I currently work at a florist shop down the street from my school. When I started I thought it would be a great opportunity to change up my days of constant studying with bright happy flowers. But the florist life is not all sunny; we hear lots of sad stories from mourning customers. Believe it or not, working with flowers gives me the chance to think about some seemingly unrelated but important issues.
This weekend there were three different incidences that focused my at-work ponderings. The first was on Friday night when a younger man, probably in his late 20’s picked up some flowers for a girl he was going to meet up with later. He was surprised by the extravagant bouquet, complete with bright stargazer lilies and pretty pink roses, and said, “These are beautiful! If I were a girl I would love these…” and then with a joking smile added, “but I’m not a girl, so I don’t love them.”
The second incident happened the next day. A father and his three young children came in. I gathered from his discussions with his children that they were getting an arrangement for his wife, their mother, for no occasion but to show her he loved her. Part of customer service is to give an extra flower to the customer, especially if they are getting flowers for someone else. However, early on I noticed that most men are less appreciative of this and I started giving flowers to men sparingly. This father had two sons and one daughter. So instead of getting him a flower, I asked him softly if his sons would want a flower if I gave one to his daughter, and he said no. So I picked out some common daisies, which come with multiple flowers on a stem so that the sister could share if they changed their mind.
And then, near the end of the second day an older gentleman came in to send some sympathy flowers to a family in Florida. I helped him out and then grabbed a big, bright, yellow gerber daisy. He seemed very appreciative and this simple act turned his serious demeanor into a more cheerful one.
We discuss our customers after they leave, as I am sure most employees do. My boss and I found the first young man’s statement funny and the father’s answer troublesome, but they should both be troubling. It seems to me that as a society, and as childcare providers, we are teaching our children gender norms that then carry on into adulthood. And only after boy’s and men’s “manhood” is no longer vulnerable, once they are old enough that no one cares how “manly” they act, are they allowed to enjoy and appreciate “feminine” things.
Oftentimes, feminist conversations focus on what women are missing out on as a result of societally and culturally enforced gender norms. However, perhaps if we discussed how gender norms are harmful to both sexes feminism could gain more popularity. Take note, my goal is not necessarily to make feminism popular, my goal is to deconstruct gender norms on a large scale. It is not okay to encourage boys to find offense with “feminine” gifts or discourage “feminine” interests, because this creates at least three problems.
First, it limits boys’ potential interests and all the possible ways to incorporate those interests into their careers or other aspects of their lives. It is not logical, nor considerate, to tell someone they cannot practice their natural gifts or participate in their interests based on their biological gender.
Second, it creates a standard by which to measure “manliness.” I have been putting “manly,” “manhood,” and “feminine” in quotes because these are subjective terms used primarily to judge someone and bully them into changing their behavior to fit society’s expectations based on their biological gender. When particular interests or activities are arbitrarily prescribed to a gender, then people who do not live up to those norms are much more easily ostracized and bullied into complying despite their true selves. An easy example, this ostracizing and bullying has been very prevalent of the gay community where men do not live up to this inherently heterosexual standard of “manhood.”
And lastly, it creates a system where young men are valued more so than old men. This is because “manly” qualities often coincide with stereotypical behavior of young men. Once a male person has lost those qualities that make him “manly,” like a strong sexual drive or the interest in dangerous activities, than he is “less of a man,” and therefore, however unintentionally, less of a person because he fails to live up to the gender specific role assigned him by society.
While I do not think giving flowers to young boys is going to solve the problem, I do think discouraging both boys and younger men from enjoying flowers is a symptom of the much bigger problem. Gender norms limit male persons’ interest and activities, create subjective standards by which to judge and coerce those that do not comply, and devalue men once they have been deemed “old.” Gender norms do not just hurt women; they are also harmful to men of all ages.