get-go, that you're a normal girl, and I'll respect your feminine inclinations, whatever difficulty I have understanding them: should you decide to go another way, and you suddenly develop an interest in guns, you'll have me along for the ride too.

How some parents have decided to do things -- to constantly tout their gender-neutral status, and constantly brag about raising their girls away from the color pink and princess gowns -- seems to me, at first glance, to be doing the exact opposite of what they intend.  It's almost like always trying to be healthy.  You keep worrying about whether or not you're healthy, and suddenly you find yourself always worrying about your health, which makes you always wonder whether you're getting sick; just like always worrying about your gender tends to make people overly self-conscious about whether or not they can enjoy what they actually want.  If you want to screw a kid up, make it obvious that you care about bucking traditional gender roles.  If you want to make a kid happy, give them the normal stuff, and if they hate it, then get them something they love. 

There's only one instance in which I advise anyone to do the opposite of running with their child's inclinations (beyond the realm of morality, of course), and it's when a child thinks he's (or she's) the opposite sex.  And the reason for this isn't rooted in religion at all, like most people say it is, but in common sense.  If someone thinks he's something he isn't, he's having a delusion.  Our sex is something that we're born with, and is always (excepting the case of hermaphrodites) reliable; our psychology is what gets confused and broken.  It is the job of parents to clarify reality, never to assist in its confusion.  There are some times, like with America's Emperor Norton, where it's more harmless to go along with a delusion than otherwise: running along with someone's delusions of grandeur may even make our lives a little bit more fun.  But if our public policy is to consider people and situations and physical properties what they aren't, just because some poor confused bastard says so, then we've crossed a very different line.  In my opinion, a grown man may look very ugly when dressed like a woman, but it's very wrong to persecute someone who's suffering from a delusion, unless they pose a direct threat to your person or property.  The most respectable thing you can do is pity him.  The absolute worst thing you can do is praise him for being deluded, and then persecute the people who refuse to admit his delusion.

I'll have considered myself a major success in your upbringing -- and possibly in your little brother's, should you end up with one -- if I can give you the gift of good manners, which is one of the most important things you can give a child.  Aside from this, to be a successful parent, a man should always teach a little girl how to behave like a lady, so he can't be held responsible if she acts like a swamp-donkey.  I don't deny that being ladylike is important, and it's important because the natural instincts of manly men lead them to love a real lady -- and I want you to be loved by a real man, not someone you disrespect for his weakness.  And in all these things there's a balance to be achieved.  Considering the general tendencies of women towards softer things, I would think a woman should be raised to know what she wants and express it artfully and powerfully, without her necessarily being considered bossy.  Considering the natural tendencies of men to play war and roughhouse and make fun of each other, I would consider myself a success if I raised a boy to be civilized, without his necessarily being domesticated

Your father,


  1. This is lovely. Hannah is fortunate to have someone so wise as her papa.

    My daughter was telling me about my seven year old grandson's soccer game yesterday. His soccer team, has been undefeated for two years. Yesterday they played against an all girl team. She said they weren't being as assertive as usual and no one could figure out what was going on. Parents were hollering for them to play the game, not watch the game! So, all those little chauvinists lost their first game ever, and went off the field as happy as if they had won! I'm sure feminists would shriek, but It gave me a smile!


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