My son Jayne

I’ve wanted to say something about the current state of things in the US – come on, we all know what I’m talking about – but I just haven’t found the words to express my frustration, anger, confusion and sadness. The other night I decided to make a Pussy Hat to show my support to the thousands and thousands of women and men walking today in the Women’s March on Washington DC and all over the world.

I am a feminist. Obviously. This really shouldn’t shock anyone. Rather, it’s more shocking to find out people are not feminists. But they’re out there. In droves. And 2016 brought a lot of them out of the shadows and into the spotlight. And not just in the United States.

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Karen Hallion’s amazing print! I have this hanging in my sewing room
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I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around what has been happening and how many people out there still don’t get it which made it difficult to organize my thoughts enough to write anything. Having children has really opened my eyes to the ingrained sexism in today’s society. Even after 7 years studying English Literature and focusing most of that on gender studies, it still surprises me that in 2017 people still don’t understand how damaging traditional views of masculine and feminine can be… or, my favourite… that gender is a social construct. Seriously people. It is a learned behaviour.  …. and then last night making dinner I thought about my youngest son Jayne. And then it clicked. I knew exactly what I was going to talk about.

I’m going to talk about my son Jayne.

Everyone, meet Jayne.

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Jayne is a sometimes happy, sometimes whiny, sometimes terror, always snuggly 2.5 year old. Basically, he’s a toddler. Jayne is also big. He is very *very* tall and very dense and is constantly thought to be older than he is. I am giving you this detail for a reason and it will make sense in a few moments.

Jayne also has a traditionally female name – Jane. There is no difference in how it is pronounced and no, we don’t shorten it and call him Jay, or Arthur (his middle) or Wyatt (another middle name). His name is Jayne.

Jayne was named after Jayne Cobb – the badass mercenary on Joss Whedon’s “Firefly.” People who know the show/movie recognize it immediately and are usually in a bit of happy disbelief that he really is named after Jayne Cobb. Jayne Cobb is awesome. He’s not a good guy. He’s not exactly loyal, or kind, or tactful, but he is an awesome character with a fantastic name.

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Our little Hero of Canton
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Jayne Cobb
Those are the responses to Jayne’s name we love to receive. People have started singing “Jayne’s Song” to us or asked if I ever sang it to him (which I do on a regular basis) and then of course we all break out into the first verse and chorus. No joke. The other positive response we get to his name are from the people who, after asking, pause, ask how we spell it (J-A-Y-N-E), pause again, then comment “Oh, I really like that!” with full sincerity (trust me, I can tell the difference). Maybe it’s who our circle of friends and acquaintances are made up of, but these two responses make up the majority of our interactions regarding his name.

And yet somehow, the negative ones stick out.

“Oh really? You named your son Jayne? Why would you do that to him?”
“Have you thought about what it will be like for him in school?”
“What does your husband think of this?”
“He better grow up to be a big boy to make it through school with that name.”
“What’s his middle name? … Good thing, at least he can go by one of those.”
“Were you secretly hoping for a girl?”
“I’ll just call him Jay.”
“That poor boy.”

None of these responses I’ve heard only once. None. All have been from family, rarely friends (again, we have awesome, progressive friends) and a lot from random people we have met so far throughout his 2.5 years. The one thing they all have in common – they have all been adults. Not once have we heard anything about his name from a child. Jayne was a Roots of Empathy baby starting at 3 months old and in his class of grade 1s & 2s not one questioned why he had the same name as a girl in the class. He was just baby Jayne. So when adults then ask me “have you thought about what it will be like for him in school,” I can’t help but ask them what they mean. And wouldn’t it be best to teach our children not to pick on or make fun of a child based on their name? And maybe by asking this question in front of your own children you are perpetuating the idea that it’s okay. Which it is definitely not. They generally don’t like when I follow back with that one. Oh well!

The two responses that bothers me the most are “what does your husband think of this?” and “he better grow up to be a big kid!” Apparently it is incomprehensible that a man could give his son a feminine name. Truth is, it was Dahl’s decision. Dahl loves the character and he loves the name. He wanted to name him Jayne, There was no arm twisting, no convincing and not once did he have any second thoughts. So that’s what my husband thinks about this.

And about his size (see, I told you I’d come back to this). Really? He has to grow up big just because his name is feminine? He needs to be sure that he’s not little, or sensitive (we’ve also heard it’s a good thing Henry wasn’t called Jayne as he’s an artsy, sensitive kid.. uhh, WHAT?!?) or emotional if he’s going to be called Jayne? Do people really not understand what it is they’re saying? What it is they’re implying when they tell me my son will be made fun of for having a girls name? That he needs to be a big, masculine guy or completely change his name.

His name.

Because that’s the thing. It’s not about a name. It never was about his name, whether they realized it or not. It’s not that people don’t like the name Jayne. Most people love the name. It’s a classic, beautiful name. And for us, it’s a strong name. It’s about the fact that a boy cannot be given a feminine name. You see, a boy cannot be feminine. When people question his name and imply that he will be hurt (physically or emotionally) because of it, they are doing so because they have been trained to think of femininity as inferior to masculinity. It’s one way of demonstrating the learned behaviour and view that females are somehow worth less then men. That to be feminine is to be considered weak. Most people would never admit they think that, and argue fervently with me that no, they’re not sexist. But they are, their comments are.

Hands down. They are.

And it is this kind of thinking, as inconsequential as it may seem, that leads to larger issues around rampant sexism that we are experiencing today. It is what allows society to ignore and deny the gender pay gap, it is what allows rape culture to persist, for women’s health organizations to constantly be underfunded and attacked, for the vicious online attacks of female journalists, sports broadcasters, gamergate, Ghostbusters reboot,  and among hundreds of other reasons, it is what allowed for Judge Aaron Persky to hand down a 6 (3) month jail sentence to a convicted rapist because anything longer would leave a “sever impact” on the rest of his life.

Today it is January 21st, 2017 and we are still fighting for equal rights. Still. No, things are not great. Just because they are better than they were 100 years ago or in other countries does not mean they are great and we need to stop fighting. With the events of the last few months in the United States, I fear they will only get worse. So we need to push back. We need to stand up and call people out for their ingrained sexist behaviours. Because to me, it’s not in the obvious sexists behaviours that I will be able to change – of course we need to push back on those, of course – but it is in the small ones. In those small ones that I can challenge people on. To make them reconsider about how they think about sex and gender (yes those are two different things), to make them question how people treat young girls and boys, how society expects us to dress them and yes, what we name them.  We need to work together to change the dialogue. We need to change the ideology. We need to push back against the people who don’t let their sons dress up as princesses for Halloween even though they want to, the mothers who are attached to their daughters long hair and won’t let them cut it, to the men who retire to the living room after big family meal while the women tidy up…

…to the people who question how you could possibly give a name like Jayne to a little boy.

“Jayne’s a girl’s name.”
“Yeah, but Jayne ain’t a girl.”

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