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March 23, 2018

21 Comments

Please, for the love of everything that is good in this world, stop calling him “little man.” He’s a baby, not a “man.”

I have one child. He is 9 months old. He is also, apparently, a boy.

I say he is “apparently” a boy because sex and gender are complicated things. We don’t know how he identifies (or if he even has a gender identity at all at this age) and it’s not like we’ve had his chromosomes tested or anything.

His other mother and I are both queer, and our lives are full of transgender, genderfluid, and otherwise gender nonconforming people (including the wonderful person who provided the sperm to help us make our baby).

We know very well that having a doctor tell you “It’s a boy” doesn’t mean much, and we are trying our best not to make assumptions.

All we really know is that our kid has a penis, and statistically speaking there is a very good chance he’s a boy.

So, when he was born, we guessed that “boy” was the best gender label available for him, at least for now. We’re open to being as flexible as he needs us to be!

We dress him in a wide variety of colors, yes, including pink sometimes. But we use male pronouns for him, and we gave him a “boy’s” name rather than a “girl’s” name or a “gender neutral” name. When people ask about his sex or gender, we are often OK with just saying, “Oh, he’s a boy,” especially if we’re on the bus or something.

We’re trying to raise him with a lot of options and very few assumptions, but I won’t be mad at you if you call my kid “handsome little boy” or something. It’s fine. People have a hard time talking about babies without gendered labels. Even I have a hard time with it, and I’ve put a kind of ridiculous amount of energy into analyzing this stuff.

However, I do have one favor to ask.

Please, for the love of everything that is good in this world, stop calling him “little man.”

I know you don’t mean any harm. I know you aren’t trying to be a jerk. It’s OK — almost everyone does this.

All sorts of people take one look at the beautiful baby in my arms and say, “Hey there little man!” I know it comes from a place of love and joy and just generally being blown away by such a cute kid. I get it. I may have even said similar things to other people’s babies in the past. There’s just one problem.

He’s not a man, little or otherwise.

You know this. I know this.

In My Gender Workbook, Kate Bornstein argues that most of us experience gender as a spectrum, rather than a binary, and that how we gender ourselves and each other has a lot to do with who has the most power in our culture.

This phenomenon of graduated perfection in gender is easy to spot; it gets back to the troublesome concept of “real men” and “real women.” In terms of gender, there will be in any group of men some who are going to be more “real” as men than others…

In fact, the word “man” is extremely loaded in our culture and means something very specific. I would argue that it often means something very specific and very toxic (think of phrases like “man up” etc).

A very real (and important) argument can be made for reclaiming the word “man” from the clutches of toxic masculinity, and I am definitely interested in having that conversation. And if he does grow into a person who wants to identify as a man (and this is statistically likely), I want to have a conversation about how to help him hold that identity in a healthy and positive way.

But that’s not what you are doing when you put that word on an infant. Instead, you are telling him, before his first birthday, where his place in the patriarchy is. You are telling him that he doesn’t even get to enjoy being a boy (if that’s what he wants to be) for the time being, that instead he must figure out to how to be a man, not when he’s 18, not when he sexually mature, not when he moves out of his parents house, but right now. You are telling him to be a man right now.

He just learned how to crawl.

He just learned how to say “Hi.”

He is not a man. He cannot be a man, and to ask him to try to be one is supremely unfair. He is a child. He is an infant. He is not even a toddler yet.

Until our larger culture stops being obsessed with what it means to be a “real man” and “separating the men from the boys,” “man” will continue to be an identity that is very much separate from (and mutually exclusive from) infanthood and childhood. It’s an identity that carries privilege and power, but also pain and unfair expectations.

And I am asking you, as politely as I possibly can.

Please stop putting all that nonsense on my child.

This article by KATHERINE DM CLOVER originally appeared on Ravishly and has been republished with full permission.

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  • I don’t know it is putting nonsense on the child. The parent is doing that.

    Reply

  • Don’t ask me to stop calling little boys “Little Man” when they are so adorable. It’s such a silly thing to complain about.

    Reply

  • Oh my word- get a grip! I know we are living in a more accepting society these days, but just because you are gay does not mean that your child is. Maybe acting the way you are you are almost trying to force him to be the same as you. I’m sorry, if your kid has a penis, he is a boy and a boy will grow into a man, whether he identifies as gay or not, he will still be a man.

    Reply

  • We can’t shield our children totally from how the people around us respond on them and what society thinks. The impact we as parents, as family make on our children is still most important and impacting. This couple seem to have some gender issues. Hope they don’t transfer it on their child.

    Reply

  • Well, my son is my precious little man, the most important man in my life, and always will be, whatever age he is.
    I call him ‘Mummy’s little main man’.
    This article is just way too PC for me, too, esp all the ‘gender neutral’ talk.
    Whatever gender/sexuality my children are, or develop into, is absolutely fine with me, too, but of all the things to get annoyed about, someone saying ‘Hello, little man’ to my son would definitely not make the list…!


    • I never thought that is something offensive or annoying.I can’t get what the whole drama is about.

    Reply

  • The article/writer actually states that people say this as an act of love and joy. No one means offence by saying this to parents and babies.

    Reply

  • Nope my bub is my little man and I’ll keep calling him that. This was silly if you ask me.


    • I have a little man and I call him little man all the time and yes he is my baby!

    Reply

  • oh my gosh, really i can understand what you are saying but this is all so pc now. sorry

    Reply

  • I’m totally guilty. And I’m not going to stop. My ‘little man’ radiated maleness within me from the night before the eight week scan. I could feel every boy gene throughout my whole body and when I gave birth I don’t think a single person would have been surprised if he’d had a beard. ‘Little man’ was always so apt a description for him and continues to be. If he needs to transition one day or discovers he’s sexually attracted to men I will be the first to stand up and give him every single bit of support I can. Parenting is one big game of ‘pick your battles’. In the grand scheme of things, this battle is so far down on my list they haven’t made the paper to write that list on yet.

    Reply

  • I wouldn’t take too much offense of that.
    I remember though that when my son was a newborn one of the staff members in the shop always said he was a sexy wee man, which I didn’t like so much. But I didn’t feel of making a big point of it to her and would just pull up my shoulders and ignore her statement.
    I’ve heard other people saying wee pet, or dote and I think they all mean it just kind.

    Reply

  • Welcome to motherhood. Just a heads up. As a mother of 5 sons your baby boy will be your little man as soon as he is talking. May as well get used to it now as he will be very upset otherwise. Children hate being called babies, quite simple, even my 3 yr old grandson insists he is my little man , NOT my boy, NOT my baby , Grandmama’s little man.


    • Love your comment and Grandma’s little man sounds so adorable!

    Reply

  • Is the Mum who wrote this suffering from PND? It seems a strange thing to take so much offense too. They should be happy that people stop to admire their baby. I wonder what sort of relationship this boy is going to have with his parents.

    Reply

  • I agree with all the comments so far. This is over the top.

    Reply

  • wow, this is political correctness gone way to far. He is a boy, therefore little man is just what he is, it’s a term of endearment. Get over it. This has nothing to do with Gay or Transgender, I have many friends who are gay and I love them dearly.

    Reply

  • It sounds more like this mother is anxious over some external stuff rather than letting the child being who it wants to become. Little man doesnt mean anything but the fact that he is a little male. Getting upset over it I get but asking the world to stop is a bit extreme. There is no harm or ill intent from this action and the baby is not being harmed by the words it is just the mothers feeling anxious over it. I think as long as the words are not of ill intent or not causing the baby harm it is perfectly fine that society call him a little man.

    Reply

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